Wednesday, March 28, 2012

What's Your Story?

I spend a large portion of my day listening to stories....some are comical, others quite colorful, and some just break my heart. I am a school counselor...a professional listener. I nod encouragement when the storyteller falters, share a knowing smile when the truth shines so clearly, and yes, I weep with my students when their story is more powerful than either of us can handle in the moment.
On this particular day a variety of vignettes from both ends of the spectrum presented themselves....a student who knew his athletic uniform was in his dad's truck, and his dad just left for North Carolina, "Coach is gonna make me run! I hate running!!".....
another who told about an argument between she and her mom and in the middle of it, her little sister came into the room carrying her soiled diaper. As she sashayed in with her round little bottom and toothless smile, both mother and teen burst into laughter and ended up hugging while baby sister giggled innocently.

After lunch, a student knocked softly, almost apologetically...and my day took on a different dimension.
Suzy is a naturally easy-going but diligent student who lives alone with her physically handicapped mom. The principal care taking of her beloved mom falls to Suzy, and their relationship is the anchor to her world. Today when she came in, the air was heavy with emotion and anxiety. I braced myself for the next chapter to her already difficult life.

 She began telling me how her mom had been in the hospital the past week and had just come home a few days ago when the phone rang. Her biological dad had had a massive stroke with a prognosis that was not good.  Suzy is the only biological relative her dad has. Her parents have been divorced for some time. The doctors told her they were not very hopeful about any recovery, and her father would probably never be able to live alone again.

 The decision to bring him to her home and care for both of her parents, or put him in a nursing home close by so she could  oversee the care for him rested on her innocent shoulders. Suzy and her mom have no car and caring for both parents would be a 24 hour commitment. After agonizing over her options, she decided to put him in the local nursing home so she could visit him and still care for her mother. As I listened to her, tears stung my eyes. Sometimes life plays hardball. She paused and said, "You know, I think I just saw the last of my childhood when I had to choose where my dad would be. I look around at other kids my age and hear them complain about their parents and it is like they are speaking a foreign language." Then she added ever so wisely, "I have also found out that during hard times in life, blessings appear....My dad can no longer drive his truck and so he wants me to have it. My mom and I can go to the grocery store and not have to ask anyone to take us!" The smile through her tears said it all. My heart wept so for her, but at the same time, I was blown away by this amazing outlook on life.

Wow! As she left my office I tried to wrap my mind around the courage of this sweet young teen. I felt honored she had told me her story ...Blessed to have shared with her..and humbled to know what a gracious spirit she embodies. I drove home reflecting on all the stories I heard from students. Alone in the car,I began to laugh out loud at myself.... "Now what was it I was grumbling about this morning? ...Lukewarm coffee? ...Cell phone charger not in the car? ...My shoes didn't match my outfit?"  Yeah, her story will definitely hang around in my head for awhile.
Once again I was struck by how powerful personal stories can be and if we allow them....they can mold our character and our future.  So while we are going through our days, living our lives, and developing the plot line to our own personal adventure books...Let's be sure we take the time to make every chapter meaningful and worth reading...

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Age Ain't Nothin' But a Number.....

We were in a room full of people, and I noticed her right away. She was 82 and didn't look a day over 65. Her head held high, she dared anyone to think she was less than a principal player in the room full of much younger "wanna be's". I was immediately struck by her confidence, her honesty, and above all, her melodious laughter. She  was a goddess without being a diva, confident without being haughty, and oh so comfortable in her own skin...causing the rest of us to watch in awe as she worked the room. 

I think I was drawn to her mainly because I have really been struggling with my own concept of aging this year...while staring a monumental birthday in the face....the Big 60. Until recently, I have been able to ignore aging because I have, for the most part, looked younger than my years. The past few years have been different. I have had to look honestly in the mirror and realize aging has snuck up behind me and is breathing down my neck! Instead of embracing this process, I have felt a growing sense of panic. What am I supposed to do? Do I look at Botox? Restylane?  Or something more invasive? What does healthy, wholesome aging look like? I'm searching through blogs about aging, reading magazine articles, watching television infomercials about aging and I am more confused than ever.  My parents didn't really prepare me for this new challenge. In the past, people got older, accepted it, and moved on to the next chapter in a resigned manner....what else could they do?
Today, we have so many options (whether they are healthy or not), and many of my peers are choosing to postpone the inevitable through plastic surgery, exercise and diet, meditation, vitamins.... and the list goes on.

