Tag Archives: friendship

Some Days I Walk Into the Counseling Office and…

…. I look like I just got out of bed. My hair is in a ponytail with those crazy sprigs making that fuzzy weird look that happens when I haven’t had time to shower. I’m wearing sweatpants – not the yoga pants that are almost acceptable at work now – the full on sweatpants that even the most uncool won’t wear outside of their house anymore. I’m wearing my most comfortable sweatshirt. It is the one that I’ve had for a long time, that a friend gave to me, and that I’m pretty sure will stay with me until I die. Even though the ends of the sleeves are unraveling and breaking apart, I find comfort in the worn-out inside that makes me feel like me.

These are the days in the counseling office when we pick apart the scariest parts of my brain. The scary is mostly caused by chemistry and impacts energy. The energy changes that come with the ups and downs of a bipolar brain can sometimes be a little overwhelming. Although I have some sense of seasonal impact, I really do not know when a change could happen.

Most people think that the scariest part of mental health are the low energy times.  In fact, for most people high energy times are much worse.  The brain races along faster than we can catch our thoughts. We open businesses, agree to too much, and talk super fast.  We might not even be able to listen to you because your words are not coming out fast enough for us. We interrupt, speak for you, and often misunderstand what you really meant.

Another common misconception is that low energy and sadness go hand in hand.  This is simply not true.  While they can co-exist, they are two separate entities.  Depression/low energy is not really a bad mood.  It is simply low energy.  Imagine influenza with the headache and fatigue.  That is low energy.  The DSM might have depression in the mood category, but I think it is wrong.  Sadness is a feeling, and that can happy in a high energy time or a low energy time. Feelings and energy are different.

I digress – back to the counseling office.

On other days, I show up looking like I may head to the beach. I’m wearing the shirt that makes me feel the most like me. This past summer I wore the same shirt to all of my counseling sessions. I bought it when I was on a trip to Rhode Island for a wedding in May. Somehow I had under-packed and needed more clothes. Having to go to the store and find a couple of shirts that would look OK in the various occasions that I had to attend is one of the worst things that I could need to do. On rare occasion, though, I find things in stores that scream me.

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My favorite days are when I enter the counseling office and it might not be clear which is of us is the client and which is the counselor. I look like I’m ready to conquer the world.  I may be in those yoga pants or the black dress pants that I wear to to important meetings. This is when I think that I have all my crap together, and being in the counseling office might actually be a waste of both of our time.  But it isn’t.  These are the days that I get the most done and am able to identify how to keep my crap together once I leave the office.
Even though we have come along way in our society in regards to our attitudes about the counseling office, we still attach a stigma to those (like me) who spend several hours a year there.  More often than not, we do not want to say that we are going there, why we are there, or how long we have been there.
I have decided that, regardless of which of these Stacys walk into the counseling office, it is a good place to be.  My counselor is only concerned about me making good choices, she has nothing at stake in this, and she is trained to ask the hard questions that most of us would be afraid to even think.
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If you think you need a session or two with someone who can do that for you, I highly suggest that you seek someone today.  If you live in a little town without a counselor, contact Family Innovations in Minnesota. They have just added online counseling to their arsenal.

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Resting on Labor Day

Today is Labor Day.

According to the United States Department of Labor, “Labor Day, the first Monday in September, is a creation of the labor movement and is dedicated to the social and economic achievements of American workers. It constitutes a yearly national tribute to the contributions workers have made to the strength, prosperity, and well-being of our country.”

What does Labor Day mean to you?

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For almost the last decade, Labor Day has meant two things for our family:

  1. The end of summer as our kids go back to school on the day after Labor Day.
  2. A weekend of Family Camp at Village Creek Bible Camp.

There is truly no better place to spend the last weekend of summer.

Whether up high on a hill overlooking the valley, in the woods walking the trails, or down in the valley looking up and all around, this place is beautiful and filled with variety.

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In addition to the beauty, there are activities for everyone – horseback rides, archery, the lake (with a blob!), the gym, and the craft room.

The group of us who go together like to do very little.  We sit in front of one of the cabins on our lawn chairs and eat the snacks that we brought along to share.  We connect with each other as the start of school and fall and all that comes with it nears.

And we connect again with God through the beauty of the place, the messages during chapel sessions, and the conversations over meals.  We pray with each other and for each other.  We leave our burdens or share them.

