We are all teachers and learners—just by the way we conduct our everyday lives.
A friend wrote to us about the return of cancer to her partner’s body: “So, we ask for your prayers of healing and strength. We do not view cancer as an enemy but as a reminder to be fully alive this day. We are living one day at a time with grateful hearts for our dear family and friends who show the tenderness and care of our loving God.”
We teach and learn from one another in ways we do not begin to comprehend. May we all be fully alive this day.
About a year ago, several of us got together and wrote a grant proposal for a project we were very interested in bringing to our community. When we took some movement toward doing this work together we found resistance to any change in some unexpected places. We were very discouraged and dropped any hope for this situation. However, this small group kept meeting occasionally and kept talking about the possibility of change for that environment.
Now over one year later, a request came “out of the blue” to take another look at this proposal. We gave this person the same exact document we had thrown away one year earlier. She read it and said: “Yes—this is exactly what needs to happen!” We have a new respect for “right timing” and are grateful for this renewed interest in bringing positive change.
Sometimes we “have to wait on the Lord” (as my Grandmother use to say) and expect miracles. Hairpin turns are full of waiting, surprises and miracles—in spite of our feeble doubts.
Last week we had a visitor—from four states over—who came to our school for three days. He was looking for “best practices” and heard about some of the work we are doing through our school. Each time I took him to a class or to a nonprofit affiliated with our work, he looked at me and said: “This is extraordinary.” For example, when I took him to a nonprofit that works with homeless people in our community, the chaplain told him that we had collaborated together for over two decades on numerous projects. When we left that meeting our visitor said: “Never underestimate the spirit of collaboration.
In our community we have two separate nonprofit agencies that work with the homeless—because they cannot agree—and as a result they duplicate services and waste resources.” When he left I had a renewed sense of gratefulness for our team, our work and all that the school has contributed to this community in the past two decades.
He helped me make a shift from what I ordinarily see as “ordinary” to “extraordinary.” This seems to be the journey of gratefulness—to see with new eyes the unique gifts all around us—and to appreciate anew.
I had a young faculty member in my office telling me about a big initiative she’s leading on campus. As she talked, I felt a dread come over my body. I have not been in academe in years but the issues seemed to be the same. I considered adding to her misery by telling her that “some things never change.” But then I caught myself and knew that would not be supportive of her efforts. So I took a deep breath and listened deeply to what she was saying. She was very wise and she knew what to do next.
As I let go of my old issues (and cynicism) an idea popped into my head. I told her my “new thought” and she said, with a smile, “Oh my gosh—I have thought about that but was afraid to move on it.”
Being in the moment requires deep listening and an awareness when you are moving into your own troubled past. When I let go of my own drama and became present to this young leader, an intelligence emerged between us.
We can choose to stay swirling in our own theatre or we can become present to the creative potential available right now. We do have a choice.
I attended a meeting where a local college official began with this statement: “We did not have to consult with the neighborhood about the development. Many, many colleges just go in and start bulldozing!” This statement set a tone for the subsequent conversation.
The first question from a sociology professor followed: “Did the college go to this southern neighborhood because it was poor and “bulldozable?” The lines were drawn with these three sentences. On one side of the line was “they were lucky to be asked at all” and on the other side of the line was “you had no intention to engage the opinions of these people.” The discussion went round and round and phrases like “white wash” and “manipulation” entered the room. People (including myself) took sides.
How do we talk with one another in ways that facilitate understanding and clearly express our authentic needs? Listening to one another and letting go of biases (or at least holding them more lightly) seem to be processes that are needed for healthy exchanges.
Three sentences sent the group into non-productive and even hurtful places. Three alternative sentences might be: “Here is how we screwed up.” “How else might we meet the needs of the neighbors?” “How might we engage all stakeholders in this planning?”
At tutoring this week, I took aside four of the 4th and 5th grade girls. They were not bringing their homework and were creating some “noise challenges” for the other children and tutors. All the girls are doing below grade-level work at their school.