The woman facing me had truly found the secret to youthfulness and I was so excited to visit with her. First of all, she had birthed seven children and had 14 grandchildren! This told me she was courageous and unafraid of life's challenges. She had a zest for living only overshadowed by her love for her family. Secondly, she learned long ago the importance of taking care of herself every day. Her  oldest grandson told me he has always remembered his Nana taking the time for herself everyday. Wow! This isn't selfish or is healthy and even her grandchildren respect and love her because she first respects herself. We counselors call this "self-care". Many people fail to see the importance of it, but this component is key to aging gracefully.
The next thing I learned about her was her constant thirst for learning new things. She began taking painting classes 5 years ago and paints every day. Can you believe it? This woman who is in the last chapter of her life realizes the value of learning everyday! Between caring for her family, her commitment to serving others, she took time to learn and appreciate the arts.  Amazing! How many 82 year old people do YOU know that are unafraid of learning and discovering? 

And the final component I gleaned from our conversation was that she loved to laugh and find the humor in life that  others are too tired or too small to see. I would say at least half of our conversation was punctuated by bursts of laughter or gentle chuckles. pleasant the sound of communal laughter is in a room full of "jockeying for position". 
We had an opportunity to visit again a few days later and I shared with her my admiration. She told me, " You know, I realize my husband and I are in the last chapter of our lives. But I don't feel like it is a free pass for giving up. There is still so much to learn and do and see. In many ways, we have only just begun."
My response to her was, "I am so blessed to have met you. Finally, I know what I want to aspire to be as I age. I want to be YOU!! Seriously, 'Age Ain't Nothin' But a Number'....and each day brings opportunities for service and learning I have just begun to unwrap."

Monday, March 12, 2012

Mad Love for March Madness....

Let's get this straight from the start, I am a certified Girlie Girl!!  Even though I love everything sassy and frilly...I also Loovvee March Madness!   In my family,  my brothers, uncles, husband, father, and son gathered around the television every September in their favorite football jerseys. This was a great time for those of us who weren't interested in the game, to go shopping, go to Sonic, anything but sit in front of the television etc. Now? I bide my time for a stab at the remote and some serious basketball.
 You may be thinking, "Why basketball? She's from Texas, for goodness sakes!! Every Texan lives and breathes football!" Well, all of this is Texas True. Football rules on Texas soil....Thus the hit show, Friday Night Lights...not, Tuesday-Thursday Gym Lights.
However, I have serious logic for my passion and my lackluster interest in football. First of all, I have had to really pay attention and "learn" football. It is a hard game to figure out if one is more interested in the band and drill team at halftime than the action on the field. During the game, I usually people watched and caught up with friends. I hid my ignorance of the game by just standing and cheering when everyone else did. I love to win....I just don't have to know every play to celebrate the victory...:) My friends can attest to my below standard comprehension of this game. I WILL add that I have improved with time, have a workable knowledge of the game, and actually enjoy this sport of millions.
To me however, Basketball is just so much easier to follow. First of all, I can see the players and actually identify them by their face/hair/physical attributes. This is helpful for a people  person like me. (It would even be better if I knew their parents, or read something about them.)  The other thing I love is that basketball is fast. Man, I have to keep my head in the game or it will race by me, before I realize what has happened! This is good for an ADD fan who is easily distracted.
 It also seems more intense and lively than other sports. A biggie for me is that the sport is played inside.  Yippee!! I don't have to worry about messy  weather and my outfit or my hair! A definite Win Win!  And finally, the energy is palpable because it is inside and the fans are only a few feet from the players. Awesome!!
Now, back to March Madness....How much more fun can one imagine than several weeks of nonstop college basketball! Throw in filling in your bracket and possibly winning $$ and you have yourself a national pastime.

So, with that being said, I am now looking at my blank bracket sheet and trying to fill in the blanks with winners. This CAN be for some, rocket science. Not for me....It is called a game for a reason. You have a 50/50 chance of being right every time!  It depends on how much you know. One year, I picked teams according to their mascots. Another year, I studied the stats, and confidently filled in my brackets. (I did more poorly that year than any other year!) This year, I'm thinking I will go for team colors coupled with win-loss records....Colors overriding Records, of course. It is kind of like picking the winners of America Idol, Dancing with the Stars, or who The Bachelor will choose....the winners are anyone's guess!! That is part of the fun!
 I've seen grown men weep over their bracket results. Family Feuds have begun over  March Madness (thus, the name)....Couples have not spoken for days.....Sports announcers have misspoken on national tv, and money has slipped through many a hand...but if you are up for the Challenge..... Print out your blank bracket sheet and join this craziness. 
All I can say is Welcome to The Big Dance!

