Risk vs. Reward

… and the day came when the risk to remain tight in a bud became more painful than the risk it took to blossom. Elizabeth Appell

rose

May has always proven to be a challenging month for me. Today is May 5th, the 48th anniversary of my parents’ wedding. It’s also the 4th anniversary of the day my father and I last spoke before he passed the following day. Yesterday, when I realized that 2017 would mark ten years since my mom died, I felt like I’d had the wind knocked out of me. I cannot believe it’s approaching a decade since my sweet mother said goodbye. Also, the month of May represents both of their birthdays, my dad’s final and seemingly interminable journey to rest once again beside mom, and of course, Mother’s Day.

I know and have been reminded many times over the past decade that they found much joy and happiness, spending the last half of their lives together. Dad knew the exact number of days he lived without my mother right up through his final night, and he fondly remembered the 37+ years of his life that he spent with her. They found delight and comfort forging a life together, in spite of struggling with the challenges of beginning life and family over with one another in late middle age.

Less than six years apart, I washed each of their faces and kissed them goodnight for the final time. Mom passed on October 27, 2007, and dad passed on May 6, 2013. To my knowledge, my mom didn’t speak her last two days here. Dad, of course, was giving orders to anyone who would listen, up until his final day. I don’t believe for one minute that it is a coincidence that both of their last words to me were, “I’m proud of you, son.” They knew me better than anyone, and they knew that I would need those words nearly as much as anything else they’d ever given me.

This morning I had the pleasure and good fortune of an early business meeting with a dear friend whom I admire tremendously. She and I got to catch up with each other’s lives, personal plans, and careers and immediately began scheming about the possibilities of the future. I also had the privilege of introducing her to a brilliant colleague of mine at CitySquare. I can’t wait to see what goodness the two of them concoct.

Later, as my work day progressed, I received a text from another good friend, who was on campus at CitySquare to deliver words of encouragement to twenty graduates of our WorkPaths Culinary and Hospitality Training Program. I happened to be across the hall from him when he called, so I was able to spend some time with him, listen to and hear his words of thanks and encouragement to the graduates, and then share some time with him afterward. His life has presented challenges that would cause many to crumble. Instead, it’s pushed him to keep moving to motivate and support others in crisis.

Life can be difficult. But it’s wonderful to have reminders that sometimes a reset is just the prescription we need. I can still hear the echo of my dad’s words saying, “It’s okay to use the eraser on the other end of the pencil to back up and start over.” I have done it myself, multiple times, intentionally, and unintentionally, and so have many of you who I call friends. In many small ways, I think we sell ourselves short if we don’t continuously start anew, refresh, and “clean the slate.”

My good fortune of running into inspiring friends, working with brilliant colleagues, and bearing witness to friends and neighbors all around me, who risk to blossom and grow toward new opportunities, reminded me this morning of Appell’s line of poetry above. It also reminded me to be grateful for the pain my parents had experienced before they took the risks they did. The poem resonated differently today though. As I listened, I heard that it’s okay that I’m a late bloomer (and that I can blame my parents for it.) Jokes aside, it comforted me to remember that pain often precedes beauty. It reminded me that I am in good company.

KM Huber (one of my favorite Nasty Woman Bloggers), interpreted Appell’s poem aptly as,

“Grace is the bud of a rose in late summer risking the security of self to burst forth as a blossom that cannot close again.”

If you’ve read this far, thank you. Thank you for indulging my remembrance of my parents. Thank you for being an inspiration to me. Thank you for being an encouragement to me. Thank you for bearing witness to pain, to beauty, to loss, to growth.

Thank you.

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Ten Years

It’s been a rough week for me emotionally. However, it wasn’t until last night that I realized and remembered the significance of today’s date. October 27, 2017, unbelievably, marks the 10th anniversary of the day my mom left this world with a whole lot of hope for something better. The final decade of her life wasn’t what she’d hoped for; I know that she stayed around only because she knew my dad and I needed her.

I’m not a better person than I was when she was alive; I am very much the same person. That’s okay though, because her last words to me were, “Son, I’m so proud of you.” This, even after she knew my darkest secrets. She was still proud of me.

I wish every single day that she had met Clint. I wish that she had been here with us – to stand in the front row of the courthouse, and later the front row of our church as we echoed our wedding vows to one another – to introduce herself to our pastor and to reintroduce herself to my former pastor, just as she did so warmly when she visited me for the first time after I’d moved away from home. I wish she had been in our kitchen to give us her blessing when I placed my father’s wedding ring on Clint’s finger.