It is Labor Day, but it is filled with the rest that God provides through His word, His son, and His community.

If this day were Thanksgiving, I would say, “I am thankful for Village Creek Bible Camp.”  It is not Thanksgiving, but I am still thankful for Village Creek Bible Camp – the place, those who serve, and what it provides.

Happy Labor Day to all!  I hope that you find peace and rest on this day.

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Story Street

story street

I have always loved anything that involves a good story.  Good books, good movies, good theater, and even – when I was much younger –  good radio plays. Before you get any ideas, I am not ancient – these memories are from the 80s!  I remember that there was a radio drama that came on about once a week about a chicken-man who would save people from things. I’m pretty sure it was a spoof on super hero comics, but it was awesome.  The only thing that I really remember is when they would announce that the hero was on his way to someone in despair.  The booming voice-over would say, “Chicken (pause) man! He’s everywhere! He’s everywhere!”

We all have a story to tell…

While girls seem to have the market on the chatting, all of us have something to say.  The fact that WordPress has 374,607 of blogs with over a million posts each day says that a lot of us have something to say.  We seem to want to share our stories.  And we should! Stories are what draw us closer to one another in deep and meaningful ways.  When we open up to another person (or the world – thank you, blogosphere) with our story, we can connect on a different level than what we could before we shared.

When I found Story Street in Rockport, I was immediately challenged.

It seems that I am sharing my stories all the time through this blog.  I write when I am sad. I write when I am happy.  I write when I am angry.  I write when I feel victorious.  And I talk a lot (I am Italian…).  But am I really sharing stories?  Am I really and truly opening up and delving down beneath that shallow shelf of the “safe” stories?  And should I go any deeper?  Does my public sharing of my one-sided perspective of how my life has gone provide an accurate telling of any of the stories?

Sharing stories must be done with care.

My story may contain someone else’s story, and it may not be my place to tell that story.  When that is true, I need to take a minute and consider before I just blurt it out to the world.  This is how I attempt to move forward with my blog.  I try very hard not to share something about someone else without having received permission.  I did not do this when I shared about my own adoption.  Even though it is a great story, it has a lot of other people’s stories in it.  There is really no way to share that story without other stories being involved.  I need to get better at this.  After a year of blogging, I still struggle with this.

As I move forward, wanting to share my story, I need to keep all of this mind.  I want to be authentic.  I want to share my perspective with others.  And I want to share what I have learned so that – maybe – others can skip the lesson and go right for “what I learned.”

But if my story crosses over into your story, I want to intentional about allowing you room to approve of my use of your story.  I realize that it takes a bit of humility to ask someone’s permission before I post something.  If I do not get that permission from you, please call me out and let me know that I have crossed a line.

Lastly, I want to encourage others to share their stories.  Whether you start a blog and write every day like I have or not, your story is important.  Finding a way to share your story is important.  Others will connect with you, and you will feel blessed by their stories as well.  Sometimes we just need to listen; other times, we need to share.

A friend and fellow blogger had series called So. Many. Stories. through which she hosted the stories of others.  What a great concept!  Without totally stealing her idea (I have credited her here!!), I have been considering doing something similar.  To a certain extent, I have done this a few times when I have allowed others to share their thoughts via this blog.  As I consider how I could do that more, I ask you to consider how you could share your story either in writing or in person with others.

We all have a story to tell…

If you liked this post, you might like some of the others that have come from my vacation to the east coast:

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To Be Seen

As I mentioned in a previous post, our family recently went to see the Festival Theatre’s production of Man of La Mancha. 

As is typical in theatre, literature, and film, there is a man in love with a girl. But this love interest is different than our modern, over-the-top, and inappropriate relationship.  Don Quixote loves “pure and chaste from afar” and though, he declares his love to his lady, they rarely even touch.

What is even more unconventional about this relationship is who they they are.  He is a peasant who – by all accounts of those around him – is a madman for believing that he is a knight.  She is … well, how shall we say … a whore who describes herself as “no one … nothing at all.”

The twist?  Don Quixote’s “madness” allows him to see the bar-maid/prostitute named Aldonza as the lady Dulcinea (translated from Spanish to English = sweet one).

