From Colors to College: Kindergarten Inspires College Going Dreams

I had mastered all of my colors–and then some, of course. Fuchsia and chartreuse were strangely not on the card handed to me by my teacher. As two of my favorites, this made no sense. I asked her why the omission, and she very matter-of-factly explained that she would add those to my card for the spring test.

“Oh. Good idea.” I agreed.

I had also mastered my numbers, my sounds, and already loved reading. Feeling pretty good about myself and the stickers I’d just received from my teacher, I sat down to help Jose with his sight words and was gleefully cheering his efforts to sound them out. Soon, Jose, Sheldon and I were all practicing. I would hold up the flash cards and count to three to see how they did. I even added what I thought were better words for them to learn to the backs of several of the cards.

“Miss P., I can be a teacher whenever you need, ‘kay?” I called up to her as she walked past.

“Sarah, I do want you to be a teacher. Just not yet.” She replied, smiling down at me.

“What? Why not?”

“First,” she was very quiet and clear asshe said this, leaning down and looking me straight in the eyes. The moment felt sacrosanct. “You need to get a good scholarship and go to college. I’ll help you do it, but that has to come first.”

College? I could go to college? I had seen the pretty ladies in my tv shows go to college, but I didn’t know I could go to college! And who knew teachers went to college. Well, really, who knew anything about college?

 

I went home and told my momthat I could go to college. It turned out that she already knew. She and Miss P.  had been talking about it at Parent Teacher Conferences. Wow.

I began playing with my dolls and stuffed animals at night creating what I envisioned to be college-going scenarios. Soon I was telling everyone about college. Family friends even gave me little trinkets from local colleges–the tee shirt from Clark College even had Mickey Mouse on it and looked great with my Mork and Mindy suspenders. It really did!

A few years later, I made friends with agirl whose parents had both graduated from college. I was so impressed!

College hadn’t exactly become an obsession but it was definitely something I craved information about. I asked all the adults I could if they went to college and where. I had learned that colleges had sports and drama departments and places you could live at while you went to school. It sounded perfect.

Every teacher I had thought it sounded perfect for me too. They all told me how smart I was and they praised my hard work. But it just kept getting harder.

 

Life was chaotic. We moved a lot and changed schools almost as much. I was sick all the time. I was scared too. I didn’t sleep well. And there were a lot of tears. At least, I thought, no one at school knew what my life was really like.

Eventually, no one knew what I was like either. Withdrawn, shy, exhausted, and overwhelmed, not only was I not on the honor roll, but I had no idea how I’d ever make it to college. I wasn’t sure I’d be able to do anything but work. I even kept a bag packed in case I had to leave and head out on my own.

 

“Hey. You sit next to me in finance, right?” His accent was thick and his smile adorable as he tilted his head to look down at me. He was at least a foot taller than I was, but most guys were.

“Uh. Yeah.” I mumbled. “I do.”

“Cool. Wanna hang out?” I blinked.

“What? I mean, okay. Sure.” who was this guy, I wondered. “Remind me your name,” I managed.

“I’m Ji. I’m staying with a host family here. I’m actually from Korea.”

“Wow! That’s awesome,” I felt somehow connected to him in that moment. I was new to the area, new to the life style as a former inner city girl trying to acclimate to the upper class suburb I’d found myself in withmy mom’s latest marriage.

He had come to the US to go to college, but decided to do a year of high school first to work on his English a bit more. So he was older than I was as we started the year together. I was a junior in high school and he was already nineteen. But we connected.

I’d help him with his homework. He’d drive me wherever I needed to go and give me time away from my crazy house whenever I needed. By the time he started college, we’d become best friends. He was my only friend, really.

We spent every day together. He was worried about me. My mom’s drinking had gotten bad. He was certain that if it weren’t for me, my family would fall apart so he did what he could to keep me grounded.

He needed me too, though. Still insecure in his English, I edited every paper and coached him through each assignment.

