Friday, August 30, 2013

Your Vision

Readers:  This past week, I've been working with my teachers to get them ready for the beginning of another school year.  With that in mind, I decided to republish Your Vision.  It's not just for teachers, but it's for parents, for those who work with kids, for those who work alongside someone else.  Thanks, Joe

DeWitt Jones, Photographer for National Geographic, tells the story his father once told him about two stone cutters.  A man posed the question to one: “What are you doing?”  One stone cutter said, “Cutting stone.”  He posed the question to the other and the other answered, “I’m building a cathedral.”  Two men, same job doing the same work.  Two different viewpoints.  Two different Visions.
I have to admit that I am and have always been a ‘glass is almost full’ kind of guy.  Not ‘half full’ but really, ‘almost full’.  Growing up, Pollyanna was one of my favorite movies.  
 I never watched Winnie The Pooh until we had our first child, Hannah, but as I watched along with her, I found myself chuckling at Eeyore.  What a depressing Vision of life he had!   
Yet, each of us know at least one or two Eeyores, and I’m willing to bet that at times, we’ve been one too.  Sort of like Typhoid Mary, an Eeyore can bring down just about anyone.
Perhaps we need to consider if we are like Eeyore and looking for and expecting the bad to occur in life and only willing to see and express the negative.  Or, are we more like Pollyanna and looking for and expecting the good in life and in others and expressing the positive.   
Either way, we would be like Typhoid Mary spreading either negativity and sadness or positivity and joy.  You choose!  Something to think about . . .
Live Your Life, and Make A Difference!

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Follow The Recipe?

All the time I was growing up, my mom would bake every Saturday morning.  I mean, Every Saturday Morning.  Homemade bread, buns, cinnamon rolls, pies (apple, being my favorite), cookies.  Every Saturday Morning.

The smell filled the whole house.  It made your mouth water.  I can still smell it today as I sit in my office writing this. 

We had the timing down to an art.  Just as mom would take something out of the oven, we’d be there.  Hands outstretched.  Knife and butter ready.  Eyes wide in delight.  Jostling for the first bite, the first taste. Who gets the biggest?  Who doesn’t want a corner piece or the crust or the end?

Nothing beats warm bread with melted butter right out of the oven.  Nothing.  Or, a warm chocolate chip or peanut butter cookie.  Not just one or two.  Three or four snuck when mom wasn’t looking.  Though, if I had to guess, she knew.  She knew.  Probably had a hard time keeping the smile off her face as she went about loading up another tray of something to pop into the oven.

I don’t bake much.  Not really at all.  I’m more of the cook.  Kim and the girls bake. 

For me, it’s Following The Recipe.  I’d much rather experiment.  Dabble.  Pinch of this or that.  My chili is good, but it tastes different each time I make it.  Same with my spaghetti or lasagna.

Kim and the girls Follow The Recipe.  The directions.  Each step.  Measuring.  Stirring.  Beating.

Got me thinking . . .

There are those of us who wing it.  Most of the time, it comes out fine.  Sometimes, not so much.  There are those who Follow The Recipe.  The steps.  The directions.  Almost always, it comes out fine.  Yet every now and then, it comes out too well-done.  Okay, burnt.

I don’t know if there is a right or a wrong, really.  I think it depends upon what it is you’re cooking or baking.  I think it depends upon what it is you’re doing.  I think it depends upon your intended result.  If the result you seek needs to be well-defined, finite, exact, perhaps Following The Recipe is best.  If the result you seek isn’t so defined, if there isn’t the need for it to be exactly so, perhaps winging it is just fine.

I think it depends upon the result you seek, the result you need.  It really comes down to what it is you want in the end.  Something to think about . . .

Live Your Life, and Make A Difference!

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Another Beginning

Recently, we had over 450 kids in the gym.  Over 450 kids about to begin high school for the first time.  Some of them awkward.  Nervous.  Unsure.  Maybe afraid.  Some tried to act cool.  Some used humor to hide what they really felt.  We noticed a “quietness” that we’ve not seen in some of the classes coming through.