 

These days, I simply wish that she was here for Clint, Noah, and me. Here to offer her astute and comical observations, along with her love – to a son-in-law and grandson she’ll never meet. I selfishly wish that she could have been here to cheer when I finished college and three years later when I accepted my master’s degree. It’s the reason I walked across the stage both times with the last necktie she bought for me and the first tie clasp she’d ever pinned onto my tiny, little chest.

 

My mother is the single most admirable person I know. She had a 9th-grade education, yet she was the smartest person I’ve ever known. Her passions set fire to those around her. Her love of real estate, architecture, homes, and property is what sparked my curiosity about the space(s) we lived in and the spaces in which I would aspire to live. Her love of cows, dogs, cats, chickens, turkeys, goats, pigs, horses, and any other animal she met is an inspiration that guides my life to this day. Her love of people – many of whom I (in my infinite childhood wisdom was very certain didn’t deserve love) found repugnant, along with people that desperately needed friendship and encouragement is the model for how I view those around me. Her insatiable wish to not go without is what teaches me to store up necessities for a rainy day.

 

I’ve never achieved the level of expertise she developed as a semi-professional coupon lady seeking to have more than she could afford. I still stumble along the path of life trying to grab more than my hands can hold and inhale more air than my lungs have space for.

 

My mom’s single biggest regret, as she shared with me many times, was that she didn’t become a missionary and venture out beyond the world she knew. I always thought she was a missionary. Afterall, we spent every Saturday cleaning the little church we attended, vacuuming its carpet and polishing the oak pews, its altar, its brass candleholders. Then as each Sunday unfolded, she spent the morning with her Sunday School class, middle and high school kids, talking about things that no one dared talk about then – suicide, sex, divorce, and more. She quit wearing dresses and skirts to church in wintertime when I was in middle school She realized that she enjoyed church a lot more if she was comfortable and if she wasn’t pushing to be fashionable.

 

She made quilts. She made jelly and jam. She pickled produce that she grew and produce that others blessed her with. Her pickled okra was the finest I have ever tasted. She went without new clothes and nice things because they weren’t important to her. She wanted those around her to have what they needed and she wanted them to have what they wanted, too.
I’ll never understand the trauma she went through as one of eleven children born to an Oklahoma family during the depths of the Great Depression. Her family meant the world to her. Her three sons were her proudest accomplishments. Her deepest shame was leaving her first marriage so that she could breathe again.

 

Her bravery to set a new course in midlife is what makes me know that life is possible.

 

Moving From “I can’t” to “I don’t know how”and Other Panic-Inducing Topics

Moving From “I can’t” to “I don’t know how”and Other Panic-Inducing Topics

Four years ago this month, I was halfway through grad school, approaching a bittersweet end of an 8-year job, and had just moved my family into a new neighborhood and home (at Christmastime) to afford us enough extra space to be able to relocate my 89-year old, ailing father and all of his and my deceased mom’s remaining possessions halfway across the country to live with me. The very next month, my father’s physical health suddenly deteriorated and I quickly became aware during the course of the following months that most days, I could barely breathe. I couldn’t think. I couldn’t make decisions or put one foot in front of the other.

When mom died in 2007, I discovered that the shower was the place I could let myself cry and think and process my emotions, so that I could be strong for dad while he learned to navigate life without her; but now, faced with what seemed like impossible choices and no alternatives, my shower became the place I would go to have full-out panic attacks.

I had no reference points or tools to cope with the transitions I was experiencing so I put my trust in my partner’s advice and went to see a therapist. I was convinced that my brain and heart were pre-grieving my father’s last breaths, and that my impatience was demanding to know what was next for me in terms of my career, and that I was afraid. Afraid that I was about to be parentless, without the trusted advice I’d always had. I was terrified I would make a bad decision with one of the inevitable choices ahead and that it would have a devastating consequence to those I cared for deeply, including myself.

In addition to learning that therapy is indeed very good advice, I learned that I truly didn’t know what I don’t know. I assumed that as a 40-something, intelligent, educated, informed American that I should have within me or within my immediate grasp the resources to move through any roadblock, as long as I had enough will and determination. Everyone else seemed to. Only, I couldn’t.