“I got an A!” He exclaimed, hugging me.

“Way to go!”

“You know I couldn’t have done it without you,” he said. “I told my professor about you and even showed her some of your poetry. She said you could easily get a writing scholarship even with your grades the way they are.”

I’d barely managed a 3.0 with my honors classes and wasn’t on track to graduate after this last change of schools. But someone thought I could still get a scholarship. …

Miss P.’s words came back to me. M
aybe college was still a possibility, even a scholarship. I signed up for the SATs that weekend.

My SAT scores barely qualified me for entrance into the state schools, but barely is good enough it turns out. I didn’t get a scholarship, but Ji told me about work-study. I could pay my way through school. I knew how to work hard, after all.

But I’d have to get away. I couldn’t take care of the family and work and go to school. So I made the biggest decision I’ve ever made, to this day. I left my family. I left the state. I left Ji, with his help. It was my turn to travel and explore new worlds.

So I went away to college and I never looked back. I became a kindergarten teacher, just like Miss P. and told everyone of my students that they could go to college. And I just passed my comprehensive exams for my doctorate in Educational Leadership.

The universe works in mysterious ways. I know Miss P. and Ji were sent to guide me. I pray, now, that I can guide others–from kindergarten to college, and beyond!

 

 

 

college.opportunity

 

 

 

 

 

Silver-Linings

“You’re playing the Polyanna Glad Game again, Honey. There doesn’t always have to be a silver lining,” she smiled her sad, sweet smile as she looked through the rearview mirror back to me, seated in back of our old Honda Civic.

I half-laughed, half-sighed at her silliness. “But, Mama!” I exclaimed. “It doesn’t matter if it has to be or not. It’s just that there IS always a silver lining!”

It was that day I realized how sweet and sensitive my mama was. I worried she was too beautiful and too fragile for this world. To me, she was practically perfect, in the way a delicate work of blown glass might be. Dainty and delightful, her laugh tinkled, her bright blue eyes danced, her freckles played across her face, and her arms were always outstretched ready to give or receive a hug. But she was also sad. If only she could see all the good!

I thought of that scene in the musical Peter Pan when Tinkerbell’s light was fading, she was dying, because not enough children believed in fairies. That’s how my mama seemed to me at my brash, bold ten years of age. Mama even looked like the Disney version of Tinkerbell with her short strawberry hair and tiny figure. At just under five feet tall with pixie-like humor and a child-like voice, the cartoon could actually have been based on her.

She was going through a rough time, I knew that. And her heart was hurting. So much in her life had changed and she was questioning how to move forward. She was also worried about me. I never really understood that, but I do now.

I was always sick. I missed so much school. Something was always wrong with me and I had to see specialist after specialist to try to decipher the genetic code destroying my immune system. But in my mind, I was strong. I was amazing. God was good. Life was a gift. And no matter how bad things got, somehow, it seemed, they always worked out for me and I was okay. There was always a silver lining.

As we drove to the doctor’s office, yet again, I know my mama was worried that someday I wouldn’t be able to find a silver lining and I wouldn’t know how to deal with that. And I was worried my mama would miss out on the joy life had to offer.

Fast forward thirty-some-odd years, and not much has really changed. My world view is still informed by the search for a silver lining. And Mama is still trying to remind me that life is more complicated than that.

As we debriefed my last appointment with my new neurologist tasked with caring for the MS trying to take over my nervous system, I cried as I admitted this disease did not have a silver lining and I didn’t think I got it to learn some sort of cosmic lesson.

“MS just sucks. And that’s the way it is” I gulped between sobs. She took my hand and held me, no words needed.

But, true to form, I moved on and found silver linings. I found the lesson to live life to its fullest. I found motivation to get stronger and eat better and achieve my goals. I realized how healthy and fortunate I was compared to so many. Somehow, I’ve been able to make the glad game not just an appreciative process of gratitude, but a way to get through the hard times–even ignore them.

