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You are the First, not the Second

She’s a child prodigy. At the age of 3, she played the piano and violin with excellence. At the age of 4, she composed her first piece of music. As child prodigies go, I guess she’s average. (Insert chuckle here.) At 10, she wrote and composed a full opera. This demands more than violin and piano competency. The capacity required for this kind of composition goes beyond that of your “average” child prodigy. A music professor claims, “Her first language is mid-18th Century composer.” Before she could speak, she thought like Mozart and Mendelssohn. Over and over again she is likened to Mozart.

As I watched Scott Pelley interview her, she graciously acknowledges Mozart’s brilliance and states how delighted she would be to have him as her teacher. What she said next has played on a loop in my head. I can not stop hearing it. “I would rather be the first Alma, than the second Mozart.”

“I would rather be the first Alma, than the second Mozart.”

“I would rather be the first Alma, than the second Mozart.”

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I don’t know. I’d be pretty okay with being the second Mozart. In fact, I’d probably be down right giddy about it. Twelve year old Alma Deutsche rattled my cage. She is the first Alma and happy to become all Alma is designed to be, refusing to be limited by comparison and expectation.

I am the first Michele, not the second _________.

You are the first You, not the second of your parent, boss, sibling, mentor, famous person in your field.

How do you differentiate between who you are and who someone else expects you to be?

How do you embrace, accept, love and want to be more of you?

Alma says that melodies come easy to her. They pop in her head all day long. It’s the developing of them that takes real work. What comes easy to you? Are you willing to put the work into developing it?

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The Battle Rages


Two Assumption that can Stop it in it’s Tracks

She’d never been a mother, and yet, she was absolutely confident in her mothering ability. (Aren’t we all confident when we have not yet experienced it?)

“What I did next was cruel. And from where I stand now, after thirteen years fighting deep behind the enemy lines of the Mother Hood, I can tell you with certainty: any tribunal would call it a war crime. What I did next was launch a violent emotional ambush that left my unarmed sister wounded in the field.” Shonda Rhimes in Year of Yes

With absolute conviction she said something like, “I will never hire someone to take care of my baby. That’s just lazy. . .” Now with her third child in tow, she hires help. But in that moment she looked at her exhausted friend, a mother with a newborn, who hadn’t showered in a few days and shamed her. We’ve all learned the art of shaming each other. It’s one of the weapons we use to fight the terrifying battle in which we find ourselves.

We feel the shame and pass the shameful verdict on to the next person because it looks like everyone else has figured it out. If we shame someone else, at the very least, there will be one more person who hasn’t figured it out. “It” being parenting, relationships, business, community involvement, building a brand, you fill-in-the-blank. After all, when we scroll, we can clearly see that everyone has it figured out.

The idea that we don’t measure up, keeps us feeling ashamed. There is a battle that rages within us and the chief enemy — ourselves. We don’t need to ramp up the intensity of the battle by shaming, judging, comparing. It defeats us (and them) before we ever step out on the battle field.

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What if we start assuming two things: First, they do not have it figured out, even though it looks like they do. In fact, they are just as human as I am. Second, they are not judging us, even though it sounds like they are. When we make those two shifts, shame - judgement - comparison stop sticking to us. Those weapons are rendered useless. If we stop looking for the enemy in everyone else, we stop finding the enemy in everyone else. The battle stops raging and we can actually find ourselves, not our enemy.

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Pick Up a Feather

One by one the women walked to the jar released their stone and picked up a feather. The stone was weighing them down. It was time to let go of the heaviness. Prying their fingers off the fear, hurt, resentment, anxiety was harder than expected. And then what? Moving without the stone was so awkward, so unnatural. What now? What would take it’s place? What would they pick up? They reached for a feather — something light, something that helped them fly — courage, faith, peace, forgiveness.

My stone said, “Playing it safe.” It was time for me to let go of always being reserved, careful, calculated, flying just under the radar — release the need to constantly protect. The result of carrying that stone was a pacifying, repressing of my soul. What if my soul didn’t need to be tamed or placated? What if there was more? This stone was birthed from a place of fear — fear of loss, fear of taking on too much, fear of being overwhelmed, fear of losing control, fear of complete and utter failure. No decision made from fear brings confidence, contentment, ease, or bravery.

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If I surrender playing it safe, what will I pick up? What will help me fly, even soar? What propels me into living big?

Take a Leap.

I picked up the white feather with the gold tip and declared TAKE A LEAP. And. So. I. Will.

What stone is in your pocket? What do you need to let go of? How is it weighing you down? What will you pick up? What will help you fly, even soar?

Release the stone. Pick up a feather.

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On His Way to Her

I have sons I love dearly — men I admire and enjoy. There are few people who share the same love as a mother. When you meet someone who loves your child with the same joy, admiration, and understanding it is stunning, even miraculous.

I was in awe. She was everything I’d prayed for and more. She drips with a love, gratitude, and admiration for my son that left me speechless (which is fairly flabbergasting). Slow down just a minute because that is only one part of the story. Her daughter loves him the same way — with enthusiasm, deep compassion, and genuine adoration. What a precious, unexpected bonus — the captivating love of two in one package.

