Thoughts on a Monday Night

First day of official unemployment for the first time since I was 15.
Exciting yet discomforting, I am both happy to have free time to do the things I want, yet unsure about my immediate future plans.

I’ve seen a lot of changes in myself taking place since I’ve actively begun working on daily meditations for my social/emotional well-being. My dad’s illness has almost demanded it. I’m constantly pursuing the “now-ness” of everything so I can delight in the present moment.

I used to think that joy/happiness/satisfaction was somewhere “out there.” That my inner state was contingent on my exterior surroundings. Once I accomplish this, or once I obtain that I’ll be happy, I thought. The opposite, however, has slowly transformed into my truth. I am both happier and sadder than I’ve ever been in my entire life, but changing my mindset has allowed me to find joy in all my sorrow. The world to me is now so different. Tasks that used to feel trivial, and moments once viewed insignificant have all become something special. The simple act of looking at flowers has turned into marveling at the pink hydrangea plants on Allegheny’s campus, blossoms sprinkled with water droplets. Running outside to my car at night has become pausing in my steps to soak in the sky at sunset. Getting a tan at the beach has transformed into feeling the sun kiss my skin as I dig and wiggle my toes deeper into the sand. My dad’s illness has taught me that the “now-ness” of everything is a miracle. And my joy and my happiness manifested once I stopped chasing it.

“Joy is a choice that comes from accepting and living fully each moment of our lives, knowing that each day and each event is important . . . Receive it [the present] now, then pass it on with a smile and a kind word to all who come along your path.” Melody Beattie

Passing this along tonight for you, friends.

Advertisements

It’s okay to not know

I’ve been feeling lost in a state of transition lately, so, for all my fellow brothers and sisters feeling some level of discomfort in your unknowns, I thought I’d put this out into the universe for you. For us.

Cheers to feeling liberated in the depths of our unknowns.

“Sometimes we don’t know what we want, what’s next, or what we think our lives will look like down the road. That’s okay. If the answer is I don’t know, then say it. Say it clearly. And be at peace with not knowing.

Sometimes the reason we don’t know is that what’s coming is going to be very different from anything we’ve experienced before. Even if we knew, we couldn’t relate to it because it’s that new and that different. It’s a surprise.

Sometimes the reason we don’t know is that it would be too difficult, too confusing for us right now. It would take us out of the present moment, cause us to worry and fuss about how we could control it or what we have to do to make it happen. Knowing would make us afraid. Put us on overload. Take us away from now.

Sometimes our souls know, but it’s just not time for our conscious minds to know yet. Sometimes knowing would take us out of the very experience we need to go through to discover the answer we’re looking for. And sometimes the process of learning to trust, the process of going through an experience and coming to trust that we will ultimately discover our own truth, is more important than knowing.”

The process of moving from what we don’t
know to what we are to learn is a process that
can be trusted. It’s how we grow and change.
It’s okay to not know. It’s okay to let ourselves
move into knowing. The lesson is trusting
that we’ll know when it’s time.

 

Found in Melody Beattie’s book titled, Journey to the Heart.
“It’s Okay to Not Know” (171-172)

#changedbyservice

AmeriCorps wasn’t so much a post-graduate option for me as it was a calling. My entire life has always, in one way or another, been devoted to service. From my time spent as a founding member of the Saegertown Pantherian Key Club in Northwestern Pennsylvania, to college, where I participated in service-learning trips abroad, I have always felt an intrinsic pull towards helping others.

After graduating from Indiana University of Pennsylvania in the spring of 2015, I decided to sign up for AmeriCorps. Shortly after applying, I was offered a position with the Literacy Coalition of Palm Beach County; a nonprofit devoted to helping community members in South Florida improve their lives through the promotion and achievement of literacy. Being a recent English graduate, I decided to accept this offer. During my 2015-2016 contract, I served as a Graduation Coach for the School District of Palm Beach County. My role was outlined as this: help “at-risk” junior and senior high school students overcome any barriers that might hinder them from success towards high school graduation.” Little did I know it at the time, but I was in for quite a different experience.

Looking back on it now, I don’t think any other period of my life has been integral as my year with Literacy AmeriCorps. Despite being a native of northwestern Pennsylvania, I wasn’t a stranger to people of different cultures and backgrounds. A born explorer, I spent six months abroad in Sweden my sophomore year of college. During winter break my junior year, I participated in a service learning trip to Brazil where I helped teach English to impoverished community members. But besides my handful of worldly experiences, nothing could have possibly prepared me for the year that I lived and served in South Florida. Serving as a Graduation Coach at Forest Hill High School was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. On paper, I was serving “at-risk” youth that were labeled because of their missing graduation requirements, low GPA’s, consistent suspensions, and alarming lack of attendance. Most of my students came from lower socio-economic households, and were a mix of Haitian, African American, Hispanic and Caribbean backgrounds. My role was to track their grades, their progress, and their commitment; I was an “academic coach” of sorts. What I found, however, is that while I was serving as their coach, they were serving as my teacher.