Dulcinea claims that Don Quixote torments her with his rants about her being a lady.  At one point, she pleads:

Won’t you look at me, look at me,
God, won’t you look at me!
Look at the kitchen slut reeking with sweat!
Born on a dung heap to die on a dung heap,
A strumpet men use and forget! 1

But he will not back down.  He has chosen to see her as a lady, and he will not be swayed.

SPOILER ALERT: if you continue to read this post, you will learn about the end of the musical.  Just letting you know!

At the end of the musical, we see Don Quixote on his deathbed – madness gone replaced with (in my opinion) depression.  As I see it, once his dream died, he basically had nothing for which to live.  Aldonza/Duclinea rushes in to speak with him.  She needs him to know who she is, to remember what he called her, and (in my opinion) to remember why he called her that.

Somehow, through his madness, Aldonza was able to see herself through Don Quixote’s eyes as Dulcinea.  Before Don Quixote came along, she believed that – because she circumstances – she would never rise above from whence she had come.  However, Don Quixote essentially gave her new eyes when he showed her the way that he saw her.  Because he essentially created a future of hope rather than despair, she could live as Dulcinea.

How someone else sees us has so much power…

We each hold someone else’s future in our vision.  If we choose to discourage someone from seeing hope, we could kill a dream.  But if choose to encourage, we could give wings so that they can fly (sorry for the cliché!). But it s true!

This completely boggles my mind!

Imagine what we could do if we all saw those “born in a dung heap” as lords and ladies worthy of our deference.  Imagine how lives would be changed if we used a little madness now and then better the world by going on quests, dreaming the impossible dream, righting the unrightable wrongs, and seeing people beyond their circumstances.

What will I choose today?  What will you choose today?  What quests are we called to start today that will take us on adventures and misadventures and that will ask us to see people in ways for which we may not be ready?

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1: source

http://www.lyricsondemand.com/soundtracks/m/manoflamanchalyrics/aldonzalyrics.html

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We Cannot Go Back

Regardless of whether we are ready or not, life has a way of simply moving forward.  We may want to hold onto today, but – by tomorrow – today will be gone.  The past comes so quickly.  Stop – there…that is now in the past.  We cannot do anything about it. The moment is gone, and we are in the now.  The more we try to hang on to the past, the less likely we are to see the now.

No matter how hard we try, we cannot go back and capture the past.

385555_10150934398082371_1647390012_nI have now been to and have returned from my 20th high school reunion.  The planning committee worked very hard to create the best possible reunion, and nearly one half of my graduating class turned out for the event.  Before I arrived at the first event on Friday night, I was so sick to my stomach with anxiety.  As I spoke with others, I realized that I was not the only one who felt this way.  It was hard for us to know what it would be like to see each other again after – for many of us – twenty years (or ten if we attended the last reunion…).

Many of us would not do high school again if given the choice.

In speaking with many people, I came to realize that I was not one of the few who found high school as a difficult experience.  I had guessed this, but it kept being confirmed over and over again.  Many of us had walked out of the graduation ceremony and had just kept walking.  A few attempts at getting together or communicating had occurred, but we many of us had pretty much built lives separate from the high school experience.  And we were not sure what it would mean or be like to go back.

Others had stayed very connected with their high school friends.  Some had continued with the friendships that they had even as they added new friends from other experiences – many of them had remained in our hometown, but that was not required for them to be in this group .  It was obvious, to me at least, that this group to which I did not relate experienced something different at the reunion than what I was experiencing. Without spending a great deal of time with a good number of these classmates, I would not know how this occurred, why this occurred, and if this meant that they enjoyed the reunion more.

Either way – there was one thing that I realized very quickly: none of us can go back to the way it was in high school.

None of us (especially me as I was never good at this) will don cheerleading outfits again.  Few of us will pursue the sports that we (they – I am not an athlete!)  had pursued in high school.  Many of us have learned to navigate social situations better than we did in high school.  Some of us moved very far away from “home” as classmates came from both near and far away places such as Holland, Australia, and  Alaska (North Pole, AK, at that!).  Regardless of the physical distance between us all, distance created by time and different life experiences is still there.

This has changed us.

We are not the same people. We have grown up in the sense that we are more confident in ourselves.  We have moved on and created lives that, for many, are full of fulfilling careers, families, and hobbies.  We have become comfortable in our own skin, and we are – for the most part – happy with what we have become.