A few years later, Mama sat across the table from me and held my hands again. This time she asked, “When are you going to stop playing the glad game, sweetie?”

I broke down in tears. I’d been listing all the evidence I could that everyone in my life was doing their best, the evidence that things were good enough, that I needed to be thankful. But I wasn’t just focusing on the good.  I was deluding myself into thinking everything was “just fine.”

A silver lining doesn’t mean there isn’t a cloud. I was ignoring the clouds. And I was in the middle of a storm.

My mama, the sweet, sensitive soul I once worried was too fragile for this life showed me what real strength is that day as she let me cry. Real strength is acknowledging what is and moving on with a smile through the good and the bad. I can still find a silver lining but I cannot pretend the clouds aren’t there.

This will be my work this year. I will seek joy and love and light and all the silver linings I can. But I also deserve some sunny days. So instead of pretending the clouds aren’t there, I’ll seek cover, even bluer skies. Because there isn’t always a silver lining, but there don’t always have to be clouds overhead either. silver-lining2

 

 

Meditation for a New Year

The scent of lavender oil and sandalwood incense intermingle as they waft about the small, dimly lit room.  I breathe it in and let the healing begin. I offer a silent prayer and set my intention for the day. As the sun begins to peak over the mountains in the distance I begin my meditation, my role in receiving the answers to all my heartfelt prayers.

“I will do as much as I can for as many as I can for as long as I can.” I repeat the mantra as I meditate. I’ve never been able to sustain meditation without a mantra.  I go to this particular mantra often. It focuses me.

A gift from a dear friend one birthday many moons ago, I have kept this little saying in my office for more than a decade, and in my heart and mind always. It is one of my Soul Songs that reverberates with each breath and vibration my existences sends out into the universe and its pure light, my tiny ripple in the waters of life.

I am only one, but I am one. I am all that I am, nothing more, nothing less and that is enough.

Breathe in, breathe out. A deep, healing, falling out breath. I release all the negativity and fear. I let it go.

“I am enough. I will do as much as I can for as many as I can for as long as I can.”

None of us know what the future holds and that’s okay. What we are capable of is ever-changing and often far greater than we ever give ourselves credit. I take another deep breath and I remind myself of this.

“I will do as much as I can for as many as I can for as long as I can.”

I breathe in and out along each chakra as I visualize my core and every place of strength and weakness along the way, scanning my body in my mind’s eye. I send love and light to each crack and fill ache each with gratitude for doing their best to hold together the strength needed for me to continue each day with a smile. I am so thankful.

These mortal vessels we’ve been given to carry us through this life experience are amazing, delicate and strong. I am in awe of all I can do and all I continue to become. So I give thanks.

I refuse to believe that our bodies become diseased or weakened for a reason or lesson to learn, but I do insist on learning something from every experience. The succumbing of my nervous system to MS didn’t bring any great lessons; I have chosen, however, to take it as an opportunity to focus my efforts, my purpose. My purpose is gratitude and joy.

I breathe in gratitude and prepare myself to give and receive greatness. I want to live a full and fulfilling life.

“I will do as much as I can for as many as I can for as long as I can.”

I have learned from MS and from each of the challenges, lessons, and gifts along my life’s journey. I have learned that I want to live a life full of laughter, smiles, hugs, music, memories, and those who feed my soul. Such a life aligns my purpose to my actions and empowers me to remember the difference we each make. I can make a difference.

E.B. White is said to have proclaimed “I get up every morning determined to both change the world and have one hell of a good time. Sometimes this makes planning my day difficult.” This is how I choose to live and create a life of my choosing.

“I will do as much as I can for as  many as I can for as long as I can” and I am one of those. I am fulfilled and energized by interacting with and giving to others. I have a contribution to make.