I have sons. I’ve always wondered what it would be like to have a daughter. I did not anticipate how moving it would be to watch her love my son. I sit here weeping over how beautiful it is.

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I treasure every skinned knee, sweet hug, long conversation, late night, early morning, new adventure, momentary set back, shift in plans, unexpected piece of the journey. But I didn’t know he was on his way to her.

Treasure the journey you are on — every dip, curve, straight-a-way, and the places in between. There are things you are on your way to that are indescribably beautiful. Those moments could be missed if we don’t cultivate, really practice, the art of enjoying every moment.

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A Way Out of Your Own Pain

This week I’ve been in a daily battle with physical pain. The good news: I’ve figured out the source and it can be remedied. In the meantime, my energy level is depleted and I want to sit and stare at the wall. Nothing more. Imagine my misery when I realized a month ago I had volunteered to help a local program last night. Sit. In. Chair. Or keep commitment.

I showed up for the most unexpected experience. Over 150 people in my community came out to fill 1,600 bags with food for children who otherwise wouldn’t have enough to eat this summer. The process resembled a well organized machine. People — elderly, teenagers, parents with children, business owners, people in wheelchairs, city councilmen — grabbed two bags and walked down a long line of tables filled with food. Each bag was passed off to a group of people tying the bags shut. Then the bags where pushed to another team who ran them to large containers. This machine churned out bags for over an hour. All of this took place inside a warehouse in Texas at the end of June. No doubt with the heat index in the upper 90s, the warehouse temp was edging up there too. The energy level was high (almost as high as the sweat equity, literally), the joy even higher and the fun over-the-top.

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The entire experience was a game changer for me — to both watch others give generously and joyfully and to participate alongside them. It took the focus off of my pain. Parents were teaching their children what it looks like to be part of the solution. City leaders were putting aside there already over-stretched schedules to invest in what matters. When we are in pain, either physical or emotional, we can sit in our chair and stare at the wall which keeps our focus on our pain. Or we can get out and be useful — providing something for someone else.

It’s a game changer.

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She was Dogged!

One hundred years ago this week, Congress passed the 19th Amendment: “The right of citizens of the Untied States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex. Congress shall have the power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.” An historical moment!

Flash back further than 100 years, in the presidential election of 1872, fifteen women cast votes, even though it was forbidden. Susan B Anthony was among them. Weeks later, she was arrested. At her trial, she was not allowed to testify because she was a woman. Four years later, she lead a protest. Twelve years after that she, along with others, formed the National American Women’s Suffrage Association. Every year she lobbied Congress on behave of women’s rights. She was dogged. She died fourteen years before women secured the right to vote. The significance of her impact has far outweighed the cost she paid.

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Impact: the action of one object coming forcibly into contact with another. Susan B. Anthony’s impact was hard fought. Many of us want to have impact, influence, significance but we aren’t willing to do the uncomfortable things, connect with people who disagree with us, sacrifice some of our own freedom for the larger good, and keep at it (whatever “it” is) even when we don’t see results. Susan was dogged.

Where have you given up?

Where could you be a little more like Susan?

Where are you having an impact that will last?

Get involved, be active, stay vigilant any where you can have an impact. Our impact or lack of impact will be felt for hundreds of years.

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Elephant Friend

She took her own life — a woman of high impact and tangible influence who worked hard and accomplished much and yet ended her own life. Isolation occurs in all kinds of places — with leaders, mothers, high performers, extroverts and introverts. When we find ourselves alone, we’ve landed in a dangerous spot. One of our absolute biggest needs is support.

My oldest son, a law student, is spending his summer on legal arguments that will assist an indigenous people group in returning to their homeland. My son sent this text immediately after landing halfway around the world to take on this assignment, “I feel so supported. Only the luckiest have a great family and get to help other people’s families.” He was clearly stating that when our need for support is met, we are freed up to support others — which is our destiny (it just looks different for each of us).

If you are one of the lucky ones, fully supported by your community, tribe, or family, get out there and find ways to fulfill your destiny. If you feel unsupported, your tribe, family, community exists. Not only do you need them but they need you. Keep searching for them.

The first step to finding your people is to show up as yourself. It seems so obvious but it’s much harder than we realize. Our desire to make good first impressions has us trying to act smarter, look more put together, and tell better jokes. When really, it’s our vulnerability, transparency, authenticity that will attract the people whom we enjoy and, conversely, enjoy us.

One of the practical and often uncomfortable steps to finding community is to keep showing up at the same places again and again. It takes time to be known and to know. I’ve been showing up in the same group of people every two weeks for almost a year. Last week someone introduced me as a character in a famous movie. (He’s green but definitely reflects my heart.) I immediately thought, “Ah, they DO know me!” Keep showing up.

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A group of women in my world have coined the phrase “elephant friend.” When elephants give birth their fellow herd gathers around them protecting them from the dangers in the wild and celebrating by “trumpeting” when the baby drops. To us an elephant friend is someone who both protects and celebrates. To be that and to have that requires showing up consistently as completely yourself. All of us need elephant friends.