However…

While we may or may not recognize each other, while we may or may not keep in touch, and while we may or may not have many positive memories of the past, we must recognize that we share the past.  For some us, we share thirteen years of public school history.  This fact holds us together, and that is important.  This fact is what brings us together at reunion time, and that fact is important.  This fact is what – most likely – drives us to seek each other’s friendship on Facebook.

Side note: Oh – yes – I would guess that a certain amount of healthy curiosity is also at the foundation of that.

We cannot go back, but we can move forward.

We may not all become great friends in the way that we were in high school (for some that may be a blessing).  We may not even talk with some people again until our 30th reunion.  But we do not need to be sick to our stomachs as that reunion approaches.  Connecting with our past reminds us of who we are and from whence (I like using that word!) we came.  In addition, it helps us to pave our futures because we can move forward with a renewed perspective.

Seeing classmates again, though scary for me at first, was a good experience, and – from the Facebook posts – it looks as though that was true for many.  As move away from this weekend, it will be interesting to see how the next ten years will differ from the past twenty.  Will social media keep us connected in ways that we have not experienced before?  Will this be a positive thing for us?

As we move forward, my hope is that we will constantly encourage each other to be more than we were twenty years ago, ten years ago, and today.

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A Trip of Trials

IMG-20120506-00443I left home on Sunday to speak at a conference in Michigan. I had quite an exciting day of travel on Sunday. My flight from Chicago to Traverse City, Michigan, originally was delayed because of a crack in the windshield…which they had not found in their routine maintenance checks.  However, the pilots thankfully discovered the crack before it was our turn to take off. We then had a huge lightning and deluge-style rain storm, so we stayed on the runway along with about eight other aircraft waiting out the weather for an hour or so. The picture above is the latest “office spaces” that I have found. It is really a diaper changing station in the Chicago airport, but it looked like a great standing station for a laptop!

When we unloaded, I looked at the “cracked” windshield.  It was a SPIDER-WEB of cracks.  I honestly do not know if this went from “a crack” to the spider-web during the ran storm, but I certainly hope so!

Anyway…upon returning to the gate in hopes of the promised new airplane, I discovered that, as I had feared, my flight had been canceled.  There are only two flights each day to Traverse City from Chicago, and the several passengers had missed their flight there City the night before.  They would receive priority booking on the evening flight; the rest of us would have to leave the next morning. The problem for me in this scenario was that the flight arrival time was at time my presentation was scheduled. 

IMG-20120506-00449Because the conference holding the group had asked me to come, they had paid for all of my travel. I had to get to Traverse City on Sunday night!  After using both of my phones to enlist the help of the huz and the girl to investigate train and bus options, the only option that I had was to rent a car and drive the six and a half hours to Traverse City.  I had a brand new Ford Focus with only 3,000 miles on it to make the trip.  Most of my time was spent in the large state of MIchigan because Traverse City is in the far north of the state on a bay of Lake Michigan.  The picture above is of a the water tower that made me do a double take.  The huz is from Zeeland, North Dakota, which – I discovered! – is not much smaller than Zeeland, Michigan.

IMG-20120506-00451I arrived in Traverse City a mere 5 hours later than had I driven the entire way from Minneapolis.  Ironically (at least I think this is irony), I returned my car to the airport that I should have arrived at 8 hours prior to my actual arrival time.  The resort where I stayed had an airport shuttle that I had missed earlier as I was unable to warn them of my delay, but they were kind enough to still come to get me at 10 p.m.  I was exhausted when I arrived, and I’m pretty sure I looked horrible.  The picture above is my stuff as I waited outside the airport.  I posted the same picture to Facebook with the comment stating, “If I saw myself right now, I am pretty sure I would judge me.”

IMG-20120507-00453I connected with my contact for the conference. I discovered that evening at dinner that her mother grew up in the same town where my mother grew up.  I have to send a private message to someone on Facebook who may actually be related to her!  I learned some interesting things about Michigan’s education world, and I got some pretty cool free stuff (presents for my kids mostly – pictured above). M y presentation went very well, but as soon as the presentation was over, I realized that I felt pretty awful.

