Why I’m Sticking With Gratitude

Yesterday, after teaching a morning bootcamp class, I zipped over to the grocery store. The plan was to make it a quick trip. I had a load of things I wanted to accomplish before my afternoon class.

Cool, I thought, the parking lot is near empty, I pulled into a front parking spot, and grabbed myself a big cart (I established a personal rule of no small carts, no matter how small the trip, after the very embarrassing small-cart-incident of unexpectedly hitting a dip in the parking lot, the abrupt stop of the cart almost sending me barreling headfirst, in plain full parking lot view, right over top). The big cart and I safely and efficiently cruised through the aisles, finishing in record speed at the check-out line, with only one woman in front of me, who was already swiping her credit card. Score!

When it was my turn, the woman behind the check-out counter smilingly asked her required questions: Had I had found everything ok, and how was I doing? We then made typical check-out counter small talk as she swiftly swiped my items; what a beautiful day it was, how warm and sunny, and so on. Friendly, yet impersonal. And, I probably would have left the store in about 3 more minutes, with a lift to my step from the ease and friendliness of the experience, but without much further thought as I moved on with the rest of my day. Instead, I turned my head to the new sound of voices entering the quiet of the store.

A small group of kids, all with varying special needs, and their educators, were walking in and grabbing carts. There was a lot of excited chatter amidst the distribution of carts, and once a cart was in hand, a child and their educator were happily off on their shopping adventure. I spotted the back of the blond head of one of Wil’s friends, Nick, as he expertly made his way down the aisle with his cart.

The check-out woman saw me looking their way, and said, “That is a special needs class from Saline schools.” To which I replied, “One of those boys is my son’s friend. They both have Down syndrome. I was hoping to catch his eye, but he went off shopping in the other direction.”

“Oh,” she said, “I was a para-educator for 20 years. My son also had special needs. He went to school at Highpoint (a school for kids with a higher level of needs).” “I know Highpoint,” I said, “I used to work at the WISD and my neighbor recently retired from there.”

“When I started teaching,” she told me, “they were just starting inclusion. I believe in inclusion, but it’s not right for all of our kids. My son needed to be at a place like Highpoint.”

“I understand,” I said. “I’m so thankful for the inclusion my son has right now. We have not had to fight for it, he naturally receives what you had to fight for those years ago. Yet, I also understand what you are saying about inclusion not being right for everyone. Though my son enjoys and benefits from inclusion, I found in certain subjects, like math, the most effective place for him to be is in the resource room. Each child is very different.”

She nodded. “My son was completely typical, then he almost drowned when he was 2 ½. After that, he had multiple special needs, too many to be at a regular school with inclusion.”

She paused, then looked me right in the eye, I could tell she was deciding if she should share something with me, then she did.

“You know, there are some things worse than dying. To have a typical child and then…”

My heart went to the pit of my stomach. I looked at her gently, and all I could do was nod. What words are there for something as heavy as that?

“My son did die, he was only 10 years old. I have 6 children, so, well, that helps.”

But, what can truly help? She did what she could to cope. She helped other parents who had kids with special needs as a para-educator. I have absolutely no doubt that many parents found comfort in her knowing nods and compassionate words when she was responsible for the care of their child each day. I also have no doubt that those kids under her care received her best. You don’t go through what she did, and do the work she did for 20 years if you don’t care deeply about the purpose of that work.

We talked a little more, but by then my items had been checked and bagged, and a man was waiting behind me in line. It was time to go. I told her it was really good talking with her, and we wished each other a good day. I know I will make a point to find her line again.

Back at my car, filling it with groceries, I thought of our conversation. It was heavy, yes, but also, I felt a huge sense of gratitude for that time with her. Gratitude that she chose to share her story with me so that I could connect with her and learn from her in my very own life experiences.

Good days are good. The front parking space, the cruising through the uncrowded aisles, the smile and friendliness of a check-out worker, and the sun burning away the clouds and warming the air. They lift us, they carry us to a certain point, and they even spread, but they don’t run very deep, because they don’t stick. We catch them and hold on to them when we can, and enjoy them, but they are unpredictable and fleeting. They come, and they go.

Stories shared and connections made as in the one at the grocery store have staying power. They stick. I am never left the same after conversations like that, and it’s a wonder, how many I have had just like that since Wil has been born. And, it’s in these very unlikely, common places where they happen.