No matter what we try to do with the new ninth graders, and we’ve been doing transition days since I became the principal at this school, the kids are nervous.  We try to put them at ease.  We play games.  We break them up into groups.  We pair up juniors and seniors who volunteer to mentor the new kids.  We try to break down walls, barriers.  With three feeder schools, it’s hard.  It takes almost a full year for them to be “high school kids”. 

And I think those kids were very much like some of us at that age.  Some of us were awkward.  Socially inept.  Nervous.  Unsure.  Maybe afraid. 

We had sessions and workshops for the parents at the same time the kids were in the gym.  About half of them were parents of freshmen for the first time, while others were “veterans”.  And I noticed when I talked to these parents, their feelings mirrored their kids.  Having had three freshmen at various times, I understand their feelings.  I felt them too.

Another Beginning.

Today, we drove Hannah to college.  Her second year.  Making that trip last year was tough.  This year . . . well, it wasn’t exactly easy.  Maybe a bit easier, but not really easy.  She greeted friends from last year.  Her roommate, Taylor, is the same one she had her freshman year.  They get along so well.  Pretty much alike.

While Hannah and Emily set up her room, Kim and I made a grocery run.  We let them be, maybe just got out of her hair. The four of us went to lunch and then back to school to drop Hannah off.  We said goodbye.  Never easy, at least for me.  No, not easy.  Maybe a bit easier, but not really easy.  I guess I said that already, huh?

On Monday, my teachers and staff return for Another Beginning.  Some of their colleagues won’t return though.  A couple retired.  Some got jobs in other districts . . . other states.  One or two won’t be able to begin the year with us.  One is battling an illness.  One is facing surgery.

And in their place, some new teachers.  Some for the first time ever.  Brand new.  Rookies.  Probably like the kids . . . Nervous.  Unsure.  Maybe afraid.

Another Beginning.

I guess it doesn’t matter at what age, Beginnings can cause fear, some nervousness.  We face uncertainty.  We’re unsure.

And like the kids in their new situation, those teachers face Beginnings in the same way, with the same questions: Will I be okay?  Did I make the right decision?  Will they . . . you . . . like me?  Accept me?  Will the kids . . . the teachers . . . my colleagues . . . the parents . . . the “principal” see my nervousness?  My fear?

Beginnings are really never easy.  But they do get easier.  A little.  A bit.  Eventually.

Perhaps if we understand that no matter the age, the position, the title, each of us faces the same feelings, thoughts, and worries.  The same uncertainty.  If we understand that we’re really mirror images of each other, we can make it easier for one another through that recognition, that understanding.  We’re in it together, after all.  And while never really easy, it does get easier.  Really.  Something to think about . . .

Live Your Life, and Make A Difference!

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Lighthouses (republished)

Readers:  Because we are beginning "school season" again, I wanted to republish this post because it speaks to all of us who work with, and care about, kids.  May each of you have the strength to carry on. JL

I lived in Sturgeon Bay, Wisconsin for five years.  That little city is surrounded by water: the Bay of Green Bay on one side and Lake Michigan on the other.  The Door County Peninsula where Sturgeon Bay sits is home to several lighthouses up and down both sides guiding and warning ships and boats as they approach shoreline.

I’ve always been fascinated with lighthouses.  Some are big, tall and famous, while others are little and nondescript.  Some are in good shape, while others seem to be in disrepair.  I imagine a ship captain welcomes that light in times of storm as his ship is buffeted by wind and wave.  I think the captain is relieved to see that light shining when his ship is surrounded by fog.

There have been many lighthouses in my life as a child and as an adult.  I think of Mrs. Nancy Mehring, my fourth grade teacher.  You see, I was a stutterer, timid and shy.  I lacked confidence in myself, was a horrible student who didn’t apply himself, who didn’t concentrate and either couldn’t or didn’t pay attention.  She saw through all of that and tapped into some potential that no one else had before her.  Like a lighthouse, she saved me in a time of fog where I couldn’t see, couldn’t find direction and saved me from drifting endlessly.  Instead of crashing onto a rocky shoreline, she guided me to calm waters.  

 I think of my sixth grade teacher, Sr. Josephe’ Marie Flynn, who furthered the love of learning in me and gave me my love of writing.  Without her, I might not have ever discovered I could write.  I might not have ever used this creative tool to reach and teach others, to entertain.