I assumed that my physical state was due to exhaustion from the travel of the day before.  I had taken two showers already that day (I snuck up for a second shower just for the therapeutic value after lunch), but I snuck in a tub soak before supper. At dinner, I became worse as my stomach seemed very upset in addition to the fatigue.  I tried to eat, but – when I made a few trips to visit the bathroom throughout dinner – it became clear that eating was not a good choice. My colleagues asked a few times if I was ok, and I finally told them that I did not feel well.  One of them told me I kind of looked grey.

Returning from dinner, I went immediately to bed. That, however, did not really help.  In addition to the stomach issues (every time I stood up, I got to throw up…lovely!), I now experienced shortness of breath and chest pressure.  It was clear to me that I was not going to get better soon.  I also realized that I was travelling alone and that no one expected me to be anywhere the next day except an airline on Tuesday evening.

I decided that I needed to go to the emergency room.  I phoned the colleague who had arranged for me to speak at the conference and asked if she could take me to the emergency room.  Looking back on this, I am so glad that I had met her, that I had eaten dinner with her that night, and that she was someone I felt I could call. 

IMG-20120509-00460Once in the emergency room doors, the phrase “chest pains” moved me quickly to a room where a cardiogram was done quickly.  Heart issues were ruled out almost immediately, they took loads of blood, and the doctor started thinking gastro or gallbladder as culprits.  That changed, however, once my labs came back and indicated that I had a low sodium concentrate level (hyponatremia) and a low potassium level (hypokalemia).  Both of these conditions, which cause symtoms that mirror a heart attack and can cause heart issues, required some intervention in order to get the levels back to normal so that I could be well.

IMG-20120508-00457I was admitted, and – because I had presented with cardiac issues – was roomed on the heart wing. I had a private suite with excellent accommodations and wonderful nurses. I am pretty sure that smaller towns have something great in their hospitals that I cannot quite put my finger on right now.  I was told that I should expect to be there until at least Wednesday morning.  This meant that I would certainly miss my flight on Tuesday to Boston to see family and friends.  I decided to wait until Tuesday morning to hear it from the doctor before I believed it, but it became truth the next day.

It was not stressful to be in the hospital for me except for the frequent blood draws, the IV which gave me back those valuable missing elements, and the shot in the stomach to ward off any blood clots.  By the way, a shot in your stomach hurts.  A lot.

IMG-20120509-00465I was released this morning with directions from my doctor to go home – not to Boston – to rest and recover.  Thankfully, my contact for the conference had brought her dad with her.  Even though she was in meetings this morning when I could leave the hospital and needed to get to the airport, he was not only free but also willing to take me to the airport.  What a great man!  He ensured that I made it to the flight that, thankfully!!!, an American Airlines ticket agent had arranged for me to take.  I am so thankful for the wonderful customer service that I have received from American Airlines on this trip. 

I am thankful to be home and will be taking time to recover for the next few days.  I am also thankful that Tom let me stop at the bay in Traverse City. 

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It is beautiful!

Thank you to all who prayed for me while I was in the hospital and for my flight home.

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Re-Post: Sometimes You Can’t Keep Silent

marilynToday’s blog is not my own words but the words of a dear friend.  Thursday was her birthday, and she posted a beautiful blog that simply begs for re-posting.

Thank you, Marilyn, for not staying silent.

Click on the link to read her post: Sometimes You Can’t Keep Silent

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Caring Enough to Correct

In yesterday’s post, I made an error in wording that drastically changed the meaning of a sentence which I wrote.

“I find faith to be a vital part of my life, and I hope that – even when I do not blatantly throw it out there in my blog posts – it undermines what I say and do.”

This morning, as is par for the course for this pastor’s wife, I stood next to my huz and shook hands as parishioners left the church.  A dear couple who read and support my blogging efforts stopped to greet me.  I respect this couple, and I appreciate their feedback about my writing. As the conversation went, we somehow arrived at yesterday’s post.

The woman mentioned that I may have made a mistake in words. I was not quite sure what she meant and asked her to clarify.  When she told me about the fact that I used undermine instead of “underpin” or “undergird” as I had meant, I was pretty embarrassed.  Fortunately, she knows me well enough to know that it was a mistake (at least, she had hoped!).  And – fortunately – she cares enough about me to correct it.

My faith is foundational to who I am as a person.  I would never want anyone to think that I would think that I felt my faith undermined me rather than being my firm foundation on which I stand when things become difficult as well as when they are easy.  I honestly do not know how anyone faces the hard times in life without faith in God.  It is the hope and promise of eternal life that gives me strength to get out of bed each day and live in the present.

