roaring chickens: how I found my voice

One of my Mom’s many stories was about how she kicked the bucket…literally:

I had a job stacking pails coming off a paint line. One of my bosses came in and told me to stack them one way, and so I did. Well, then, my other boss came in and told me to stack them a different way. So I did. Then the first boss came back in and asked: “Why are you stacking ’em this way and not the way I told you to?” Well, I’ll tell you what I did. I kicked those pails all over the place and turned to them and said: “When you two get your shit together, come and get me. I’ll be in the break room.”

This story can be filed under the motto of my Mom’s life of strength and fire:

You picked the wrong damned chicken to mess with!

For most of my life, I’ve been the perfect chicken to mess with. Being the youngest in the family, I fell naturally into the role of making peace. I didn’t want tension or drama at any cost, and so in my naivety, I’d be the go-between, trying to make all parties feel better. In my past jobs, I rarely spoke up, letting people run over me rather than dealing with the ramifications of protest. For my first years as an educator, I struggled in the middle-ground of blatant wrongdoings against our students and staff while wanting to keep my job. I was a woman whose voice burned within me, but sadly, never manifested externally.

During many of my conversations with my Mom, I was haunted by her persistent call to courage:

Mary, you can’t just let people run all over you.

Her deathbed words to me (though not on her deathbed, but on the owl-light-lit porch, in the darkness of night) were:

Mary, be strong.

Her conviction and her challenge have been planted in my deepest parts since she died in September of 2013. Slowly, painfully, the seeds have cracked open under the dirt of my grief, broken through the shattered pieces of my heart, and have reached toward the warm sun of her legacy. There, they bloom, while the birds’ songs harmonize with my own resurrected voice.

In this expansive field of flowers, I see and hear my Mom within me. I have cut toxic people out of my life. I have learned to declare and honor my protective no’s and my worthy yes’s. I say what needs to be said, shooting through the heart of the elephant in the room. I ask hard questions instead of making easy assumptions. I openly admit my faults but do not minimize my strengths. I talk to people instead of about them. I am the microphone for the voiceless. I foster discomfort, assured of the future benefits. I feel good in my skin, knowing I am Created. I have found my voice; I have rightfully claimed my voice.

For much of 2014, Katy Perry’s “Roar” would come on the radio…and it felt like my Mom was singing to me, reminding me of her strength and fire. This was my song, my anthem, of a life spent hiding, then finding my voice; like mother, like daughter; the wrong damn chickens to mess with.


This post was inspired by Synchroblog’s January prompt. Follow these yellow-brick-links to other ponderings!

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the soul’s greatest threat: ADD

This little disease epidemic is popping up everywhere. In disgruntled hearts. In ungrateful mouths. In slanderous conversations. In the broken public education system. Beneath the broken hearts of Christians.  On job (dis)satisfaction surveys. At restaurants. In my soul.

ADD: Attentive to Deficit Disorder.

I first learned about ADD–though not known by that name yet, well, because I didn’t invent it yet :)–when getting my Master’s in Cultural and Linguistic Diversity in Education. For students in our system who are emerging bilinguals, it is common to focus on what they lack (a foundation in English, parents who speak English, comfort navigating the American schooling principles, background knowledge, etc) rather than what they offer (flexible cognition, tenacity, diversity, varied background knowledge, a 21st century skill, etc). This deficit lens immediately and perpetually harms their potential–both for heart and mind learning in the classroom.

But ADD reaches into the adult hallways as well. Lingering in the air of my school lately is a heavy tension surrounding feedback. Teachers–me included–feel like there shouldn’t always have to be a next step. Can we just celebrate the good that’s going on in our classrooms? Just once? Of course, this stifling air is pouring in from beyond the walls of our building–a critical society of politicians and businessmen who in their ADD see fit to criticize our profession and demean our judgment. (Can I get a next step for them!?)

I saw and felt ADD in my Mom too. No matter what my Dad did, it wasn’t enough for her. No one at work could live up to her standards. We, her kids, strained to breath in the shadow of her martyrdom-to-negativity, encapsulated by her rally cry: “When it rains, it pours.”

Until she got breast cancer. The disease stopped her in her tracks, rewrote her map, and rerouted her direction. Did she become perfect? No, but her rally cry changed to “Well, I can’t complain; I’ve been blessed.” This will forever be one of the traits I admire most in my Mom: what should have proved to her that “when it rains, it pours” became a transition into a heart and life of thanksgiving. Even when she got cancer again, and then again, she declared her life as blessed.

Her prescription for ADD? Gratitude.

And this is without her earmarking The Secret or subscribing to “The Law of Attraction” or reading Ernest Holmes, who writes in This Thing Called You:

The barriers between you and your greater good are not barriers in themselves. They are things of thoughts. It is because of this that all things are possible to faith. Jesus summed up the whole proposition when he said, “It is done unto you as you believe.” In interpreting this saying, however, you must pause after the word as. Think about its meaning and you will discover that he was saying that life not only responds to your belief, it responds after the manner of your believing, as you believe. It is like a mirror reflecting the image of your belief.

As you believe.

Without using such succinct language, I’ve long pondered this with those closest to me. We’ve witnessed people in our lives with ADD: they never see good; they’re always complaining; their smiles are never deep; every good story has a “but” or an “if;” they seek commiseration from those around them; they are martyrs; they complain without changing; their conversations are tainted with passive-aggressiveness; they tear others down so they can feel better about their lives; they always play the victim but then conclude, deep-sighing “but, I’m okay.”