Connection takes courage. Isolation steals life.

Be courageous.

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Life is Created

A crafter putting beads together for a bracelet might first choose complementary colors and contrasting textures; then lay them out, rearrange, and finally string them together. An individual confronting a problem will follow a similar pattern — picking the pieces needed, arrange them and rearranging them until there is a workable solution.

Life is created. Yet we often take what is handed to us and accept it as is, forgoing the creative process of adding and eliminating, arranging and rearranging until we have something that is a viable option.

The creative process includes four or five steps — the first, preparation. If you are making a bracelet get the supplies. If you are a musician, practice scales. If you are a programmer, play with code. If you are facing a problem, research options. This is work. Finding out more, practicing what you already know, playing around with other options. Preparation, exposing ourselves to more information, typically involves others.

Life is created. Feed your brain.

The second step in the creative process is incubation. Let our minds wander. Stretch our thinking. This is a challenging stage in the middle of our hustle and bustle world full of beeps, buzzes, notifications, and instant news. Even when we manage to set all that noise aside, we tend to make our own noise by stewing rather than incubating. Stewing brings agitation, fuming, worry. An incubator is a place of advancement, cultivation, nurturing. Both require heat but with different results — one cooks the egg, the other transforms it.

Life is created. Cultivate transformation.

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After incubation comes illumination and insight. This is the moment the pieces of the puzzle come together. Connections are made between ideas. This insight often strikes in the middle of the mundane — while driving, sleeping, walking, showering — when our brains are in neutral. If we’re not experiencing illumination, it might be because we regularly extinguish the light — suffocate the possibilities, keep ourselves stuck in the dark. We do that by never letting our brains be in neutral, instead we rehearse our hurt, question other’s actions, belittle ourselves and we do it on a shuffle and repeat setting.

Life is created. Uncover space for understanding.

When the incubating is complete, implementation begins. The creative process starts with work (preparation) and ends with work. It’s time to take the action. Do the thing. Create the piece. Of the people in the world who actually devise a plan, 1% work the plan. Putting the new solution, idea, pattern in place is where most of us stop short. Give up. Ignore. Forget. The difference between the 1% and the 99 — action.

Life is created. Take action.

Are you Looking for Death?

This week, I’m once again reading the story of the morning Jesus was no longer dead. Mary arrives early at the tomb only to discover that Jesus body is not there.
 
All Mary wants is for someone to give her back the dead body of Jesus. That’s what she came to the tomb looking for. Often what we see has been completely influenced by our expectations. She sees angels but believes someone has taken the corpse. She even sees Jesus but believes he’s the gardener. She expected death. She’s looking for death. If we’ve already pronounced death on a relationship, a job, an educational experience, a disability, we’ll miss the parts that are fully alive. When we’re looking for death, we won’t recognize Life.

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The original story says that when Jesus called Mary’s name she turned to face him. In other words, she had her back to him. She was still focused on the tomb. She kept facing the place that housed death. When Mary heard the Cultivator of Life call her name, that’s the moment she was able to peel her eyes away from what was life-less. When Jesus calls our name, we experience ourselves through the eyes of the One who Created Life. It’s no longer necessary for us to mull over the dead spots because LIFE is now in the spotlight.

  • What are you focused on?

  • How do you hear your name being called?

  • What will it take for you to see Life?

What you see is a direct result of what you are expecting.

What if the Answer is Yes?

My oldest son turns 30 in a few days. As a gift to him, I’ve written out 30 memories from his life. You’re right, it’s more of a gift to me than to him — because walking down memory lane is so sweet. Every other day, I write out 5 memories and mail them to him. A memory I have not yet mailed (don’t worry, he’s probably not reading this) has to do with his outrageous creativity. He was born creative. We all were. His was more obvious — it could not be held back. I, on the other hand, had a very narrow view of creativity and felt I lacked it.

When my sons were preschoolers, a friend said something to me about the way I fostered creativity in them. To be perfectly honest with you, I did not! I did not foster creativity in them. They had it and most of the time I was standing in the way of it — constantly saying, “NO. That’s too messy.” “NO. That’s too time consuming.” “NO. That takes too many supplies.” “NO. That requires too much energy.” Thankfully, their creativity could not be limited no matter how hard I tried. Finally, I came to the conclusion the answer should always be yes. Because I was prone to say no, I challenged myself with this question: what if you just said yes? And so I did. My no always came from a place of fear. Saying yes required confidence.

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One of my favorite people is Bob Goff. He and his friend Doug love to prank each other. If you know anything about Bob Goff, you can imagine how elaborate these pranks are. Bob had spent four months looking over his shoulder, waiting for Doug to pay him back for the last prank when the phone rang and a man with a heavy accent identified himself as the Ambassador from Uganda. Immediately Bob knew it was Doug and decided to say yes to everything Doug said. By the end of the conversation, Bob thought he’d agreed to be the lawyer for Uganda. He was amused. The conversation was abruptly ended with the promise of another call in two months. Two months is a long time and Bob had forgotten the entire thing when the phone rang again and the same gentleman identified himself. Again, Bob decided to agree to everything. Bob was asked to meet him in New York City. And so he did. As he was getting out of his cab, Bob laughed thinking of all he’d done to play along with Doug. He entered the lobby of the fancy hotel expecting to find a note from Doug.