I can only fully make that contribution, though, if I honor myself and my needs. I will rest and restore and refresh. I will seek support and assistance too–from all sources, temporal and spiritual, for these gifts are for me to use along my journey so I stay strong and accomplish all the good I can do. It is with joy in my heart that I make the biggest difference. And the source of my joy is that “hell of a good time” I have. So, I will have a great time. And I will change the world. Today.

The incense is nearly extinguished. The sun is aloft. The world is aglow with daylight sparkling on snow. The meditation chimes hum.

Another deep breath and I am ready for the first day of this new year. It’s going to be a good one.

“I will do as much as I can for as many as I can for as long as I can.”

Namaste.

 

 

 

 

Angels Among Us

The snow was falling steadily and the temperature had dropped drastically. Winter was upon us. I pulled carefully into the steep drive to park at the newly opened diner. I was too tired to cook and I needed some comfort food in the worst way. It had been one of those days, one of those years really. I could not wait for 2016 to conclude and 2017 to usher in a fresh start.

I had learned so much throughout the year, but not all of the lessons had been wanted. I had grown along the way, but I was a weary from the journey. I wanted nothing more than to know I was on the right path and that joy would unfold.

Deep in thought, I hadn’t even spoken to my companion. I just stared at the menu. Then an unfamiliar voice jolted me to awareness. “Be present, Sarah” my mind prompted in response.

“Hey! You taught choir, right? You did!” His smile was broad. His words not a question, but a clear, satisfied declaration. “You were my choir teacher and you took us to perform at the amphitheater one Christmas.”

I was stunned. I mentally calculated that it must have been my last year at the school before transferring. And he must have been no more than eight years old at the time–nearly 15 years ago!

“That’s one of my best memories,” he continued. “You were so proud of us and you got us all hot chocolate afterward.” He seemed to sigh and look off into the distance as if visualizing that cold winter’s night during “The Most Wonderful Time of the Year.”

“Man, I think about that all the time.”

“Really?!”

“Oh, yeah. And Christmas songs are still my favorite. Look at me! I’m running my own business and I’ve got Christmas music playing. Obviously I’m not doing drugs or in a gang. You made a difference. You have to know that.”

“But you were only in third grade,” I laughed. “You might be giving me more credit than I deserve. Clearly, you’re a pretty amazing person and that’s all you’re choosing.”

“Ha! I forgot how you talked like that,” he chuckled. So did my dinner date. I do get a bit didactic.

“Just know that you touched our lives. What you do matters.” He went on and my heart warmed. It was one of those surreal moments, those gifts from the universe.

 

 

I’ve had a lot of those lately, even during this challenging season in my life. Well, especially during this challenging season of my life.

I’ve been taught to watch for signs that my guardian angels are near. And these signs have always warmed my heart and lightened my step. I do not know what form my angels take. I do not know what I have done to deserve them. But I cannot shake the feeling that I am guided, prompted, loved, and uplifted throughout my days.

I know some might think such beliefs are just fanciful, magical thinking, the kind that can be dangerous and delusional. Sometimes I even wish I could agree and set aside the promptings and guidance, suppress the feelings that I am part of something greater than a mere biological existence. How easy it would be think my impact on others is only temporary or that I have so much control that I can force my life and others’ to fit into my egocentric vision for each day. I’m great at being in control, after all. I’ve made a career of it. But I’ve also made a career of listening. And the more I listen, truly listen, the more promptings and support I receive.

Whether through energy patterns or ethereal presence I know–yes, that’s a pretty definitive declaration–that something far beyond my comprehension is at work and it unites each of us and, if we let go of our feeble illusions of complete control, this unifying force will lead us to a divine state of grace and guide us to a place where we can be the best version of ourselves.

 

The phone was ringing as I walked in, the office still dark. I was too late to pick up, so I tried calling her right back. I left a message and hung up. A few minutes later a familiar chime let me know I had new voicemail. I put it on speaker phone as I continued to get situated for another busy day.

“Sarah, I just wanted to let you know that you’re loved. I know how much Heavenly Father loves you and he told me again last night.” I stopped in my tracks. This was not a typical Friday morning message on my office line.