Last Saturday, I was in the hallway at Katherine’s karate tournament. I happened to put on a necklace that morning that our Down Syndrome Support Team sells. They are beautiful, handmade necklaces, and nothing about them says “special needs” except for the fact that they are sold at our Buddy Walk each year, the proceeds going to our support group. In the crowd of people walking back and forth in that hallway at the tournament, a blond woman stopped, pointed at my necklace and said, “Buddy Walk! I have about 5 of those! I love them, and yours is especially beautiful!”

“Thank you,” I said, “do you have a Buddy you walk for?”

“Oh, lots of them. I’m a special education teacher in Saline.”

We shared a smile, and went on our own separate ways down the busy hallway.

A passing friendly comment on a piece of jewelry in a crowded public place, but it will last longer than the smile she gave me. That compliment drives deeper, because it carries with it a common purpose, a common cause, which we both innately understand in those few words we exchanged.

At a birthday party I went to at a lake, where Wil was happily splashing around, a woman walked up to me, and said, “Your son reminds me of mine when he was your son’s age. So blond, so sweet. I miss him at that age.” And, then we shared stories like old friends reconnected about our kids and our lives, except we had only met that very moment, and our only known connection was Down syndrome. I learned so much about the experiences Wil could look forward to in her stories, and she was able to look back and relive some of her son’s youth.

I can recount many such stories, in restaurants, walking down the street wearing my Buddy Walk shirt, and other such every day places. I believe that I am so easily approached with these experiences is not for any other reason than that I am open to them now, when I wasn’t before. I did not have the “WIL”lingness those years ago that I do now.

Last night, I went to bed overflowing with gratitude. Not because of a front parking spot or the ease of my day, but because I now have opened myself to the gift of looking underneath the surface shine. Diving down deeper, past the pretty and shimmery surface, down through the murky and the messy, the deeper of the emotions, and down, down, down, down, to uncover the treasure chest of connection. That is where the staying power to fulfillment is. That is what sticks.

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What’s so funny about?

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“What’s so funny about?” Wil asked me this morning, as he was eating his breakfast.

Good question, Wil. He didn’t make a joke, he wasn’t trying to be funny. In fact, he was just sitting at the table eating oatmeal.

What is so funny about plain, old oatmeal?

It was in the way he was eating. He was so darn happy about his plain, old oatmeal.

The way he was smiling, wiggling around in his chair, and dipping in with such gusto, you would have thought it was a big old bowl of ice cream.

His energy was so high and bright, that I couldn’t help but watch him and giggle at his excitement over oatmeal.

But, it wasn’t about the oatmeal. It was because he was awake! It was morning! The day was just beginning! Let’s get this party started!

He didn’t say that, but I sure could feel it, and it was so beautifully contagious, I couldn’t help but feel the same way and start to giggle.

Isn’t that funny how you can just feel people’s energy and be carried right along with them?

Some people lift you up just by being around them. They are full of energy, life and smiles. They are excited about life! They don’t have to be rich, have immense talent, or have anything uniquely spectacular going for them, they just enjoy life for life. They have struggles, and obstacles, just like anyone else, but they find meaning in them rather than focusing on the darkness of them. They move forward with a lift in their step, and it’s so beautifully contagious.

And, then there are the Debbie Downers. It is very dark within their circle because all they focus on is what is going wrong, or how they were wronged. They are the energy suckers. Nothing seems to go right for them, their life is one problem to the next. They believe they have more obstacles and struggles than most, but in reality, they just are so mired in fear, that they don’t want to readjust their focus to move forward out of the fear. They may be very well-meaning people, but until they readjust their focus, they will always live in that fear, and only see how everything around them is wrong, and how wronged they are by others.

Most of us have been a little bit of both in different times in our lives. But, the moment we realize we are in full power of our focus and perspective, is the moment we learn the courage to work with our fears, and move past them, and enjoy life for all that it offers us to be.

The cool thing is, you don’t need more money, a better childhood, or anything other than the sheer desire and willingness to change your perspective.

It’s freezing rain here right now. The sky is dark, grey, and the clouds are really low. It’s not a very uplifting sight. My guess is, if I scroll down facebook there will be many negative and complaining comments today, simply because it is a grey day.