I shut the door to our little room and one of them immediately asked: “Are we in trouble?” I said: “No. We would like your ideas on how you can help us with leadership and learning during our tutoring days together.” They got silent. Then the ideas started to come: “I would like to teach first and second graders spelling.” “I can help the little ones write stories and then draw a picture about the story.” Another child said, “I would like us to put on a play.”
When I asked what we might learn from putting on a play, D’Kala said: “Well after the play they could ask us about words they didn’t understand—like porridge.” (I remembered that over a year before we had put on a play about the three pigs.)
We paired each girl with a tutor to flesh out their ideas. Then we came back at the end of tutoring to show what had been accomplished. They were all focused and energized.
After the children left, Bill, one of our regular tutors, noted that author William Glasser said all of us want two things: to be accepted and to be valued. We saw the power of this at work in our young girls, and I will take that knowledge into this day and understand how these two things impact us all.
Sometimes we take actions that, in the moment, we thought were right and good but later we learn that there might have been unhappy consequences to those actions.
Some of us who tutor thought it would be a great idea to have some garden beds near the apartments where we tutor the children. We bought the plants, borrowed and purchased some tools and tried to galvanize the families around our good idea. The children used the rakes as swords and dangerously chased each other. The apartment owners were mad because we used their spigots to water the beds. The parents were looking for work—not looking for another chore. The project was not a success.
When the volunteers came together, though, and debriefed about this project, we did find our way. We realized that we did not ask the families or the children about gardening. We did not ask if they liked tomatoes or wanted to water at night. Even though we had good intentions, we made a mistake. But we made the “right mistake” when we learned from that failure.
If our intention is in the right place, we can withstand the wrong choice. . . but only if we are willing to learn from the experience.
I went to a store in order to purchase thirty gift cards for families at Partnership Village. A young woman at the store helped me find the card with the amount we wanted and led me to her cash register.
I noticed that the heavy floor mat that usually provided comfort for the cashiers was not on her side but on my side of the counter. I asked her about this and she smiled and said: “I have a lot of elderly customers and they need it more than I do.” Then she asked me who I was purchasing the cards for and I told her about the transitional housing just a few miles away and described our tutoring program. Her face lit up and she asked about the tutoring. She said maybe she could adjust her hours and bring over her teenage daughter and they could both tutor.
As I wrote my name and phone number on a card, she said she is only able to support her family because “someone once helped me.”
This woman taught me how living is giving, when we live out of the compassion of our hearts.
Our local nonprofit group had two events last week to celebrate November as nonprofit awareness month. As I stood in a crowded ballroom and looked around, my heart both ached and rejoiced at the same time. I saw people who, at great risk, had started a nonprofit to meet a need in the community. Now they are barely holding on financially.
I listened to others who, with great enthusiasm for their mission, took the next steps in a strategic plan—with faith that the funding would follow.
The room throbbed with creativity, compassion and courage, yet I suspected that at next years celebration some folks in the room would not be present—mainly because of the changing economic reality.
What can we do to help each other face this reality and yet also remain steadfast in taking risks to meet the many needs in our community? How can we manage expectations about a future, and continue to move courageously toward our goals each day? Can we celebrate our work in our lives and in the community, while simultaneously holding the realities and possibilities of this new economic climate?
As I got into bed, I reviewed my day. I asked myself: “What was life-draining today?” My heart squeezed with regret. I thought of little Destiny. As tutors, we instituted the use of a new and simple Homework Pledge. The children signed a poster that said they would bring their homework and work to the best of their ability. When we reviewed how this was going with the other tutors (before the children arrived) someone asked: “What about Destiny?” We have known this child for almost two years and we are aware of her challenging life. We have allowed her to come in and do art, as this seems to calm her. But yesterday I pushed her towards our agenda. She shut down. Her mom came and got her. Later she came back with swollen eyes.
As tutors we convinced ourselves that “we need all the children to comply” with our new pledge. Yet, in that moment when someone asked about Destiny my heart said “let her be—she needs her art” and yet my mouth said “no exceptions.” So when I reviewed my day I whispered a prayer of forgiveness to Destiny and to my heart, and hope she returns so we can both try once again.