We laughed a bit about how perhaps I need an editor or a proofreader to ensure that I do not repeat these kinds of mistakes again in the future.  I mentioned that my son typically critiques my writing as he reads my blogs.  Last week in the bullying series, I used an informal tone in a paragraph that was pretty factual and formal.  He commented that this took away from my writing.  I went to the post as soon as I could to correct the issue. 

I appreciate it when people who love me correct me.  Although I am not typically open to criticism – I really do not like it! – I do think it is important to learn the art of being corrected.  When those who love me enough to correct – like my friend and my son – and when they do it in a loving way to support me as a person, I feel loved. 

When those who care enough to risk my wrath, I need to recognize that are not doing this to tear me down but rather to build me up. Although in the moment of correction this is not the first thing that comes to mind, it is what I should think.  I should be thankful for their courage and then consider their words. Although every “correction” may not be needed or accurate, more often than not it is right on the money and would be pretty helpful if I would listen.

Interestingly enough, the areas of my life that I want people to leave alone are the very areas in which I need the most correction.  In regards to being corrected about the poor use of wording in yesterday’s post, the correction has less to do with a poor choice of words and more to do with the lack of time spent proofreading my post before publishing it.  I wrote yesterday’s post on Friday – a frantic 12 hour work day that nearly left me spinning. I typically write my posts one day in advance so that I can schedule the publish time for 5:30 a.m.  In my frantic approach to yesterday’s post, I made a mistake (not unusual) which I then did not take the time to correct as I skimmed the post prior to publish. 

The issue is not poor writing skills but rather allowing myself to take on too many responsibilities and then not doing them all (or any of them) well.  Although my friend may have known this, she did not mention it this morning.  Instead, I have figured it out as I have typed this post.

This is often the case with me; the outward signs of the internal issues are not the main problem. Getting at the root cause of why I did not notice that I had used the wrong word is much more important than finding an editor or a proofreader.  Perhaps I need to consider if blogging every day is necessary.  My original goal in posting every day was to relieve stress.  Have I become so set on the legalism of posting every day that I have missed the point and have actually added stress to my life?

This is reason to pause and to consider.  Stay tuned…perhaps I will miss a day of blogging! Tomorrow may be the day as I am in a terrible amount of pain after a log day yesterday at the kids’ speech meet (the huz and I worked the judges’ lounge as the kids’ school was the host school).  I seem to have possibly re-injured (original injury was from being in the dunk tank last fall) my back. If I do skip tomorrow, you will know that I have chosen to address a root issue rather than exacerbate it, that I have chosen to relieve stress by not writing a post when I do not have the time or energy, and that I have chosen to be an example of wellness rather than of illness or sin.

By the way, today is National Grammar Day!  What a perfect day for a correction post! 

Readers – what do you think? How do you react when someone corrects you?  Is there an area of your life that you appreciate receiving correction?  Is there an area of your life that you would prefer people would stop correcting you?  How do you approach giving out correction?

Happy Sunday!

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Seeing My Bully with New Eyes

lockersIn seventh grade, the girl whose locker was next to mine stuffed me in my locker and closed the door. The way I remember it, I was in the locker for about fifteen minutes.  Who knows, though, if that is accurate.  What is accurate is that the memory has stayed with me.  The other part of the memory that has stayed with me is my outburst at the supper table that night when my dad said something (probably not in a confrontational way, by the way) about my mood.

“You and Michelle Ross have made this the worst day ever!” I screamed dramatically as I threw my fork down on the plate and ran from the table to my bedroom.

That is all I remember.  I do not even remember the fact that Michelle stopped coming to school in the middle of ninth grade.  In fact, when Michelle – now married with a son and living within an hour from me – requested to be my friend on Facebook, I could not even remember if she had been in high school with us.  Turns out that she was not.

Honestly, it was out of curiosity that I accepted Michelle’s friend request.  The only things that I remember of Michelle is that she stuffed me in a locker and where she lived.  I think we might have been in Girls Scouts together, but that might not be true.  This is not unusual with me for me to lack memories of those with whom I attended school. Over the past twenty years, I have lived a completely different life from then, and – until recently – have not had much contact with any of my former classmates.

