Stand another day, even when it seems impossible. 

That’s what I typed today, to myself and to others.  

Do I believe it?  Do I buy into this stand again, rise again mantra? Do I believe mercies are new each morning? 

I love my husband more now than when I married him. That’s good, right? We stood on promises when life buckled a bit. 

I am a more complicated daughter now than when I was adopted. That’s intriguing, laced with possible pain, and worth exploring, right? 

I have seen more of the world in the past five years than the previous thirty years.  Why is that? Have I been more places or did I just slow down to be present and see people lately?

I have been devalued and dismissed in places and by people who I will turn and defend and celebrate none-the-less. Is this okay or does it make me open for blind-sides and hidden hurt? 

I have flare ups of depression and trauma demons, yet as I walk others through and amid theirs, I find allies and staying power. This is why I write–to be the fragrance of restoration and persistence of person, faith, and future. Safety of spirit is not yet something we measure like the data we collect on homicides, war, and poverty. Yet there is much work still to be done for both the known and unidentified troubles of this earth if we are willing to stand to spread the good. Depression doesn’t own me; I get to contribute to the communities I am in. 

Grief riddles gaps in our steady and we are compelled to pray for peace–peace of land, peace of people, peace of mind. I still pray, although my anchor feels buried further from my sail than I would like. 

I have friends who show their stories and hear of mine. Isolation is distant somedays until I beckon it near and believe it is my closest companion. But those around me chase it far again and let love stay the day. This is a gift to me.

So standing–do I believe in it? 

Yes. 

We get to.  


Life can hollow us, but it can not deny that we are created to thrive, hope, acclimate, and overcome. We are not expected to do this on our own, ever, but rather together.  Encouraging one another…

So stand, even when we do not know the answers or the journey, even when it seems impossible–

STAND…

…in your marriage, in your work place, in your journey, in your parenting, in your cities, in your beliefs, in your friendships, in your hard seasons, in your joy, in your you… 

STAND ON. 

“If you fell down yesterday, stand up today.”H.G. Wells

“For a lot of people, Superman is and has always been [a] hero. He stands for what we believe is the best within us: limitless strength tempered by compassion, that can bear adversity and emerge stronger on the other side. He stands for what we all feel we would like to be able to stand for, when standing is hardest.”  

J. Michael Straczynski, author

A new month, a new tattoo, and that movie LION

It never seemed quite right… 

Life.  

I felt like an outsider.  The skin was dark, my anger was big, and a family fused together through adoption seemed mysterious and inaccurate to me.  

They wanted something for me–my adoptive parents. They also wanted something from me. And they took it.  They rounded out their family the way they wanted and paid the price not only for the adoption, but for a frustrated kid who knew trauma and brought discord.  It could be painted as a glory story, but I found it to be unsettling and convinced throughout much of life that there was no place on earth okay for me to be.  

Adoption has beauty; it also has a hellish hurt. For multiple people and sides of the reality, it can hurt in the actualization or in the decades to come.

Is that okay to write?  

Isn’t easier and more safe to watch the turmoil of adoption from theater seats, cry our tears from limited view, and smile with the hopeful spirit of Lion on the big screen around our nation?  

I recommend the movie, truly.

I just also know it is easier to watch from the fifth row up than to be okay with someone in our own lives who is seemingly lost when she should feel found. 

I have been recommended to read the A Long Way Home memoir the movie was based on a few times, but I always wonder why when I live with my own taunt and displacement.  

Suicidal thoughts kept at bay for most of life. 

Finding connections in certain seasons with family and friends allows me to believe I can attach to others.  

Depression was chased by exercise at-large and medication a time or two.  

Vows and covenants keep bonds that might otherwise be broken.  

Jobs held, success had, lives touched, strengths found–and yet none of these fill the hollow or empty the overhwelm.  

Life will always have a heaviness

I have found peace in my faith journey and chaos in my existence.  

It is a both/and.  Always

But I rise to face three little ones and hundreds of teens.  In this, I own my grief just as I declare my hope.  