But, why do we live like that? Why do we allow something like the weather, that is completely out of our control, to control our own mood? We can not control the weather, but we can control our mood and perspective. It just takes a little time, desire and effort to change our focus to create a more enjoyable and fulfilling day.

When we feel dark, everything around us looks dark. We are what we focus on. Do you want a dark life? Focus on the dark and you are well on your way.

When we feel light and bright, everything around us looks brighter. The dark is still there, but we see beyond it, we find meaning in it, and it is seen as a growing experience rather than gloom and doom.

I am running 13 miles on this dark, cloudy, rainy day. There is no way around the weather. I could bemoan the fact that I have to go out in this, or endure 13 miles on the treadmill, or not run at all. And, hey, it’s not my fault, it’s the damn weather’s fault!

But, I’m not going to do that. Instead, I’m going to take a lesson from Wil today. I’m not an over-the-top fan of running in the freezing rain, but I’m excited to be awake! I’m excited that I have the ability to run! So I’m going to lace up my shoes, crank up the tunes on my iPhone, and get this party started!

So, if you see me out there running and smiling in the rain, you won’t have to ask, you’ll already know what’s so funny about.

Are You Being Honest With Yourself? Like, Deep Down Honest?

 

Are you being honest with yourself? Like, deep down honest? No comparisons with anyone else, not blaming anyone else or anything, just being honest with who you are and who you want to be?

When I find myself in blame or saying someone or something is holding me back from reaching my full potential, if I dig deep enough, I find that I am the problem, not anyone else. I am not asking for what I need, I am not doing what it takes, I am not taking the steps that need to be taken.


No one is to blame for not reaching my goals but myself. There is always, always a way.


Maybe getting there is not taking avenue that I envisioned, but if I am truly and brutally honest with myself about what I want, all those excuses, reasons, and blame fall away, and I begin to see new avenues to get there. I find that even though there are things and people who throw challenges my way, I can see my way through them, and I will get there if I only discipline myself to stay focused.


The truth is, no one has any power over your mind and your actions and reactions but you. Once you are truly honest with yourself, you will see your excuses for what they are, and other people who stand in your way are simply fearful because of their own internal dialogue and it really has little to do with you, and once you realize this, and discipline yourself to stay trained on your focus, but flexible in your approach, you will gain a freedom and inner joy and courage that simply can not be attained when hiding behind your reasons.


Get honest, drop the excuses, create a fantastic week for yourself, you deserve it because YOU ARE FREAKING AWESOME!!!!!  

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Do you DO good? DO you?

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Do you DO good? DO you?

Before you answer, let’s check out this do-gooder scenario: A town decides they want to do good by helping people at the poverty level. They decide on a food drive, that way the whole community can get involved, and then they’d really be do-gooders. Out goes a press release, fliers are posted, and food collection boxes are found on every corner. Soon, the boxes are filled with donations. Everyone in town is happy, patting each other on the back for a job well done. Oh, what do-gooders they all are!

Or are they?

Ok, now let’s check out the poverty-stricken neighborhood this food is going to:

First we pass by an enormous community garden bursting at the seams. Then, hey, look at the following their local church has! They collected enough food in their recent drive to feed those in need.  Oh, but look at all those kids in need of shoes and coats. And, the after-school activities have been cut, so the community is seeking volunteers to keep the programs going and kids off the streets.

Now, back to our food drive folks. Did they do good? There is no doubt there was good generated in the form of good intentions, goodwill, and people feeling good about themselves. But, the purpose of this food drive was to DO good by filling a need in an impoverished community. Good intentions yes, DO good, no.

Now, just because these folks generated good feelings but didn’t DO good doesn’t mean they all need to become martyrs to accomplish DOING good. You can accomplish DOING good and FEELING good all at the same time, and it’s really not that difficult.

DOING good is discovering what a true need is, and working to fill that need. Once you start working to fill a true need, you will be DOING good, which then naturally creates goodwill and positive feelings of doing good.

I’ll never forget this story of a large corporation collecting loads of basketballs to send to impoverished people overseas. The company believed that games of basketball would give these people a much-needed distraction from the troubles they were facing. This company created a sense of goodwill in their community, but there was one big problem. The people who received the basketballs had not a clue what basketball was!  Good intentions yes, DO good, no.

So, now, back to those first questions: Do you do good? Do you?

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