Over the past few years, I have learned a lot about Michelle’s current life.  I know that she deeply loves her son; she is a good mom.  I know that she and husband are truly committed to each other for the long term; she is good wife.  I have learned that we probably disagree on some things, but we also agree on quite a bit.  One of those things is that kids should be held accountable for their actions at home and at school.

Becoming Facebook friends with her – an act of curiosity – has made me enjoy her as a friend.  When she threatened to clean out her friend list, I asked to remain on it because she is a fun part of my adult life.

The funny thing is that I thought this would be where the blog post would end.  I thought that I would write some little ditty about how we can all move on from our past differences.  The actions of our childhood do not have to define us.  The way that we interact as teens do not have to determine how we interact as adults.  Even those who have hurt us in some way in the past could become our friends as adults.  As my 20th class reunion looms this coming summer, I have had this thought over and over as I see people collaborating on the event who hardly spoke to each other in high school.

This is resiliency.

But this is not where the blog post ends.  When I sent Michelle a Facebook message to ask her permission to share about the locker incident on this blog, she consented but also said, “As a child a was VERY abused by my step dad, and I am guessing that is why I brought it to school, so I think some bullies are fighting demons of their own…my two cents. Not that it is okay by ANY means; just something to think about.”

I did think about it.  I thought about it quickly and deeply. My heart told me that the 15 minutes that I had experienced in the locker and still have as a memory were nothing compared to what Michelle had endured.  I wrote back and asked her to share more with me that I could share with readers.

Michelle’s thoughts: I have to believe that bullies are not born but that they are made, made from the circumstances that live in every day while they’re growing up in their homes. That is why I say we don’t know what demons those bullies are fighting. Are they getting beat everyday when they get home, as I experienced, or being molested? I think when a child acts like that, there has to be a reason.

I considered myself “tough,” but I never considered myself a bully until you told me what I did to you, and how you felt. This is no excuse for that, but since I was being abused at home, I felt in control when I went to school and I acted tough in my school world, being a bully to others. That is something I didn’t realize I was doing. I was so scared about what was going to happen to me when I went home every night, I could have stayed at school all day.

When I was 15, I ran away from the abuse, and I moved to be with my biological father to a new town in a new state at a new school . Then I was getting bullied by the other kids because I was new. My philosophy is you cannot bully a bully. So as I started sticking up for myself, I also started sticking up for those that were getting harassed every day. I was “tough” once again but I saw how both sides of it, the bullied and the people bullying.

Today I make sure my son is good to everyone, and he is; it is his nature. He is God’s gift and a miracle, and he is here on Earth to bring happiness to everyone he meets, which he does. He is very small from being a premie and has experienced some bullying by others. That is when mamma bear comes out.

This is her story in her words.  And I cannot thank her enough (even though I have offered to meet up for dinner sometime) for sharing this and agreeing to allow it to be shared on this blog in this blog series.

Michelle hit on two things that are super important in any discussion of bullying…two things that so often are either given a quick gloss over or no attention at all.

Number One: Michelle never considered herself a bully until I told her what she did to me.  Michelle did not remember what she had done … still does not, actually.  I told her about it somewhat flippantly on Facebook as a comment on one of her status updates.  What breaks my heart in this situation is that now that I have told her about it – over twenty years later – she thinks of herself as a bully.  Does one action make someone a bully?  I recently heard that apparently that is all it takes in a classroom here in the Twin Cities.  A six year old picked on another kid in his class – one time – and now the teacher considers him a bully.  In fact, neither “the bully” nor the child “being bullied” even knew what those terms were.  The teacher “taught them” about bullying while “dealing” with the situation.  Really?  Will this “bully” ever be able to become a good dad?  I doubt that his teacher thinks so!  And will this child ever be successful in that teacher’s classroom?  Again – I doubt it.  We can only pray that this year’s teacher is lazy and will not tell next year’s teacher about the “bully” coming up the ranks.

Number Two: There is more to a child than her outward behavior.  Michelle acted tough because she had a traumatic situation going on in her home.  When children act out in a classroom, someone should probably do a little digging into the situations.  I realize that this is hard – especially with teens who are not inclined to talk to adults in the first place – but this is necessary.  I am not  talking about isolated incidents of kids being kids (and yes, I do believe that there are time when kids just are being kids).  I am talking about students who are continuously throwing their weight around, intimidating other students, and causing continuous harm to others. 