I will find a way through the resurfacing of memories. I will manage the angst of not having white skin as a child and even now as an adult.  I will breathe on despite those who have passed away before me. 

And maybe, just maybe, home is growing from within instead of out there somewhere.  

Fight for hope with me.

Acknowledge grief with me.

They are not enemies, they are people-shapers.  They comprise our stories and make us who we are.  

Hope and grief… welcome to February, we got some life to live. 

Join me? Where ever you are, whatever your story… breathe again and live life.  


I only tattoo upon my body that which has been etched upon my heart for a lifetime.  

gravis: Latin word for heavy, weighted, grief. 

Semicolon replacement for the i: semicolons are used when a sentence could end, but the author chooses to continue the sentence.  It has become the one of the symbols for breaking the stigma of mental illnesses.  It allows people like myself to take a visible stance to claim life when suicide could have ended it. 

(My previous wrist tattto is the Bangla word for hope. I have the same tattoo on my ankle.  Wherever I go, whatever I do, I am marked by Hope.) 

Another day, suicide and life

It dropped lower and lower.  The weight of my forehead nearly rested upon the cushion as my body caved in around the tender air. I was sitting no more and found all of me in a curled cower.

The pressure pushed against my chest and both fatigue and failure inhaled without respite for exhale. 

I was choking on life.  

This is what it meant to finish another day. He opened the hours before me, so timidly unpacking a minute at a time,  I parceled out my energy to see others, to meet requirements, to do right by a career and family, friends and a future.  

After all, in breathing came life, in doing I proved I was alive.

But depression clung to my every step.  It seeped into my pores and criss-crossed my face leaving hollow eyes and an unrelenting somber sheen.  Life did not wait for me; no, it created a tide of expectations and a current of must dos. 

The formula for joy alluded me and the season of sadness seared itself to my shoulders.  My smile real enough to some and the shallow clear to others.  

Earlier that day I shifted from flourescent lights to the crisp cold of the outdoors. I beheld a new ceiling, a canopy of heaven stretched over the snowy floor. I witnessed the creator kneel to kiss the earth. The sky wrenched itself into showing the sun. Colors and splays of nature beautiful enveloped me. Gasping in the frigid air, I stored life in my veins and could reflect hope for another moment in time.  


Yet what about the time suicide asked me to play? When time took these three decades and reduced them to a single story of unworth which wrecked me as a kid and could dismantle me as an adult.  Why did it look so alluring and okay? Why couldn’t I stop the lie it offered?  

What about the time abuse took what was not to be detached from me? Each grievance never looking back and I was left to make sense of fighting my way to health and whole.  Could I ever be healed from the shredding? 

What about those who removed their love or favor when my presence clouded with something other than ease and light-hearted life? Why don’t  I make sense to others and why does it always matter so much to me? 

This week could not outdistance memories.  

This week could not unhinge from the present.  

This week a colleague laid his beloved wife to rest after a torment of days and a life journey with the demon of mental illness.  This week a student could not stay where bridges were built and allies found.  This week my husband had to carry the home and  children grow up faster than innocence would ask. This week my friend could not conjour words from myself, a writer, when my own death attempt danced as memory and marker. 

Yes, it dropped lower and lower. The weight of my forehead nearly rested upon the cushion as my body caved in around the tender air. I was sitting no more and found all of me in a curled cower.

In the choke of life, I felt removed from all I offer the community around me.  Depression robs me.  It thieves from many. Yet this I know, when strangle felt close, my lungs still filled.  One more breath, one more day.

I can not do all of life the way I wish or take away others’ pain. I can not belong in all the ways an orphan girl is supposed to once adopted. I can not change the color of my skin or how I fit into people’s constructs. I can not unlearn my trauma or forget my twisting of perception.  

But as sorrow lies near–I live

To love.

To teach.

To lead.

To write.

To whisper.

I do not know who will follow or who will listen, but my steady foundation of faith and the formation of friends and family remind me: be me to the world.  

Who I am, whether small and in a ball, tired from the day or I am strong and tall knowing my purpose, I am alive.