“I had a dream about you last night and you were sitting by me, softly touching my hand with a sad smile in your eyes and you told me that you loved everyone and this world so much…. ” she paused, her breath thick with emotion. “But you said you were sad and wondered if anyone really loved you.” I dropped to my chair, stunned, and immediately tearful.

“So I need you to know, Sarah, what I told you in my dream. You are loved. You are just beautiful and God has a special place for you in his loving arms.” By this time tears were flowing. Where was this coming from, I wondered. What was I putting out into the universe. Do I seem sad? Ungrateful? Lonely? What did this sweet woman know that I wasn’t acknowledging about my own life?

“Sarah, I’m so sorry that I haven’t told you this before. I want you to know we all love you and think of you. You deserve so much love. I just needed you to know that before the weekend, okay?” There was another pause. “You need to know that. I hope you think about that this weekend. And remember that no matter what, God loves you.”

Completely out of character, I cried for a good ten minutes. Tears of sadness, tears of joy, and tears of love. I said a prayer of thanks for the unsolicited and beautiful reminder of all the love in my life, and I felt a weight lifted that I’d not known was there. I had been given another gift that morning.

I knew I was loved. My thankful-fors in my prayers are extensive. But I had been struggling with how to be my best self and how to fully give and accept love as relationships and roles changed at home and work. And the pure light of love had just let me know through my dear, sweet colleague, that I was doing just fine and that I only needed to ask for and accept all the love available. How simple and wonderful and unexpected.

 

“Hey, Roberts, I’m graduating.” He didn’t beam or exude his usual charm. But he was proud, no doubt about it. His eyelids grew heavy and his chocolatey eyes glistened briefly as he put his head down, almost embarrassed.

I threw my arms around him and squeezed his broad shoulders. He’d grown so much over the last four years. And he was graduating!!

He’d been one of those students I struggled to connect with. I fought to find ways to motivate him and how to keep him out of trouble. I’d tried separating him from certain influences. I’d chased him through the neighborhood to drag him back to school. I’d cried with his mom when he wouldn’t stay clean.

But this resilient young man just kept coming back to school. That, in and of itself, was reason to hope. It took him an extra six months, but he’d done it.

“I want you to come, hear my speech.” He looked up now, eyes almost hopeful, but far too cool to completely emote any nerves.

“I will be there, no matter what.”

And as he spoke, behind the podium, he began with a story of my “eagle eyes” and how I’d chased after him all of sophomore year, and how he’d needed that. He spoke of teachers who never gave up. He spoke of the examples of strength and dedication that uplifted him. And he cried. We all did.

There are times in our lives when we want to give up. I’d thought about it with this student. Would he make it? Could he? What could I really do?

And, in the moment that he shared his story, I knew why we could never give up–on anyone. It’s not for us to decide the future, only to decide to act, with love.

 

 

I’m so thankful for reminders like these. They’re all around for each of us. And when we stop to take stock, to compile our list of thankful-fors, we realize they are all around.

There’s the student from my first class as a teacher in public ed who’s shown up at every shift in my life, seemingly at random, at the supermarket, the car dealer, the hockey game, to just hug and love me and give me her supermodel smile. There’s the good friend who sends a text that just says “I thought you might need a hug today.” There’s the friend who just helps you laugh, no matter what. The dinner invite when you’re down, the little note left on your desk saying thank you, the inspirational message left on your Facebook timeline, the healing energy of smiles and hugs every day.

So I believe in angels. They don’t all have visible wings. But they are sent by a higher power I still can’t comprehend. And they make the world a better place, they guide us and keep us safe. They remind us that love is all around, and it’s available to each of us.

My heart is full. I’m so thankful.

Now, as the sun slowly rises above the snow-capped peaks before me, I say a silent prayer. I pray with gratitude. I pray with hope that you too might see the angels among us this season and always.