A lighthouse.  It guides and warns.  It comforts in a storm.  It gives direction in fog.  It doesn’t need to be famous, big or tall.  It can be little and nondescript.

I wonder what might happen if each of us becomes a lighthouse for even just one other person.  We might change that individual’s life as Mrs. Mehring and Sr. Josephe’ did for me.  We might change our own lives in the process.  Just imagine the possibility.  Something to think about . . .

Live Your Life, and Make A Difference!

Friday, August 16, 2013

Weeds Amongst The Wheat

My wife, Kim, takes pride in how our lawn looks.  I do, too, to a certain extent anyway, but not nearly the way Kim does.

Once a week, she mows.  Once a month she trims the bushes in the front of the house.  She has set the sprinklers on a timer and waters regularly.  And today, we just got done pulling weeds.  

Got me thinking . . .

Remember the Bible story about the wheat and the weeds?  The Bible was more eloquent than I am and used a different word for ‘weeds’, but for today, it serves my purpose.

As the story went, the Lord made a decision that the wheat and the weeds would grow together until harvest time.  For farmers, that’s a very finite amount of time.  Once upon a time, I drove a wheat truck in Wyoming during the summer.  The farmers I worked for hoped that wind, storms and hail would stay away until the wheat could get harvested.  Sometimes it did, while other times . . .

But I find the story curious: Why did the Lord allow the wheat and weeds to grow together?  Did He think that somehow, someway, weeds might turn into wheat?  That somehow, someway, wheat wouldn’t be choked out by the growth of weeds?

I mean, I look at our lawn.  In spite of Kim’s efforts, there are patches of weeds that, while not ruining our lawn, certainly give it a patchy, blotchy look.  So, we pull.  We spray.  We fertilize.  We water.  We begin in the spring.  We continue all summer long and into the fall.  There isn’t a harvest time for grass as there is with wheat.  So, Kim and I do our thing until the cold and the snow make our grass go dormant.  And we begin the process all over again come spring.

It seems to me that there are weeds among us.

In spite of our very best efforts, weeds sprout in and amongst us.  These weeds can take many forms.  Negativity.  Meanness.  Indifference.  Snobbism.  Cruelty. Perhaps a “holier than though” attitude.  Maybe even a “I’ve been here for 42 years so . . .”

It doesn’t take many of these weeds, these individuals, to bring down the rest.  Sometimes, just associating with, just being around these individuals can cause us to turn into weeds, to be like them.  How many times do we find ourselves listening in on a conversation of “Ain’t it awful!” only to become contributors?  We might even become just as negative.  And worse, we might pass that negativity on to others. 

So, like a snowball rolling down a hill, the negativity grows.  Eventually, the climate changes.  Moods grow dark. There’s general unhappiness.  A lowering of morale.

So . . .

I’m not sure why the Lord allowed the wheat and the weeds to grow together until harvest.  I guess if it were up to me, I’d throw them out.  Tear them out at the root.  Spray weed killer on them.  I wouldn’t want them to poison the wheat . . . the grass . . . the rest of us.

But it isn’t up to me.  Maybe.  Perhaps.

I can do my part to prevent weeds from growing in my life.  I can do my part to never be a weed to others.  I can do my part to sow happiness.  Kindness.  Gentleness.  To bring a smile, a laugh, instead of a frown or a tear.  I can be compassionate and caring.  I can listen and be patient.  I think we all can.  Each of us.  And in the end, our lives, the lives of others, our world and where we work, might be better in the long run.

Perhaps that’s why the Lord allowed the Weeds to grow Amongst the Wheat.  Something to think about . . .

Live Your Life, and Make A Difference!

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

In Fog

I’ve always been curious about Fog.

I know there’s a scientific reason for it, but I’ve always wondered about it.  The interesting thing about Fog is that you see it.  It’s there all around you.  But you can’t touch it.  You can’t feel it.  You can’t grab it.  You can’t put a bit in your pocket for safe keeping.  But Fog is there nonetheless. 

Fog is interesting that way.  Makes me curious.

My wife, Kim, gets up to run early every morning.  Usually way, way before the sun peeks over the trees and landscape behind our house.  Crazy that way.  Disciplined.  Far more disciplined than I am.  As she set out on her run that one morning, the sky was clear.  Dark, but clear.  The morning warm.  At least that is what she told me.  I was still sound asleep.