LIVE with me.

One more day, friends. To tasks and talents, give what you can.  Allow others to lend you hope when yours is low and depression is real. 

Another day, yes, the light still shines. 

——

With respect and deep sorrow for those near and far, recent and years gone by, who have lost a loved one to the grips of mental illness’ lying voice.  

—–

A song by VERIDIA shared to me by a friend–raw art https://youtu.be/hymuOXYAuwk 

—-

Find someone to text or talk to if you need it. If you feel alone:

CRISIS TEXT LINE: 741741, text GO any time, for free, and trained professionals will interact with you during your rough hours. 

CRISIS PHONE LINE: Call 1-800-273-8255.

January hurts to the core.

How could a month that holds both the fortunous reputation of a clean slate and a month that holds my beautiful wedding anniversary be the toughest one of the year?


Simple stories include that I often get sick.  This week, case and point.  I missed the first two days of work post an extended change of pace during winter break due to illness.  

Another is I am not one for the holiday busy, it clutters my mind and whaps my center of gravity out a bit.  I have theories as to why, but this torch has burned for decades and so it rarely surprises me that I start the year with a disheveled heart. 

A deeper layer reveals that it is also my birthday month.  However, in hearing stories and recallings of my youth, it is suspected I am a December birthday. This unanchors me.  To know one’s birthday seems woven into being human, being known, being worth celebration. 

I do not know mine.  

I have an assigned birthday by dear catholic sisters and a gracious adoption paperwork system, but it is false and that has always mattered to me.  I used to loathe the phrase and mention of the day.  I have grown to appreciate the sentiment and the reality that I have a day, like others–inaccurate, but still mine. I look forward to intentional extensions of love in January due to my “birthday” now as a grown adult, but the little girl in me will always falter a bit when the month rolls around.

Foundational imprints of the month have history and hurt.  Statements said, recovery from pain gone ary, and cloudiness of memories and moments that have both shaped and stripped from me–they edge the month with grief

Stark streaks also invade the month.  Life lived through that I now have to coach my mind in. My mind must believe these wounds can connect to my call to others for their courage despite trauma. 

But how I wish the cavernous  wounds away.  The loss of our first child in our first miscarriage in 2007 was anguish.  Standing amid 70,000 mourners and respect-givers as the late President Gerald R. Ford was driven through my hometown of Grand Rapids, Michigan, I stood there when I could not stand in front of my classroom of 10th graders. My body reeling from the physiolocigal  truth of the miscarriage–I stood there wondering what the little life could have done in the world as this hometown boy gone President was laid to rest.  My heart asunder in lies that I was a failure in yet another way.  

Not even a decade later from that life lost, I found my mind hurtled into the chaos of depression from re-exposure to abandonment and trauma.  

The dark felt insurmountable and I became a shell of myself. A suicide attempt tore through my own story and consequentially the lives of those close to me. I may never like the month because of this unforgiving blemish on my action record.  I beg many, each week, to know their worth and turn towards help… It does not lessen my shame, but it is what I can offer their hurting place. 

January has fallen to a place of remembering and always questioning if my rise from the grips of ugliness is true and trustworthy. 

But hope wins. 

Not as a strategy.  

Not as a method.  

Not as a privilege or a luxury.  

But as a Truth

Students need to know this. Grieving parents need to know this. Trauma victims, homeless, and struggling people need to know this.  It is not swift and it is not mess free, but life — whether gone too soon or grappling for another day, it is comprised of hope and breath.  

For all of us still standing, breathe deep, this month and every month.  If you have extra air, lend it in your service, your faith, your extra hand, your benevolent spirit, your career, your neighborhood, your people. Lend hope to those who need to be fought for.  

I will.

Join me.  

Welcoming 2017

His voice wavered yet his hand remained steady.  It was as though he placed all his concentration on appearing unfettered in motion that he had forgotten how to speak.  Outstretched palm and piercing eyes to follow, he expectantly drew close to both hope and grief, new and old.