As Bob was milling around the lobby, an entourage pulled up with little Ugandan flags waving above the headlights. Several members of Uganda’s government entered the lobby. Ambassador Kamuninwire gathered the dignitaries around Bob and announced he was the new counsel for the Republic of Uganda. They were asking him to be a diplomat, not a lawyer for Uganda. Bob never entertained the idea that this was all real until the scene in the lobby unfolded. There was never an opportunity for fear to enter into his decision making which meant the answer was always yes.

Are we limiting ourselves with the word no? Does your no come from a place of fear? What if you said yes? Or perhaps, said yes to different things? The next time something requires a tough decision or courage, consider saying yes.

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She had Guts

She was born in Brooklyn in 1924 to immigrant parents — her father, an unskilled laborer who sometimes worked in a factory that made burlap bags and other times worked as a baker’s helper; her mother, a skilled seamstress and domestic worker. Due to the demands of work there was little time to raise children. Shirley, at the age of five, along with her sisters was sent back to her mother’s home of Barbados to live with her grandmother. She attended a one room schoolhouse. Shirley reflected, “Years later I would know what an important gift my parents gave me by seeing to it that I had my early education in the strict, traditional, British-style schools of Barbados.”

At the age of 10, she returned to the United States. After she graduated with a Masters in elementary education, she directed Child Care Centers and worked as an educational consultant. She become an authority on issues involving early education and child welfare.

1968 was a dark year in our history. Martin Luther King was assassinated. Robert F. Kennedy was assassinated on the campaign trail. The Democratic convention was overtaken by furious protestors. Richard Nixon, the only president to ever resign from office, won the election. There was one bright spot in the year 1968. Shirley Chisholm, a children’s educator from Brooklyn, became the first black woman in congress. On this notorious day in history, her victory went practically unnoticed due to all the tragedy that was unfolding. When Shirley arrived in Washington, people took note!

The news media reported, “In the 12th district of New York a school teacher was elected to congress.” The 12th district was described as a solid urban slum. To her surprise she was placed on an agricultural committee. The first thing she did was speak out publicly against the leaders in congress who gave her the assignment. This got the media’s attention. In that day and time, people did what the party leaders told them to do. There wasn’t even a process for not doing what you were told. That didn’t stop Shirley Chisholm. She made history by challenging her first committee assignment. “We don’t have cotton fields or hogs in the 12th district.” She was the first freshman congressman to have her assignment changed.

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Shirley credited her grandmother for giving her a sense of her own identity. “Granny gave me strength, dignity, and love. I learned from an early age that I was somebody. I didn’t need the black revolution to tell me that.” From the moment she arrived in Washington, she was a force to reckoned with. Her nickname was “fighting Shirley.” From 1977 to 1981, Chisholm was elected to the prestigious position in the House leadership, as Secretary of the House Democratic Caucus. She had earned the respect of her fellow members of Congress.

Everyone Shirley hired for her office were women. Chisholm said that she had faced much more discrimination during her New York legislative career because she was a woman than because of her race. She was an outspoken advocate for women and minorities during her seven terms in the U.S. House of Representatives.

Running with the slogan “Unbought and Unbossed,” Shirley formally announced her presidential bid on January 25, 1972, in a Baptist church in her district in Brooklyn. Chisholm became the first black major-party candidate to run for President of the United States, making her also the first woman ever to run for the Democratic Party's presidential nomination. In her Presidential announcement, Chisholm describes herself as representative of the people: "I am not the candidate of black America, although I am black and proud. I am not the candidate of the women's movement of this country, although I am a woman and equally proud of that. I am the candidate of the people and my presence before you symbolizes a new era in American political history.” She knew that she did not have the support of the white male political power and she made that her advantage — the candidate of the people.

Upon retirement, after 14 years in Congress, she was asked how she wanted to be remembered, “I don’t want to be remembered as the first black women in congress. I’d like them to say that Shirley Chisholm had guts. That’s how I’d like to be remembered.” Chisholm is buried in a Mausoleum in Buffalo, where the inscription on her vault reads: "Unbought and Unbossed".

After her death in 2005, Congress commissioned a portrait of her. That is an honor reserved for party leadership. Shirley continues to tower in the Halls of Congress. Today, the most diverse and female congress ever stands on the shoulders of Shirley Chisholm (as well as under her portrait for selfies).

Shirley Chisholm, you had guts!