Through many heartbreaking conversations with students, I soon learned that the term “at-risk” went far beyond what I could calculate on a progress report. As time progressed, and a certain level of trust was established, my students slowly started opening up to me. And I listened. I listened and absorbed their words as they told me stories of childhood abuse, death, friends who had been shot and killed by gang members. Halfway through the year, one of my own students got shot in the leg in downtown West Palm. After he was released from the hospital,  I made a point to wheel him out to his grandma’s van every day after school. Maybe it made me feel better to know that he was safe in my care, if only for a couple minutes.

From time to time during the school year, my kids would tell me a story so heart-wrenching that after they left my office, I would sit there and cry. It was so unfair. I loved them all so much, and I hated the pain and suffering they had experienced. But my students were strong, and they reminded me again and again of their fight and their resilience. They taught me what it takes to have hope amongst terror, to love amongst hate, to keep faith amongst fear. Above all else, my students showed me what it takes to have a “willingness to sometimes be in hopeless places and be a witness.”* To pay attention to suffering, to poverty, to exclusion, to injustice.

What I didn’t realize during my year with Literacy AmeriCorps was that I was being molded and shaped into the person I am today – someone who is now committed to staying awake. Someone who can no longer turn a blind eye to injustice. Someone who has been changed by service.

 

 

*”When we were in Eastern Europe and dealing with oppression, we wanted all kinds of things, but mostly what we needed was hope, an orientation of the spirit, a willingness to sometimes be in hopeless places and be a witness.” *Vaclav Havel, Czech leader

3.7: beautiful

I’ve been thinking a lot, lately, about what it means to be beautiful.
Mainly because I haven’t been feeling it.

Grief really takes a toll on one’s appearance. I look at myself in the mirror, and I just look tired, exhausted, frazzled. The circles under my eyes appear darker at every passing moment. No matter how much makeup covers my face, I can still see grief lurking underneath. “Your eyes say so much” my coworker tells me.

While browsing the internet yesterday, I decided to look up the word beautiful.

Merriam-Websters Dictionary defines beautiful as:

1. “having qualities of beauty: exciting aesthetic pleasure”
2. “generally pleasing”

I was disappointed with this, so I clicked on the link below that read, “see beautiful defined for English-language learners.”

Aha, I thought. This could be interesting.

It read: “Learners definition of BEAUTIFUL:”

  1. “having beauty: such as
    1. very attractive in a physical way
    2. giving pleasure to the mind or ones senses.”

Eh.

I then decided to look up beauty.

Beauty is defined as being (1). a combination of qualities such as shape, color, or form, that pleases the aesthetic senses: a combination of qualities that pleases the intellect or moral sense.

I felt myself wanting more, so I grabbed Glennon Doyle Melton’s copy of Love Warrior and turned to a passage I had underlined in Chapter 15.

The underlined passage read, “beautiful is being full of beauty.”

Full . . . of beauty.

It continued:

“Beautiful is not about how you look on the outside. Beautiful is about what you’re made of. Beautiful people spend time discovering what their idea of beauty on this earth is. They know themselves well enough to know what they love, and they love themselves enough to fill up with a little of their particular kind of beauty each day.”

I thought about this particular kind of beautiful last night as I stepped onto my yoga mat.

This, I thought, is what makes me beautiful: this is one thing that fills me up with beauty.

I know myself well enough, I thought, to know that I love yoga. I do it for no one else but myself. I love yoga because it’s a practice, and some practices go well and some practices don’t – just like some days go well and some days don’t. I love yoga because it’s a space where we are encouraged not to judge ourselves, but rather, love ourselves and thank ourselves for practicing.

I love yoga because, believe it or not, I am not naturally flexible, and have to work very hard at it. But, when I do find that extra inch of length in a stretch or pose, I am amazed by my body and that makes me beautiful.

There are other things that fill me up with beauty:

  1. Dancing: whether choreographed or unchoreographed.
  2. Writing and sharing my words with other people & knowing that, in sharing, I helped someone else feel less alone.
  3.  Feeling sunshine on my face and having sand and salt water in my hair.
  4. Drinking hot tea after a long day and curling up with a good book in bed.
  5. Talking to another human being and feeling that I am as much of them as they are of me.