The gust of air and the flash of chill drained the day, still warmth enfolded the land.  A trickle of water near the eastern edge flushed into a stream and farther yet it became a river shallow.  Later still it roared into river deep and rich, beauty blossomed where it had not before. 

The man knelt as perceiving the waters nearby pushed life through his spirit.  Peace cascaded over his arrival and he showed how turmoil and tragedy could release into restoration.  

I leaned down, unsure of how to shake the hand of this nurishing gift. He was close and humble, layered and longing–he promised nothing to be certain beyond that he was here to stay.  I shall walk with him to the river’s edge and allow roots to grow and branches to spread.


Yes, he came steady and in more quietness than I might have imagined.  But his eyes tell the story that my heart will have hours and hours to read.  

I placed my hand into his and whispered back to his mouthing silence, “Happy New Year.” 

Welcoming 2017 with resolve and wonder.  Might you, too? 

They dream, she writes. 


Teenagers sat in stoic rows with willing adherence to classroom norms.  Faces held the weathering of late nights, deep stories, eager learning, and self-becoming.  I sprung from my swiveling chair after punching in attendance across the flickering monitor. 

“Good morning, Creatives!” 

The voice of experience enough to know wherever my energy lands, the students rise to it and maintain inquiry if I stay curious of them.  So I charged the day with enthusiasm and sincere belief in each of them.  My smile beamed and my silly red cowboy boots clicked more loudly than expected. I was weary from physical illness, but the students would not know so until the conditions were right to speak of me.  This was their stage: a place to speak their lives and words, to own their stories and to communicate with new focus.  

Creative Writing class, much like classes early in my decade+ long teaching tenure, became a place of expression, safety, and exploration for students.  

 
Great are the dreams of those already tried in life by hurdles, but continually invited to make their future good.  For all the teens I have watched become positive community members, active pursuants of their convictions, and  adults I am proud to know, I add this gal to the list of the thousands of teens who inspire me. Well-done, Molly Fennig! (Click name to link to her book.)  You embody the aspirations of students I have seen in the Mounds View Public School system.

 
For the numerous authors and aspiring writers I have worked with over the last few years, for the many manuscripts I have read and contributed feedback on, this writer (Molly Fenning)  joins Ty Jansma, in being one of my students who have published their own work. I have enjoyed both of their books and hope they keep writing! 

They dream.

They do.

They inspire. 

Like them, dear former students everywhere, from private schools in Michigan, to the collegiate level, to community forums, and now the Mustangs and Knights–keep finding ways to bring your goodness, dreams, and hard work to the world. 

It matters! 

Left out.

Pulitzer Prize winners Nicholas D. Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn wrote the book entitled Half the Sky. This married couple (both reporters) has become a voice for women and girls worldwide.  They reveal often unexplored truths about oppression. The writers question their own field for holding a wide margin between reporting breaking news versus ongoing realities which remain unreported, yet are newsworthy. They set out to be different when they learned many stories left out of mass media.  
Who is left out?  Their book trends to oppressed females in circumstances that will break hearts and turn stomachs.  


However, since reading the book, I ask myself this question nearly everyday.  

Who is left out? 

Left out of our big dreams and success accolades.  

Left out of our quest to be better and creation of opportunities.  

Left out of our communities and our resources. 

Whatever you passion, your bent, your thing–this week work with me to lessen the severity of consequences for those who are left out.  

Give what you can, not directed by other for competition. Give money when both wise and personally prompted. Give hands when asked and able.  Give time, one of your greatest commodities. Give diligence in all endeavors. Give professional knowledge and personal care in daily dose. 

Give love always.  

I can not change a whole field like education, but I can create a radar for the left out and actively work with those around me to reconnect people to hope and tools. Join me, in the fields and places you are; be different, be mitigators.

Even when a social problem is so vast as to be insoluble in its entirety, it’s still worth mitigating.

Nicholas Kristof

 

We need others, students and adults alike. 