As she ran, she saw Fog developing eerily among the woods on either side of the street she runs on.  Eerily is the word she used.  In her words, it seemed to fall among the branches of the trees, making its way to the ground. 

Nothing one minute.  Then suddenly . . . there.  One minute nothing.  The next minute surrounded by Fog.  Everywhere. 

It came on suddenly.  Silently.  Quietly.  No warning.  No welcoming bell.  No shot from a starter’s pistol.  No “Ready . . . Set . . . Go!”  

When I woke up, the world  . . . my world . . . was shrouded In Fog.

As I do each and every morning, my first stop is at the bedroom windows overlooking our backyard.  I had trouble seeing the trees in the woods.  I knew they were there.  I see them every other morning.  Just not that morning.  The little pond was gone . . . swallowed up.  Absent.  I couldn’t see the cul de sac at the end of our block.  Gone.  Seemingly vanished.

I left for work with my headlights on.  I drove more slowly than I usually do.  Took my time.  I left earlier than I usually do.  Took caution.  Care.  Yet, I arrived at about the time I normally do.

At some point that morning, the sun broke through.  The sky turned to a brilliant blue.  Bright.  Cloudless.  Clear.  Clean. 

There are times when we find ourselves In Fog.

Ourselves.  Our world.  Our life.  Those around us.  Our loved ones.  All shrouded In Fog. 

Sometimes we’re not sure how Fog got there.  Not sure at all.  Clear, calm one minute.  In the
next . . .

Nothing one minute.  Then suddenly . . . there.  One minute nothing.  The next minute surrounded by Fog.  Everywhere.

Nothing clear.  No visibility.  Things that we know are there, vanished.  The clarity we usually have, gone.  Sometimes the judgment we normally have, absent.  Like the trees in my backyard, a way out, a path, a road, not visible.

Yet . . .

If we take our time . . .  if we move through life . . . that stretch of life . . . with our lights on, with precaution, with care, with deliberation and purpose, just like later that morning, the sun breaks through.  Things become brighter.  Clearer.  Cleaner.

If we take our time, if we take precaution, a bit more care, our thinking becomes sharper.  Decisions can be made safely, maybe easier.  With a little care.  With a little caution.  With a little extra time.  Something to think about . . .

Live Your Life, and Make A Difference!

Friday, August 9, 2013

Living In Fear

This past week, one of my best and favorite teachers came to see me.  She is one of those special people you want your kids to be with.  To learn from.  To grow from.  She quietly shut my door, smiled through teary eyes, and shared terrible news with me.  Doctors found a spot.  It had spread, but not sure where or how far.  Surgery scheduled for this past Monday.  Her hope is that they wouldn’t find that it had “spread” too far.  Me too.

You see, her late husband died from the same.  She is afraid.  Scared.  For herself, I’m sure.  But more for her daughter, her son, and her husband.  She told me that she’s going to be strong.  That she’ll beat it.  That she has to remain positive. 

She smiled.  She wiped a tear or two.  Me too.  We hugged and I told her that she was in my thoughts and prayers.  She is and she will be.  Each day.  Every day.

Living In Fear.

I know a principal.  Older guy.  Veteran who’s been around the block and then some.  He’s on a board member’s hit list.  Lord knows the reason, because I sure don’t.  He does what he can.  Loves the kids.  His kids.  His teachers.  Tries to put them first. Makes a mistake here or there, but who doesn’t?  Big school.  Big issues.  Bound to happen here or there.  He reflects.  He corrects.  He moves on.  His heart is in the right place- with kids.  With others.  First and foremost.

I know that each day he walks into his building, he worries.  For his job.  His family.  Each day.  Some days might be better than others.  Most maybe.  But he worries.  He puts on a brave face.  He smiles and laughs with others.  But I dare say no one . . . no one . . . knows what this man is going through.  Daily.  Each day.

Living In Fear.

Living In Fear is dangerous.  Deadly, really.  Debilitating.  Dehumanizing.  Humiliating.