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Reach for the Stars

They call it the Trail of Tears — a one thousand mile trail the Cherokee Indians walked from their homeland in Georgia to the reservation in Oklahoma. Cherokee, the only tribe to lead a legal resistance to the white man’s acquisition of their land, were a settled people with well-stocked farms, schools and government. Chief Little John used every option short of war to defend Cherokee freedom and property including successfully arguing before the Supreme Court. Successfully. He won. But President Jackson refused to send troops to protect the Indian homeland. Prospectors were taking it for it’s rich gold and glorious farms. In 1838-39, he had no choice but to lead his people to their new home.

Seventy years after the relocation, sweet baby Mary was born, Little John’s great-great granddaughter. Because the Cherokee valued education, Mary graduated from college with a Math degree. After the US joined WWII and on the advice of her father, Mary moved to California in search of a job. Less than a year later she was working for Lockheed Aircraft. She began work on the P-38, one of the fastest airplanes designed at the time. The first military airplane to fly faster than 400mph. She became instrumental in solving numerous design issues.

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It was unusual for a company that hired a woman for work during the war to keep her once the war ended. Recognizing her value, a manager encouraged Mary G. Ross to become an engineer. With a slide ruler, not a calculator or a computer, she calculated the formula for getting a rocket outside of the Earth’s atmosphere. Some of her most influential work was on space travel to Mars and Venus. As the American missile program matured, she found herself immersed in researching and evaluating feasibility and performance of ballistic missiles. Much of the work done by the think tank she was a part of is still classified today.

Little John could have left a legacy of hate, anger, fear, depression, despair and disconnection. Instead he infused his descendants with curiosity, a desire to learn, bravery, hope, generosity and the aptitude to literally reach for the stars. If Little John were here today, he might say: Resist. Declare. Stand Firm. And if it doesn’t go your way, grieve, let go and restart because the generations coming behind you will be forever marked by what you do today.

Ole!

At the age of seven, Patricia McCormick was full of life and curiosity. On a family vacation to Mexico City, she was enthralled with a bull fighter who lost his shoes in the mud but continue to fight. That was the moment she fell in love with bullfighting. Back home, her tattered blanket quickly became a cape as she danced in front of her mirror with the biggest bulls she could imagine. She could see the beady eyes of an angered bull charging toward her, so close she could feel it’s breath. She jerked her cape one direction and took her body the opposite direction. Every time the bull in her childhood bedroom would charge the blanket and the crowd would explode with a deafening roar. The time passed quickly as she spent her early childhood fighting the bulls in her imagination.

Patricia attended UT in Austin to study opera only to discover she lacked musical talent. She transferred to UT at El Paso to study art. In El Paso, she reconnected with bullfighting in the neighboring Mexican city of Juarez. Every fight was a thrill for her. She spent every waking hour watching the bull fighters, studying the bulls, reading about matadors, and practicing in her dorm room with her father’s World War I blanket as a cape.

McCormick chose a career as filled with drama, passion, and death as any of the operas she longed to sing — she became a matador, the first American bullfighter, not to mention the first women in a machismo-saturated Mexican bullring. Patricia premiered as a guest bullfighter in Juarez in 1951. Although the bull trampled her a couple of times during her first appearance, the crowd enjoyed her performance and the judges deemed it superior. Her first professional fight was four months later. When she realized her upcoming appearances would be broadcast, she reluctantly told her parents she had quit college to fight bulls. They were appalled and rushed to El Paso for a meeting with the college president. Her Mother was in tears, repeatedly saying to Patricia, “How could you?” McCormick with a manager and a contract for nine fights, responded, “You can’t beat that.”

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She received top billing in stadiums from Mexico to South America. She insisted on following the same rules as the men. Female bullfighters typically rode horses in the ring and faced smaller animals. McCormick spent the entire fight on her feet, standing her ground and pivoting when necessary. Thousands of fans went wild at the sight of her. She was an international phenomenon. Time, Sport Illustrated and Look magazine all wrote profiles on her. Sports Illustrated called her the greatest woman bullfighter who ever lived. The bullfighting critic Rafael Solana once called her, “the most courageous women I have ever seen.”

For more than a decade, she experienced the bellowing crowd, the stirring band music, dust in her nostrils, half-ton bulls charging a swirl of red cloth, horns low and deadly. One thousand times she faced a bull set on killing her and was gored six of those times. In 1954, while fighting the second bull that day McCormick faced away from the bull to bow to the applauding crowd, a traditional part of the performance. The bull charged. As she started to turn, the bull gored her from behind, impaled her on his horns, lifted her into the air, and then traversed the arena. Her mentor, Alejandor del Hierro jumped into the ring without the aid of a cape and pulled her off the horns. The gruesome stomach and pelvic wound caused a priest to administer last rites over her mangled body right there in the arena. A doctor wanted her transported to the United States so that she could die in her own country. The next few days, McCormick floated in and out of consciousness vowing she would fight again. After a six month recovery, she fought several more years before exiting the arena in the early 1960s, complaining that the bulls had become too small.