I thought I didn’t need anyone.  A child with my own pains and own learning fumbles, I pushed aside family and teachers that proffered to help.  The help seemed like a facade of good intentions and I felt unworthy of the true care any outlier might have had.  Yet the persistent presence of education in my life, a privilege not lost on me ever, but especially now having seen more of the world–it’s presence embedded understanding  within me. 
Understanding is a loaded word, much like pain.  Yet education done correctly is all about unshelfing assumptions, erroneous perceptions, and ignorance. Education is a noun, a verb, and an adjective all spun together to create a thing, a place, an action, and a description of growth.  I grew to understand that faring it alone would leave me less knowledgeable and less equipped than my counterparts who linked arms as little girls to skip across the playground, buddied up to create an explorer research project in the 4th grade, or crowded together in celebration of one who was accepted to her desired college years later. 

Hindsight reveals that the times others’ emotional, academic,  life support, and encouragement was present in my life, I became more–more involved in school, more able to aspire to success, more willing to dream. Trauma had short circuited my brain to believe that all of life was fight, flight, or freeze. I have spent decades dismissing learnings and opportunities not out of want, but out of a wiring in my mind that fixated on not taking risks and defending baseline.  

Indebted to educators and youth workers who modeled that I did not have to diminuitively accept the short road, the path of least resistance, the less than my potential goals, I have started to train my brain to fire in the direction of belief. I have learned how to get unstuck. With this comes the realization that we must shoulder to shoulder our efforts to make the world a better place.  Not just utopianly on a large scale, but intimately for our own lives and momentously for our direct communities.  

In understanding how people function, how systems work, how messy stories still have positive outcomes, we all grow to hope more is possible.  The dismal state of dysfunctional and injustice can always find a counterpart and these antithesis communities and peoples are ones who have not gone it alone. Counterparts who break cycles of poverty, recover from addictions, end generations of abuse, rise to stand amid the plague of mental illnesses, and those who beautifully proffer life in the face of their own ongoing grief, these are the men and women our students and children must see and have access to.  Business leaders, gym enthusiasts, Navy men and women, die-casters, musicians, hair stylists, gamers, politicians…there is no end to a list a people who learn understanding from others.

Nearly a decade ago, psychologist Carol Dweck and her colleagues put forth convincing research of how people, specifically students, who operate under the premise that growth and effort, flexibility and new learning can develop a mindset fortified enough to dislodge fixed ways of thinking and living.  Her work has become foundational to a number of education reforms, both overtly in professional development and low-lying in those who practice a growth mindset and then contagiously affect others.  

Dweck revisited her work in Education Week last year. Her update and clarification brings further insight to the statement of how we need others. Dweck asserts that we can’t just try for better, we must be presented with new ways of trying and receive feedback/support of others to reach optimal growth.

A growth mindset isn’t just about effort. Perhaps the most common misconception is simply equating the growth mindset with effort. Certainly, effort is key for students’ achievement, but it’s not the only thing. Students need to try new strategies and seek input from others when they’re stuck. They need this repertoire of approaches-not just sheer effort-to learn and improve. 

Dweck, C. (2015, September 22). Carol Dweck revisits the ‘growth mindset’. Education Week. Retrieved from http://www.edweek.org/ew/articles/2015/09/23/carol-dweck-revisits-the-growth-mindset.html?cmp=eml-contshr-shr

We need others. We need people for when we get stuck, for when we are discouraged, for when our dreams need the network and support of those further down the long road. We are not entitled to the help of others, but we are worthy of it. Growth hinges on new understandings, so let us surround ourselves with those who for a “we understand” instead of seclusion or self. 

Let us teach who Orville was to Wilbur Wright, let us share stories of the Missionaries of Charity who surrounded Mother Teresa, let us uncover who encouraged Cesar Chavez to believe, and let us tell the stories of Peter Norman standing beside Tommie “The Jet” Smith and John Carlos in the fight for human rights. Let us be the ones to tip our heads and hearts to those who are different in our lives. Now is the time humbly remind ourselves we did not get this far on our own and celebrate those who helped us understand, grow, and become. 