As I attempted to articulate overwhelming feelings which I had no words for, I told my therapist how I couldn’t get through all that I faced. I can’t complete my studies, can’t continue working full-time, can’t provide optimal care for dad, can’t make end-of-life decisions for dad, and on and on. The therapist gently interrupted me to say,

“It’s not that you can’t do these things. It’s that you don’t know how.”

With patience, he helped me move my vantage point from the impossible to the discoverable. I learned to quit saying that I can’t figure out a solution, I can’t reach this goal, or I can’t see my way through this struggle, and begin by saying,

I don’t know how to… 

I have a point in sharing all of this. Lately, I have realized that there are a lot of people around me who seem to be experiencing intense grief, fear, and not knowing what to do or what to expect around the corner. Right now, there are many of us who can’t believe what’s happening in our world politically. We can’t see a solution. We can’t overcome our fear. We can’t figure out the steps required to build a better world for ourselves, our children, or the rest of our planet’s inhabitants. I feel some comfort when I remember,

“It’s not that you can’t do these things. It’s that you don’t know how.”

Don’t get me wrong, I think it’s okay to panic – for a minute or two – but the time comes when we have to literally pull ourselves together and move forward or trust someone else to do it for us. If you’re a friend of mine, the chances are high that you will pull it together.

But do you know what I think was the best advice I received through all of this?

“Talk to someone.”

So here’s the actionable advice. Talk to your neighbor. Talk to your coworker. Talk to your husband, wife, friend, pastor, doctor, nurse, therapist, barber, stylist, postman/woman, I don’t care who, but talk to someone. And then, once you have talked to them (and listened to them), it doesn’t matter their political preference or their views. What matters is that you’ve gotten to know them, and they’ve gotten to know you. You may even find that you are comfortable enough to express your fears and your grief. After all, they are universal emotions that we all share at some points in life. And you are both strengthened.

Day 13

Over 65 million American adults have a criminal record – 1 out of every 4 Americans. Day 13 http://wp.me/p4ojEU-eO via @40DaysinOrange

40 Days in Orange

“Today a criminal freed from prison has scarcely more rights, and arguably less respect, than a freed slave or a black person living ‘free’ in Mississippi at the height of Jim Crow.”  Michelle Alexander, The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in an Age of Colorblindness, p. 141.

Today, over 65 million American adults have a criminal record.  That’s 1 of every 4 American adults.  *see NELP, 65 Million Need Not Apply

While people of color make up about 30 percent of the United States’ population, they account for 60 percent of those imprisoned… The incarceration rates disproportionately impact men of color: 1 in every 15 African American men and 1 in every 36 Hispanic men are incarcerated in comparison to 1 in every 106 white men. *see Center for American Progress, The Top 10 Most Startling Facts About People of Color and Criminal Justice in the United States

Yet…

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Excuse me sir, could I talk to you a minute?

george

These were the words spoken to me just a few weeks ago, the morning of February 18th. I had pulled up to my veterinary clinic to drop off George, and just as I was exiting my car to get George out of the backseat, this young man said, “Excuse me sir, could I talk to you a minute?” Harmless, right? He was crossing the vet’s parking lot, carrying a backpack, and through my blurry-eyed, early morning eyes, appeared quite harmless. Without really a second thought, I just shrugged him off and mumbled something to him about having to get this dog into the vet. Well no shit! Of course I had to get the dog into the vet. Why else would I be pulling into the parking lot of a veterinarian’s office with a dog in my back seat. What I should have just said to him was “I’m sorry, dude. I don’t have time to talk to you this morning.” It couldn’t have been any more rude than blowing him off by stating the obvious in my attempt to avoid talking to him.

I’m going to backtrack a bit now.

First of all, George wasn’t named George that Tuesday. He is now; but that Tuesday, he was just a stray dog. The morning before, I had been out for a “run” and ran into George. You see, I live in an area of Dallas with an overabundance of stray dogs. Dogs of all shapes and sizes. This one just happened to cross my path during my “run” that morning. Okay, I’ll explain why I keep typing run in quotation marks. It’s not really a run, but saying I was “out for a run” sounds much better than trying to explain I was huffing and puffing my way through week two of the Couch to 5K program. I’ll stop with the quotation marks now. So here I am out for this… run, and as I round the curve, ahead of me is a giant, black German Shepherd. He was a beautiful dog, the kind that I was certain would be able to eat my leg for a morning snack. I’m not usually scared of dogs though, especially if I don’t have my own dogs with me; so I plodded on ahead toward him. As I approached him, I said “Good morning!” in my most cheerful, don’t-eat-my-leg voice, and kept on trucking.