“She fights larger bulls than does any other woman. . . and she kills well,“ said Carlos Arruza, a renowned torero. “Her only defect is that she is a woman.” In the mid 20th century, the bullring, too, had a glass ceiling. She performed on the same bill as some of the arena’s most accomplished men, facing the largest bulls at dusty rings across Mexico and Venezuela, yet she never advanced from the apprentice rank. A sponsor was required to become a full fledged matador. No male matador would sponsor a woman.

Patricia, you have sponsored us — given us a platform to face down the things that charge us, inspired courage within us to become more than what was expected of us, and left us challenged to stand bravely on your shoulders. Thank you for leaving a legacy. You’ve cleared a path for tenacious, powerful, determined, resilient women to follow their design and leave their mark on the world.

What is charging you today? Get on your feet, stand your ground, and pivot when you need to. Ole!

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A Place you Frequent and Never want to Return

You can’t find it on the map, but I know you’ve been there. It’s a place called STUCK. A place where you feel distant from others. In fact, their accolades, encouragement, humor and suggestions just sound like noise. The elevation here is higher than you expected and yet not quite high enough. You can’t easily get down but you don’t really want to go up either. Stuck is not a place you meant to arrive. Much like the Hotel California, you just can’t seem to get checked out of Stuck. In an effort to leave, you retrace your steps. Going out the way you came in is no longer an option. The struggle against this place is so intense you entertain the idea of just putting out a few throw pillows and making it home.

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The most shocking thing about Stuck, it only exists in our minds. To move beyond Stuck, we have to adjust our thinking, our beliefs, and the verbiage that comes out of our mouths. If we want to leave Stuck, we’ll have to stop saying, “I can’t. . .” “I don’t know how. . .” “I’m not . . .” We also have to look for an alternative route. The one that brought us here won’t take us out. The tools, skills, strategies that brought us this far won’t take us any farther. We’ll have to chose a more painful track. The one that produces growth.

Growth is painful, change can be distasteful, discomfort is unpleasant but nothing is as agonizing as being stuck in a place we do not belong.

What temporary pain can you choose today that will bring long term pleasure in the future?

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I'm a Valentine

I’m a Valentine. I mean I was born on February 13th. That qualifies me as a Valentine, right? I’ve always loved pink and hearts. My birthday celebrations are typically associated with the great Day of Love. This year, after decades of Valentine birthday celebrations, I decided to research the history of Valentine’s Day. The bottom line: nobody really knows. What we do know is there were two or three saints named Valentine. Everything beyond that is legend. Each story a little more gory than the last. When I started reading about beating women with animal carcasses to assist with fertility, my research ended abruptly.

Why do I care about the history or alleged history of Valentine’s Day? The reason for my probing can be tied back to my fascination with love or what we call love.

I fell in love with my sons as infants and loved every stage of their growing up years. They are brilliant, generous, thoughtful and kind young men. I always believed I loved them well. When they arrived at adulthood my love for them was challenged. They began to live a life different than I expected. Believe things I didn’t believe. Walk down paths I had never walked. It’s so easy, fun, exhilarating to love people when they agree with you. My mother’s heart, this extravagant love I had poured out on precious babies, energetic little boys, talented teenagers, brilliant scholars and handsome young men hiccuped.

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For the first time ever, I was learning what love looked like — love with no conditions; love that doesn’t require you to look, act, think the way I thought you would or should. My capacity to love extravagantly was being stretched. One of the most clarifying days of my life was the day my cherished sons took a different road than I. The conditions I had placed on my love were exposed. I was launched into learning the absoluteness of loving extravagantly. This is what makes me a Valentine - something expressing praise and affection - not my birth date. Loving recklessly is the sweetest place from which to love and be loved.*

 

*Please understand that I am not advocating you recklessly pour out your devotion to someone who is physically, mentally, or emotionally abusing you. That is a place for radical boundaries!

Don't Skip the Hard Stuff

I stood in front of a room full of people early Monday morning and apologized for something offensive that came out of my mouth a week earlier. The people in the room were gracious and kind. They knew my heart and chose not to take offense. My desire to make amends confirmed for them what they knew about me. All was well.

The truth is I could have skipped the humiliation of confessing to a crowd. Most of us would have bailed on the whole thing. After all, they were gracious, understanding, and not taking offense. The confession, apology, expression of gratitude for who they were seemed unnecessary. However, who they are does not change what I need to do. Sadly, this is not the first time I have apologized for action or behaviors that didn’t line up with who I really am. It is the first time I’ve recognized the larger impact of that confession. (When I started requiring my children to apologize to everyone who was present during their missteps, I had no choice but to do the same.)

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A day after my Monday morning confession, I ran into someone who was present at that meeting. He told me he probably wouldn’t have been brave enough to do what I did. Then he said something pivotal! “I learned so much by watching you do that. If I ever need to do something like that, I feel like I know how now.”

Sure, I could have skipped the whole thing and missed out on the growth and development that I personally gained. What I wouldn’t have realized is that everyone in the room would have missed out on personal growth. Being willing to be vulnerable, brave, and just grow out-loud, in-front-of others moves everyone in the room to new places of hope, understanding, and development.

Go ahead! Grow in front of others and watch them grow along side you. It turns out, confession is good for everyone’s soul!