I doubt that everyone will grow up and become Facebook friends with someone who stuffed them in their locker.  But – I can honestly say that I am glad that I accepted Michelle’s friend request.  Seeing the situation through her eyes has completely reconstructed the incident for me.  I will never again think of that incident without knowing the truth about Michelle’s life at that time.  What I experienced for fifteen minutes was minor in comparison to what Michelle lived every day at home.

Often we focus so much on helping the victims – the bullied – rather than on helping those who are considered bullies.  If we want to stop the problem of bullying, we need to do everything we can to make sure that children are safe and that they have no reason to feel the need to be tougher than their classmates.  Anti-bullying curriculum is not the answer to this. Observant teachers, competent social workers with time in their job to look into concerns, and supportive communities are the answer.

Related websites:  Parent Further and Search Institute

This is the third installment of a week long series on bullying.

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How Should I Be Remembered?

Hot tears stung my eyes and blurred the words on the page. How could this have happened? They swelled over my eyelids and rolled down my cheeks. How could I not have known? As the words came in and out of my vision, understanding fell over me.  Could this be true? No one writes about another person in the past tense unless she is no longer with them. But when? And how?

Some background: In December 1998, I interviewed with four people at Shore Country Day School for a position that I felt I had no chance of being offered but desperately wanted.  Those same four people became my “bosses” when, against all odds, they chose me as the Director of After School and Summer Programming.  Of the four, two of them oversaw my position the most – the Head of the Lower School and the Chief Financial Officer. I later discovered that each of the four had reservations about hiring me (as would I…I was only twenty-five years old at the time), but they also each had reasons to choose me.  The Head of the Lower School and the CFO became wonderful, healing mentors over the next three and a half years as I had left a very unhealthy job situation. Who I am as a worker today is due very much in parts to their mentoring.

Back to present day: I sat in my car outside the car wash on Martin Luther King Jr Day and read the Shore Country Day School bulletin. The school continues to mail it to my Grand Forks address. As I had been in Grand Forks that weekend, the bulletin was in my car. I thought the car wash would be a great time to catch up. Boy, was I wrong!  The bulletin was the 75th Anniversary Edition, and there were highlights of various staff people – all written in the present tense…until I came to the loved Head of Lower School.

I recognized right away that there was a shift in the tense of the article: this article was in past tense. As I drove into the car wash, I read and re-read the article…hoping that I was wrong, grasping at any explanation for the article besides the fact that my mentor had passed away without my knowing.  She had given me a passion for younger children, had taught me patience and understanding, and had showered love on my own children who were toddlers when I started to work there.  She believed in a restorative approach to discipline, but she held them accountable for their actions at the same.  How could she be gone?

After pouring over the article several times and coming to grips with the fact that it was definitely written in past tense, I whipped out my phone and sent an email – through tears that would not stop – to my other mentor, the CFO.  The two women had very different approaches to mentoring me.  While the Head of the Lower School was much like a grandmother, the CFO is like a bulldozer.  I learned efficiency and confidence from her in a trial by fire sort of way.  I remember that I had asked her approval for several purchases within the first month of my hire.  After one too many requests for that approval she told me, “Stacy, you are the director of this program.  You are responsible for the budget, not I.”  Wow!  I learned that she would prefer that I make mistakes and learn how to fix them.  What a gift…

In my email, I apologized, knowing that the email asking about her friend would bring back many memories, but I asked her if what I suspected was true.  Within two hours, she responded.  And I had been right.  By then, I was in the parking lot at the music store where the boy takes guitar lessons.  I again sat in the car as tears stung my cheeks as they ran down my face…sadness overwhelming me at both the knowledge that my mentor had passed away but also at the disappointment that I had not been able to know and mourn with others.

The Head of the Lower School had a tremendous faith in God, and – from what the CFO said in the email – she had come to peace with death as it approached.  In the email, my mentor shared my sentiments, “She taught us all.”  What a great way to remember the life and the death someone!

As I thought about this throughout the week, I have often thought, “What would I want others to say about me when I am gone.”  There is so much that one could say, but that phrase – she taught us all – would be quite a tribute.

What do you think?  What would like to have others say about you when you have passed away?  And what are we doing today to make that possible?

Do I live in a way that I would like to be remembered?

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