If you know much about the Couch to 5K, you know that in the early weeks of training, it alternates you between periods of jogging and walking. I was in the jogging segment when I said good morning to the dog and the jog lasted all the way to the end of that street where I intended to turn left. As I did, I realized that I must have been the first friendly face this dog had seen in a while, because he had decided to follow me. Here I am, winded, recovering from a BRUTAL 3-minute jog, with a giant German Shepherd following closely behind me. It’s not like I could have gotten away at this point even if he made clear his intention to eat my leg! So I spoke to him again and watched his ears perk upward and his eyes brighten. Then I noticed just how hungry this poor fellow was. He was literally skin and bone, the kind of skin and bone where you see their entire skeleton through their sagging skin and fur. He hadn’t been cared for in weeks, maybe months, but he was friendly. He was hopeful. He stayed with me for the next 20 minutes or so of my jogging and walking and huffing and puffing, and then, he followed me home.

As you’ve guessed by now, George found a sucker for a cute furry face. He came home and ate, and rested, and ate some more. The next morning, probably for the first time, he met a veterinarian and caring, loving veterinary staff. He wasn’t previously tagged, chipped, tattooed, or presumably owned or being looked for by his former owner; so, over the course of this past three weeks, he has been vaccinated, neutered, licensed, fed, bathed, pampered and loved. He’s gained about 10 pounds and will still possibly gain another 40. He’s not the first pet that I and my partner have rescued and I doubt he will be the last. George is making himself at home now with a house full of dogs and cats, learning about house rules, and making new friends. But I’m getting off topic.

The point of all of this is how I cold-shouldered the young man in the parking lot, in the name of doing-good by getting a stray dog off of the street. As soon as it happened I knew what I had done was wrong. Terribly and horribly wrong. He was probably hungry. I don’t know where he had slept. I don’t know anything about him, other than he wanted to talk to me and I blew him off as if he didn’t matter. A human being for God’s sake. Another living, breathing, feeling human being, and I showed him that he was less important to me that morning than a stray dog. Maybe he was on his way to work, with a full stomach, and a comfortable night’s sleep behind him, and he just wanted to tell me “Good morning!” I’ll never know. But you know what makes me so mad about my behavior? It’s not just that I felt guilty. It’s that I have intentionally marked a course in my life to help people, and here I am, making a point to appear too busy to help someone, who may or may not even need help. Like I said, I can only guess what he wanted to talk to me about.

There are those that would no doubt affirm my behavior by stating that the dog was helpless and the young man was not. While that might be true in some instances, I don’t believe and feel that it was this day. We as a society don’t like to admit that the weakest among us are often literally and figuratively helpless. There are approximately 5,700 homeless persons living in Dallas as of this writing. I don’t for a second believe that any one of them, if given a real choice and an opportunity for a different path would choose to be homeless. Poverty, addiction, hopelessness, and suffering are very real conditions and there are people who experience them every day due to no fault of their own. Realizing my own complicity in this, standing there that day holding George’s leash, watching this young man walk away from me, I decided to make some very real changes to how I live my life. In fact, the reason for this blog is so that I can share these changes with you.

You see, I’ve been lucky  all of my life. Sure, there have been some really dark days. There have been some major screw-ups. There have been some incredible failures. Through every moment of that, every single moment, I’ve never been alone. I’m not getting ready to take you down some religious path, or feed you a precious religious sentiment that says God was with me through everything, although I believe that to be true. Where I have been truly lucky all of my life is that I have always had someone else there to prop me up. Another human. A friend or a family member to tell me everything will be alright, to lend a helping hand, to remind me they haven’t given up on me and not to give up on myself either. Not everyone has that. This, my friends, is where you and I come in.

Please stick with me on this path. Yeah, I’m just pretending to run right now. I will get better. You’ll see.

Where do blogs come from?

storkimages

Sure, I read blogs. But until today I really didn’t know where they came from. I’m pretty shaky on the basics but I’ve never let that stop me before, have I? So, despite the title of my first post, I can assuredly tell you that I am unqualified to answer the question “where do blogs come from?” I’m just going to charge full-steam ahead and give blogging my best shot. My hope is to provide enlightenment, entertainment, and a bit of insight as to what makes me tick.

Not that you care… yet.