It seems simple, but it’s amazing what you start to feel when you “un-learn” society’s expectations of your beautiful and you start to re-learn your own idea of it. It’s not like I haven’t always known that beauty’s not purely based in aesthetics, but the idea of myself sure did change as I started naming all the things that filled me up with beauty.

Here I am, a new English language learner.

I love this new outlook on what it means to be beautiful. I love that it not only makes me feel beautiful, but that it makes me want to soak up other people’s beauty: people’s art, people’s music, people’s craft – whatever fills them up, I want to fill myself up with it.

My friends, what is your beautiful? What fills you up with beauty?

 

Loving you.

 

 

 

 

 

 

2.28: sitting in the dirt

I’m not gonna lie, I’ve been struggling with this week’s Motivational Monday topic a lot – obviously, because it’s Tuesday.

I’ve been caught in the fog of my dad’s illness this week, watching, yet again, as another deterioration takes hold. He is starting to lose motor function in his dominant hand. I watch and I know what’s happening – switching from his right to his left hand during dinner, struggling to turn the car key in the ignition, taking twenty minutes to clip his toe nails.

I watch and I know, and it scares me.

I think experiencing grief makes a person more privy to the way that others respond to it. In the memoir, Love Warrior, author Glennon Doyle Melton outlines her experience in sharing grief with others by observing the patterned responses people reply with after hearing of her sufferings. She depicts these responses as different “roles.” I won’t get into all of them, but here are just a few:

The “Shovers” – the ones who respond with “everything happens for a reason” because grief is too uncomfortable, and they need to make it comfortable – for them, not for you.

The “Comparers” – those that compare your story with one of their own because that’s how they can relate to your pain. And all pain is (supposedly) similar.

The “Fixers” – those that see your pain, hate your pain, and want to do everything in their power to take away your pain.

And so forth.

Now before you bite my head off, I’m not saying that any of these responses are particularly bad. In fact, I know I’ve stepped into these roles before while facing another’s grief. But these roles shield us from vulnerability; they distinctly separate us from the suffering that’s taking place. They allow us not to get too close to grief because grief is hard and it hurts. It’s uncomfortable and it’s not fun. But grief is also highly subjective to its own person. Your grief isn’t like mine and my grief isn’t like yours. And that’s okay.

I took some time to explain all of this to my boyfriend, Alex, last week. I explained that I knew people were just trying to help by asserting themselves into these roles, but sometimes I just wished they wouldn’t. I explained that sometimes the best help comes from those that don’t try to do anything at all. These are the people that are just there with you – not to dismiss the pain, not to compare the pain, not even to fix the pain – just there with you in the pain.

My boyfriend responded with “yeah, just sitting in the dirt.”

(Now let me preface this by saying that my boyfriend is incredibly smart and has been an ANGEL during this entire process with my dad. He also studied rhetoric in college, currently works at a church in Washington D.C., and is an aspiring theologian).

When I asked him what he meant by “sitting in the dirt,” he told me a story from the Bible’s Book of Job that references Chapter 2 Verses 12-13. In this story, Satan has afflicted Job (a man of faith) with sores from the top of his head to the bottom of his feet to prove to God that Job’s piety came only from his good fortune & blessings. But the part Alex was speaking of came after Job’s three friends found him in his suffering. The verses read:

When they [Job’s three friends] saw him from a distance, they could hardly recognize him; they began to weep aloud, and they tore their robes and sprinkled dust on their heads. Then they sat on the ground with him for seven days and seven nights. No one said a word to him, because they saw how great his suffering was.”

Alex’s reference to “sitting in the dirt” or “sitting on the ground,”  was a comparison to those that “sit” in painful times with others. They don’t compare, they don’t avoid, they don’t fix, they just sit with you in your grief and they are vulnerable – just like Job’s three friends.

American author, scholar and public speaker, Brene Brown (aka my hero), says something about people that “sit in the dirt.” She says that vulnerability is our “most accurate measure of courage.” It’s easy to avoid hard emotions, in others or ourselves. But to sit with someone in all life’s shittiness and listen to them, and know that there’s nothing you can do to make it better – that is courage. That is sitting in the dirt.

 

My friends, I don’t have any motivation for you this week other than to try and sit in the dirt with someone if you see them suffering.

We thank you.

 

2.20: conversations

Ah, I’m late! But I’m sticking to my goal of writing each week, so here I am.

This week, for Motivational Monday, I would like to focus on the topic of meaningful conversations. 