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Big Girl Panties

            I think this is One Size Fits All...Ha Ha!

I have a board on Pinterest called "Shut the Front Door". This board is full of quotes, pics, and posters that make me smile....and sometimes, laugh out loud.

Of course, the Big Girl Panties pic is one of my favorites!  I don't know about you, but I have to remind myself to "put on my Big Girl panties" frequently.... and sometimes, when I am hard of hearing, I am known to emphatically repeat it to myself!

 I will share with you a tiny secret I don't tell just anyone...Within me, there lives a little girl who doggedly believes in fairy tales. She continuously looks for the "happily ever after".  This girl wants everyone to be happy. She avoids conflicts at all costs and she would really love for her parents to still be here to rescue her from life's trials. And of course, just when all is hopeless, she would love to call Prince Charming and he would swoop down to save the day (cause she has him on speed dial)!

As you can imagine, my Reality is far from what my inner child envisions.  Just like you, I have had plenty of the unexpected..several life scenes in which I was thrust on stage without a script or even any stage direction! There have been many life moments where I have failed to respond in a gracious manner....I have faced lots of roadblocks to my dreams....there have been work conflicts, family conflicts, inner conflicts when I have really just wanted to go home, crawl under the covers and pull them over my head for comfort. 

I think this is why my Big Girl panties need to be worn regularly! With BGPs on, I can look at a situation for what it is, and not what I want it to be. BGPs give me clarity and wisdom to respond to a situation and not react. They help remind me that in life....stuff happens......people disappoint... I disappoint conflicts occur with or without my participation.....and the sun continues to rise and set. I know, I know....BGPs won't solve every problem, dry every tear, and give me that happy ending I dream of on occasion.   They do, however, remind me, to act like a straighten up and fly own my own actions...and last but not least, to make the best of every situation in which I find myself.  Yes, BGPs are quite the fashion statement for me. In fact, I may see if it's possible to own more than one pair...:)

Friday, March 2, 2012

Independence Day...Pride and Joy!

Today is March 2, and if you're not from Texas, it's just another day. For Texans, it is a day of throwing our shoulders back, raising our chins a little higher than usual, sticking our chest out a little more, and saying, Happy Independence Day, Texas!
Independence.....I love the sound of it in almost any connotation. I love the way the hard consonants roll off my tongue....

 Independence..... independence....opposite of dependence, of co-dependence....of not knowing who you are, but instead, being confident; looking your Fears and Demons in the eye and saying, "Bring it!"  The first Texans modeled that fierce confidence in their convictions, their desire for freedom from tyranny and their dream of living on what is now Texas soil. I'm certainly not a history buff, (that would be Darlin), but I know enough to know, Independence Day is a day of celebration for all Texans and those of you who got here as fast as you could...:)
 What is it about Texas that stirs so many? I could write a book about what it means to be a Texan, but for most of you, I'd be preaching to the choir! Here's just an example of what Texans have coursing through their blood.
Many years ago, one of my grad school courses focused on cultural diversity. We were divided into small groups and were asked to discuss the ethnicity in our own heritage  in which we identified with the most. Everyone was talking with pride about being Polish, German, African American, etc. When it was my turn, I said, "I am part Irish and  Cherokee Indian, (that's why I'm sometimes wild AND crazy!) but the part of my heritage I identify with and am most proud of is my Texas roots." The professor tried to suppress a smile, and when our eyes met, she gave me a subtle nod of approval. I knew instantly I was looking another independent Texan in the eye.

 I am fiercely proud of the stubborn independent streak, wider than the Rio Grande, that courses through our veins. I love Texas "Hi Y'all!" greetings,  chicken fried steak and smashed potatoes (what my kids used to call them), Texas barbecue, Texas music (thank you, Willie, Stevie Ray, Ruthie Foster, Pat Green, Los Lonely Boys, and on and on), Texas heat and how Texans look you right in the eye and don't flinch when they have something to say.
In the meantime, while everyone else in our wonderful nation is enjoying just another day in March, I hope you take a minute to breathe in some fresh air, look up at the wide open Independent sky, and smile. Texas Independence Day? It's NOT only for Texans....this spirit belongs to ALL of us who strive for Independence from the chains that bind us, the entanglements in life that keep us imprisoned. It reminds us to keep on keepin' not flinch in battle, to never ever give up, and to never ever take for granted those who went before us. For through their sacrifice, they have shown us anything is possible.
So, here's to Independence everywhere....Freedom....Celebrate it!
And that's it y'all...Happy Independence Day!!