Our students and children need us, not just as cheerleaders, but they need role-models, activators, door-openers, challengers, and genuine assistance to their next step of learning and growth.  

They need others…and truth be clear, so do we. 

The softer side of pain

Pain is a stale word without context. It can range from torture to annoyance.  It can be life long or it can be momentary.  Without knowing the person, the story, or the symptom load that testifies to the word, it becomes an over-used, misunderstood, and an assumed word in our lexicon, liken to the word love. 

The edges of the thistle and the razor of the sword, the pulse of reverberating ache, and the heart-sink of trauma–pain is a voluminous word without context. It could encompass all of grief and hurt, loss and longing, injustice and instability from here to the far corner of the village we have yet to step foot in. 


Why then must my thoughts gather at the bank of this stream? Why does my soul perch upon the low branch that catches the wind and offspray in tandem return? Why, when I say a faith and foundation grant surety of hope and sanity in the unseen, do I fold and bend to places of dull and hollow?  Oft I am unwilling to tell my story or feel the ground beneath my wander.  I exclaim the joy and beg the real, but I close down access when the whisper of pain sneaks in.  

Of who we strive to become, each of us, to the world around us, may we be willing to give pain a place next to purity. Not to become pompous or pretentious, negative or naysayers, but to etch the sky with images of people who stand when storms swipe.

This is the softer side of pain.  The cushion that let’s us engage in memories or circumstances knowing hardship can thieve joy, but we can gain more again. Knowing more confidently that pain prevails in portion, but the forward gives function to hope and fervor to our diligence.  We won’t win every hour or each day of these battles which wage, but we will soften the struggle by elevating healing, honoring stories and people, and claiming life over defeat.  We were not created for defeat, but rather vibrancy and overcoming. 

Stay the course–pain not given the crown nor allowed to be the crutch. Press on, for growth and perseverance pay out dividends fresh.
#courage 

Becoming the educator I was meant to be

The story is simple.  Teachers changed my life.  

Classes gave lessons. The schools gave community. The expectations gave me new goals.  And the diplomas along the way allowed for new opportunities.  

But the teachers? The teachers offered a day in and day out commitment to making life better, wider, more inclusive, more respectful, more understanding, and more justice-minded than my own ability ever could.  

Teachers were shepherds, politicians, mentors, experts, counselors, advocates, role-models, and story-tellers all wrapped up in one person at the front of the class.  Truth be told, they were often at the side of the class, behind the class, and walking amongst the class as well.  Regardless of where they stood, talked, listened–they dreamed big dreams for all of us.  

So I became one.  

And I loved it.  Every year. Every school.  Every student.  Every possibility. 

Despite my affinity to education, I have exited the classroom teacher role before now. Once I left my dream job to stay with my children.  Once I left the college podium to follow the man who guides and leads our family as he pursued new work in another state. Both exits gave seasons of my life to live and love alongside new people.  First my children, and then more recently, a sector of the writing industry.  Re-entering the classroom in my children’s district in 2014 proved to be a homecoming of sorts.  I once again stood in a place that, in essence, had changed my life. 

Fall 2016 begins a new chapter of the educator I was meant to be.  I step out of lesson plans and grading, ushered there by circumstances that refined and humbled me.  I feel a loss.  I will lose what daily teacher-student interactions and learnings can do and become.  

However, I step into a role that will allow me to advocate for under-served populations, support the Deans, partner with teachers and families, and connect with students as they wrestle with inequity, diversity, aspirations, opportunities, and achievement.  

This is exciting.  My one wild and precious life (Mary Oliver) gets to rise again (Maya Angelou) and be not only a teacher, but an awakener (Robert Frost). 

As an woman, a mother, a minority, an adoptee, a dreamer, a writer, a speaker, and a social justice hopeful, I may now just be becoming the educator I was meant to be.  If I have learned anything over the last few years, that although certain areas of my life feel cemented into a losing streak, being able to call myself an educator fuels me. I will bring goodness to the world the way I can. 

The story is simple. I want to change lives. #EducationMatters