Facing Down the Big Decision

Decisions. Every day. A million decisions. When to get up? What to wear? What to have for breakfast? How to motivate the kids? How to schedule the day? Who to ask about the project? And the list goes on. Most of those decisions we make quickly and easily, almost automatically. Occasionally big decisions stop us in our tracks. We feel paralyzed to take the next step. Below are five things I’m learning to do in the face of big decisions.

Just do It

In that paralysis, it’s important to remember there is never just one answer. When we have multiple options, believing that one is better than the other may keep us stuck. On a menu, we can choose the salad, the soup, the sandwich — each are good options for different reasons. You cannot choose the wrong thing. (If there was only one way to do it, we’d all be dead by now, right?) If you are looking for a job, a new home, a tribe, nothing is un-do-able. This mentality of “what if it’s the wrong decision?” hangs us in a place where we make no decision. The only wrong decision is not making one at all. Follow Nike’s lead and just do it. The course can be adjusted as we go.

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Slow Down

In moments where the decision is large and looming a knee jerk decision is never our best decision. Slowing the process down, purposely taking some time to think, lends itself to better decisions. Taking the time needed to reflect on priorities, goals, values and allowing our minds to truly percolate can bring clarity. Just breathe.

Set a Time Limit

The other side of that coin is we can all get paralyzed by analyzing. Setting a time limit to move the processalong keeps us from sitting in the restaurant for two hours deciding what to order. The same principle works for big, tough decisions. Give yourself two weeks and then do it. Or take the last 15 minutes of a staff meeting and say we are going to make a decision in the next 15 minutes. Time limits can help us with the just do it strategy.

Be true to yourself

Advice can be found on every corner. All decisions large or small need to reflect your values. Everyone has an idea about what you need to be doing. Do not go against who you are at your core. That will always be a decision you regret. For me, if I’m really wrestling with something and can’t find an answer, it’s usually because what I’ve been told to do and who I am are at odds. Always err on the who I am side — I learned that the hard way.

It’s about being not doing

What you do isn’t as important as who you do it with. Digging ditches with a group of fun, trustworthy, kind people will always be more fulfilling than working your dream job with a group of mean-spirited, two-faced manipulative people. It’s not the doing, but the being that becomes most important in decision making.

Go ahead. Decide.


Sometimes We Need an Invitation

An embossed invitation on linen paper arrives at your door. You’ve been invited! You’re boss invites you and the team to his house for a barbecue. You’ve been invited! A dear friend texts you inviting you to dinner and a movie. You’ve been invited! An invitation is precious. We feel seen, regarded, honored. To be invited is to be valued.

INVITE is my word for 2019. It feels like an odd word to adopt as a guidepost for the months ahead. The more time I spend learning about the word invite, the more confident I am that it’s my word. To invite requires awareness of the opportunity to summon someone into more. This word pushes me to recognize there is more and be willing to invite others to it.

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In my 20’s, I was invited to forgive. It was a life-shaping moment. Hate that had transformed my 28 year old self into a bitter old lady fell away. My circumstances did not change. I did. I was invited into something more by someone who was willing to invest, linger with me in my resistance and celebrate with me in my victories. I was invited!

At the age of 14 and again in my 30’s, I was invited to do something I was incapable of. The first was an invitation from my grandfather, the later from my boss. Both men believed in me and demonstrated it by giving me great responsibility. In the middle of fear, doubt, uncertainty, I accomplished what felt impossible. Without the invitation from these men, I never would have stepped into those responsibilities. I would have continued to believe I was incapable. I was invited!

A few years ago, I was invited to take a risk by a leading businessman. I am not a risk-taker. The known and comfortable is where I live. Risking something seems so risky! I prefer what is safe. Being invited into a place of discomfort created the opportunity for growth that I never would have seized. I was invited!

INVITE is my word for 2019. I will opt to invite everyone I can into places that will be empowering, encouraging, affirming. Because there is more. And sometimes we need an invitation.

What is your word for 2019?

Giving the Perfect Gift to the King

I have a niece who is a perfect gift giver. Every time you open a gift from her or see someone else open a gift from her, you think, “Wow! that’s perfect!” It’s truly mind-blowing to watch someone give a perfect gift every single time.

I, on the other hand, am a very practical person. When I attend a baby shower, I bring diapers. That is a fabulous gift because no matter what happens next you will need diapers. When I arrive at a wedding, I bring a Target gift card. I see you rolling your eyes but I’m telling you this is a perfectly good gift. I have been known to give oranges at Christmas with a few nuts. You would eat oranges, if I gave them to you. But I’m not going to because I can sense your attitude right about now. I have two sons 27 and 29, it’s been 3 or 4 years since I’ve given them gifts because they can buy their own shaving cream. You can imagine how my perfect-gift-giving-niece feels about a pair of socks and a razor from me. My friends and family really prefer that I not bring a gift — my gifts say things to them that they just don’t want to hear.