And as they believe, they just can’t catch a break, the sh** just keeps hitting the fan, spinning wildly above their heads on high, splintering the crap into tiny germs of toxic thinking that attracts more toxicity.

As they believe.

As you believe.

As I believe. This could be me. On my worst days, it is me, suffering from and for ADD. But I refuse to stay in this minefield-mindplace.

And just like my Mom learned and lived, I take my ADD medicine: gratitude.

My prescription as of late involves the delicious and divine words of of Ann Voskamp, One Thousand Gifts:

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At the deepest diagnostic level of ADD is the distinction made by Tim O’Brien between the happening-truth and the story-truth. The events in my life are the truth, the happening-truth, the facts. But how I view them, how I count them and name them and interpret them, that’s the story-truth. Regardless of the events, I can tell the story however I want. I have that power, that choice, that authorship. Do I tell my story slanted with sorrow, burdened by ADD’s symptoms? Or do I tell my story, sanctified by sincere gratitude?

My Mom died last year. That is the happening-truth. But how do I tell that story? My Mom died too suddenly and how dare God do that?! or My Mom got what she wished, to end her life with her dignity in tact, dependent on no one, so thank you God! I choose the latter. Thank you. Again and again I choose the latter. Thank you. I refuse to succumb to the powerful hold of ADD.

My story-truths will be of gratitude, of thanksgiving, of blessing, as I believe.

Disclaimer: It would be negligent of me to conclude without a warning about the side-effects of ADD’s treatment plan of thanksgiving: DDD– denial of deficit disorder. There is a subtle but significant difference between positivity and faithfulness, between denial and gratitude. Positivity and denial leave a person consumed with “having to be happy” regardless of the happening-truth. They painfully push on (of course never on the surface, where there is always a smile) without the deep reflection and story-telling necessary to treat ADD. On the other hand, faithful and grateful people understand the severity of their happening-truths, while still instead scripting a story-truth of thanksgiving.

cafeteria cliques and middle school melodrama: adult culture in schools

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For the last few months, I have had the opportunity of being on my school’s hiring committee. In countless interviews, this question has risen from the mouths of the candidates: “How is the culture in this building?” As well it should. Though the work we do is with students, often the fuel to be successful there comes from the environment in which we exist, from the adults with which we collaborate. As in any school, our adult culture is defined by both strengths and weaknesses. Typically, when I answer this question, I say something along the lines: “Each of us creates the culture; it is a matter of aligning with those who are moving forward.” Today I write to attempt to define what “moving forward” looks like.

I recognize that the idea of “adult culture” is not unique to those who work in a school environment. Nor is gossip–the life blood of water cooler meet-ups and front porch rocking sessions. After all, over the past few months, as I’ve been ruminating about this very topic, I’ve read several articles I found in a generous Google search: “The Danger of Workplace Gossip” and “10 Reasons Why It’s Good to Gossip at Work.” But, what I do think is critically different, is that there is far more riding on a school’s adult culture. Every day, every interaction in the hall, every group of adults gathered in a corner chatting, every isolated teacher, every closed door “meeting” is watched closely by little, learning sponges: children, becoming adults, who are in the process of figuring out how to navigate the world of obvious and subtle social cues, the minefield of trust and betrayal, the dynamics of inner circle versus outer circle, the challenges of conflict resolution. They are the true sentinels of social maneuvering–always observing, always forming.

As I define what “moving forward” looks like, I also treat this as a confession of sorts, to those who have watched my model and learned unhealthy community approaches. This is how I want to move forward. This is how I want to be at work. This is how I want be as an honorable woman trying to love God.

  • Moving forward means emptying your cup–a much needed part of life–in your most inner, trusted circle. Find your people, and keep it there.
  • Moving forward also means deconstructing the contents of that cup. Many times this year, I have talked with my students about the cycle of oppression. Those who are oppressed oppress others. Those who are insecure break down others. Those who need validation invalidate others. When I am emptying my cup…what is really going on? What do I need to look at in myself, first and foremost?
  • Moving forward means holding closely your inner circle, while still being inclusive. Love is boundless and can, and should, go beyond my people.
  • Moving forward means surrendering the power of being “in the know.” Sometimes I want to know, just because I’m curious. Sometimes I want to know, just because I want to be in the “in group.” Sometimes I want to know, just because sharing it gives me power.
  • Moving forward means being mindful of time. It saddens me how easy it is to complain of “having no time,” when that very time complaining could be used for something productive. It falls on my shoulders to know when to empty my cup, and when to put it aside to get sh** done. It also empowers me. So often I complain of all the things I cannot control, but if I just made use of my time controlling what I can, I would feel so much better.
  • Moving forward means emptying your cup, then washing it–at least most of the time. If I complain for complaints’ sake, that is wasted time. But, if I complain to move forward, to figure things out, to have solutions, that is productive, that is honorable. That is what I want my students to see. How can I speak out against what is wrong and/or bothering me, while also having a hand–however insignificant–in creating a more positive outcome?

Ultimately, moving forward at its core is about energy. What kind of energy do I cultivate within me? What kind of energy to I radiate? What kind of energy do I surround myself with?

Recently, a colleague and friend recommended the documentary I AM. Watching a mere once has rocked my world, specifically the research done at The Institute of HeartMath. One of their explorations is the idea that the emotions I feel affect YOU… yes, symbolically of course, but lit.er.al.ly. My emotions affect you emotionally, physically. There is some sort of invisible, scientific, spiritual connection among those around me. So in school, my very being affects the beings around me.

What a call to be a better being.

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