One of my favorite quotes has always been by the remarkable, Bill Nye. It reads, “Everyone you will ever meet knows something that you don’t.” As I’ve watched the current climate surrounding conversation in our country become more heated and less civil, I can’t help but think  that many of us have forgotten what it means to have a truly meaningful conversation.

In her Ted Talk entitled, “10 Ways to Have a Better Conversation,” speaker Celeste Headlee quotes famed therapist M. Scott Peckby by stating: “True listening requires a setting aside of oneself. And sometimes that means setting aside your personal opinion.”
If interested, you can watch the full-length video here: http://www.dailygood.org/story/1268/10-ways-to-have-a-better-conversation-ted-com/.

If not, here is the portion of her speech that I believe to be most appropriate in reorienting ourselves back towards engaging in meaningful conversations.

“All of this boils down to the same basic concept, and it is this one:
Be interested in other people.
You know, I grew up with a very famous grandfather, and there was kind of a ritual in my home. People would come over to talk to my grandparents, and after they would leave, my mother would come over to us, and she’d say, ‘Do you know who that was? She was the runner-up to Miss America. He was the mayor of Sacramento. She won a Pulitzer Prize. He’s a Russian ballet dancer.’ And I kind of grew up assuming everyone has some hidden, amazing thing about them. And honestly, I think it’s what makes me a better host. I keep my mouth shut as often as I possibly can, I keep my mind open, and I’m always prepared to be amazed, and I’m never disappointed.”
Celeste Headlee

How awesome would it be if we all assumed, like Celeste, that everyone we meet has something amazing to offer?

I encourage you this week to listen with the intent to understand, not reply.
In doing so, try to be open and receptive to those that carry a different opinion than yours.

Most importantly, prepare yourself to be amazed. Sometimes the most important messages come from the places least expected.

 

Loving you.

 

 

 

 

I’m always going to be here for you

As I sit here in my office at Forest Hill H.S. the day after graduation, I can’t help but take time to digest and reflect upon the momentous occasion that was yesterday. As a Graduation Coach serving with Literacy AmeriCorps PBC, graduation is not so much what we’ve been waiting for, but rather, what we’ve been working for.

On Thursday, May 26th at 12:00 p.m., I was able to witness my cohort of AmeriCorps students walk across the graduation stage and shake hands with Forest Hill’s Principal and Assistant Principal, the Superintendent of Palm Beach County and various district personnel. Dressed in my cap and gown that signified myself as an IUP alumna, I sat in the final chair of row two inside the South Florida Fairground’s Expo Center and watched.

And then something beautiful happened.

Before I dispel the beauty of the events that occurred yesterday afternoon, let me just preface by saying that being a Graduation Coach has been hard. So freakin hard. I entered this school as a “nobody.” Being only 4-5 years older than most of  my learners, I was easily mistaken for a student by Forest Hill faculty members throughout my first few months of service. I took on identities such as “Miss,” “the lady that took over Ms. Parham’s* old office,” “Ms. Cornell’s* look a-like,” and my personal favorite, “the white lady.” As a third party member serving within the School District of PBC, it took me a while to find my identity as a Falcon. But eventually, my role as Miss Bradshaw inside the school became more comfortable, and I not only worked with my selected group of students, but any student that walked into my office. I felt like it was my duty to serve not just my community of learners, but the school as a whole. Eventually, it felt like everyone at “The Hill” knew my name, and as students started to feel safe inside the four walls of my office, I knew I was finally doing the job I was meant to do.

So yesterday, after nine months of worry, tears, heartache, laughter, failures and success, I was given a gift. Because of my position at the end of row two, I was able to watch as every single Forest Hill senior walked passed me and made their way to the stage. As a Graduation Coach, I could not have been given a more perfect opportunity to do what I’ve done all year: love my students. As seniors walked by, I took this final occasion to reach out and squeeze their hands, wink at them, pat them on the arm and leave them with a smile only a proud parent could wear. I was so damn proud of them. My babies had finally made it.

When the ceremony concluded, faculty and students made their way back to the holding room adjacent to the expo center and turned in the graduation gowns that signified our ending together. Once more, I found my students (cohort and non-cohort) and hugged them tight. One student in particular, David (you might remember him from an earlier blog post), said to me as I squeezed him in an embrace “Miss Bradshaw, you’re still gonna be here for me right? I still need your help.”

I closed my eyes and inhaled the conclusive validation of my efforts.

 

“Of course sweetheart,” I said. “I’m always going to be here for you.”

 

 

xo.

 

*names have been changed to protect the identity of faculty members