This year I was looking at the piece of the Christmas story where the Magi bring gifts to the King (Matthew 2: 11)— Gold, Frankincense and Myrrh. Gold is precious, rare, valuable — a perfect gift for royalty. Frankincense, at that time, was an incense that was made and burned only in the Temple. It was set apart for the divine. (Now we know it to be incredibly useful for all kinds of healing.) Myrrh was used as a purifier for preparation, either for burial or queendom. (Four hundred years earlier, Esther spent 12 months using myrrh, in order to prepare for becoming the Queen.) Whichever way you use it, it points toward destiny.

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The Magi are giving us some instruction in their gift giving — to be a gift to the King, show up as gold, frankincense and myrrh.

Gold - Royalty

Many of us have been trained to think like a pauper. We assume the worst, believe we’re nothing, dwell on what we’re not. Royalty recognizes their authority, power, distinction and operates in it. Embrace royalty. Throw off the limitations we carry around with us that sound like, “There’s not enough time, resources, creativity, etc.” and embrace that we have access to the King of Kings. It will change how we see things. When our perspective shifts, everything shifts.

Frankincense - Chosen

Often our day is spent thinking about the raw deal we’ve been handed or the way in which we’ve been overlooked or how we don’t belong. We have been selected, picked, favored, settled on by the King of Kings. Understand we are chosen. When we begin to believe who we are (chosen), we start to show up differently (more fragrant with the capacity for healing).

Myrrh - Destined

Telling ourselves we are insignificant or believing others when they tell us that, leaves us feeling purposeless. Recognize we have a destiny. When we don’t have a problem knowing whose we are (the King’s Royal son or daughter), and who we are (the chosen, picked one), we can focus on making sure others catch the revelation of why they exist. “A man who understands his own destiny can draw it out of others,” Proverbs 20:5.

You are the gift to the King — a gift of Gold, Frankincense, and Myrrh. Merry Christmas!

Peace in All Seasons

In the Christmas season, there is much talk about peace — messages like: Peace on Earth; World Peace; May Your Year be Filled with Peace can be seen on cards, social media, storefronts, TV specials and area businesses. And yet, it is the most hectic, stressful, emotional time of the year for many. I have a friend who says he is so happy when Christmas is over, so that his wife will relax. A little contradiction to the season’s message, isn’t it?

There is one thing in the world that I refuse to do — shopping. I will climb Mt. Kilimanjaro before I will go shopping. Which means, I go without. I wear clothes that have been in the closet for years. If I’m wearing something new, someone else bought it for me. If I absolutely have to purchase something, I buy it online. Should some catastrophe befall me and I find myself walking into a store, I walk straight to the item I need and straight out. There is no browsing, no handling, no curiosity. In and out. This means that you will never find me in a store in December because walking in and out is not really an option in this retail frenzy season. I went shopping yesterday. Many stores were involved. Peace could not be found in any of them and that’s an understatement.

We have this false idea that peace is tied to what is happening outside of ourselves. If that is the case, we are all doomed. Good news: if we will stubbornly focus our minds on a specific list of things, we will discover peace or more accurately preserve it within ourselves. (Side note: holiday shoppers have not perfected this practice.)

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Stubbornly focus our minds on:

  • What is accurate. Honest messages about yourself and others get crowded out by messages that are not accurate.

I’m not going to make it. This is stupid. I can’t believe they are such terrible people.

When we direct our minds toward accurate messages like:

I’m not perfect and this will be good, I just need to give it a little more thought.

This isn’t working out like I expected, what can I adjust here.

I’m not understanding them, I wonder where they are coming from.

Those messages alone shift everything and provide space for PEACE to grow.

  • What is worthy. Fostering honorable thoughts about your circumstances takes some intention. While holiday shopping, one thought could be:

These people are out of their minds!

Or we could focus on how everyone is looking for gifts to communicate that they care and that is definitely something we love. Worthy, honorable thoughts about what is happening around us bring PEACE to our own souls and possibly a few others.

  • What is gracious. Compassionate conversations with strangers and friends focus us on what we can learn about them. Wondering about the other person, their ideas, their ways, their experience (even if we have opposing ideas and experiences) pushes us toward PEACE.

  • What is the best. We have made a sport out of re-living our worst moments. They replay on repeat in our heads.

I can’t believe I said that, did that, lost it like that. Everyone thinks I’m a terrible . . . mom, boss, employee.

What is the absolute finest moment of our day? Let’s re-live that! Replay the choicest pieces of the day to preserve PEACE.

  • Things to Admire. Focusing our mind on things that are worth celebrating pulls us away from the all-too-easy trap of blaming, shaming, denouncing, and humiliating ourselves and others that is so prevalent in our culture. Training ourselves to look for things we admire and applaud (and verbalize them to others) will shift the experience for all of us to a more PEACEFUL place.

This list is only a part of a list that the Apostle Paul wrote out for us to keep our minds focused and peaceful. Many centuries later Ralph Waldo Emerson agreed, “Nobody can bring you peace but yourself.” This Christmas may peace reign in your heart and mind because you became intentional about where you focused.