One feels beaten.  Beaten down.  One questions decisions, actions, words.  One wonders what should be said.  What shouldn’t be said.  Choices become limiting, few.  Or so it seems.

One feels absolutely, totally alone.  So very alone.  Lonely.  Isolated.  Beaten.  Beaten down.

For those who are Living In Fear, each minute of life . . . of living . . . is robbed of joy, of happiness, of peace.  Life and living become empty.  Void.

There are those among us who walk down this endless, empty and lonely road.  Perhaps you know who they are.  Perhaps you just suspect.  Perhaps you have a hunch. 

There might be those who are reading this who walk this road.  Each day.  Every day.  Alone.

Living In Fear.

But . . .

You aren’t alone.  Not ever.  Not really.

There are those of us who walked down that road once or twice.  There are those of us who know what that life feels like.  What that road is like.  There are those of us who reached out . . . who reach out . . . to others to reassure, to tag along with.  To walk side by side willing to listen.  There are those who had the courage to ask for help.  And to offer help.  To offer a shoulder to lean on.  An ear to listen.  A heart to accept.  Arms to hold.  To support.  To hold up.  To lift up.

Reaching out . . . asking for help takes courage.  To ask for help is an admission that you don’t have all the answers.  To ask for help is an admission that you cannot do it by yourself.  That takes courage.  That takes guts.

And it takes courage to offer help.  It takes guts to offer one’s shoulder, one’s heart. 

But we’re all in this together.  Offer it and someday, someday, that help might be needed in your own life. Extend it, give it, and one day as you walk along that so lonely and empty road, you might find a hand to help you along, an ear to listen, a heart to care. 

We’ve all been there.  All of us.  We need to help each other.  Each of us.  For each other.  Silently strong.  Vocally too.  Something to think about . . .

Live Your Life, and Make A Difference!

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

After The Storm

The other night, it rained.  Poured.  Thunder and lightning.  The works.

Our Golden Retriever, Bailey, didn’t know what to do.  Timid anyway from some sort of abuse.  Our ‘Rescue Dog’.  Antsy all night.  Ran upstairs.  Ran downstairs.  Hunkered down at Kim’s feet.  Finally settled on lying down on the landing.  Still in the family room, but hidden . . . sort of, not quite.  Not really out of the room.  At least all together.  We could still see her and she, us.

The TV acted up.  Satellite TV does that in severe storms.  We get a “Searching For Signal” notification.  Doesn’t usually last long.  Not even a minute or so.  But annoying nonetheless.

Kim played a game on her IPad.  Emily read her Kindle.  Hannah was out with friends.  I wrote.

Eventually we went to bed and at some point, the storm ended.  No loss of power.  No having to reset the clocks.  No one was late for work.

After The Storm.

I like mornings anyway.  The quiet.  The solitude.  The peace.  My thinking time.

After The Storm, there is a clarity that isn’t necessarily present on many mornings.  There is a freshness in the air.  I like the beads of water on the grass and trees.  The droplets of water seem to make everything fresher.  Greener.  Clearer.

After The Storm.

Not during the storm, but After The Storm.

During the storm, there is always a question as to whether or not we’ll lose power.  Many do.  During the storm, there is an unsettled feeling . . . anxious . . . like Bailey.  It isn’t peaceful or clear or fresh like it is After The Storm. 

Everything is just, well . . . wet.  And dark.  And dreary.

During the storm, we wonder.  We worry.  Or, if not worry, we wonder.  We might be anxious.  At least, a bit unsettled.  We sometimes have to “Search For A Signal”.  Some signal.  Any signal.  Maybe like our Golden, we want to hide.

After The Storm, there is peace.  Quiet.  And as I wrote in an earlier post, there is always an end.  It seems to last a while.  It can seem to last a long time.  Forever, perhaps.

But it doesn’t.  The storm ends.

After The Storm, there is no more thunder.  There is no more lightning.  No more violent wind.  Things that were once blown around are put back in place.  Rearranged.  Settled. 

Storms don’t last that long really.  They just seem to.  Especially if we find ourselves in the midst of a storm.  Especially then. 

But they end.  They always do.  There is always an After The Storm.  Really.  Whether or not we have to “Search For A Signal”.  Something to think about . . .

Live Your Life, and Make A Difference!