We Can do Better

Do you have stories from your past that stick in a way that others don’t? Stories that leave you wondering, what if?  I have a few of those stories and I am going to share one with you because it seems so relevant to the national conversation.

The story is about a girl I worked with in a previous job at a nursing home and assisted living. I will call her Sandy to protect her privacy.  I worked as the Administrator and Sandy started as a Nursing Assistant.  She was interested in a promotion so we paid for her to go to school to become a TMA (Trained Medication Aide).

Sandy was skilled and efficient at her work. She took pride in her job and was very dependable.  Sandy was also a single Mom to a young boy.  The Dad was not involved so Sandy managed her full-time job, and duties as a Mother with some help from her family.  I admired her work ethic and as a Mom I knew the challenges she faced.

Like many of our employees, Sandy had to work every other weekend and holiday. I write this on Memorial Day when many Americans have a day off.  I think it’s important to remember there are millions of people who are working to keep vital services available to our most vulnerable citizens.

Abruptly, Sandy started bringing her 7-year-old son to work on her weekends to work. This wasn’t completely unheard of.  We ran a business that was open 24 hours per day, 365 days per year.  The services we provided were critical to the residents we served so occasionally, if a parent, or even a grandparent was in a child care bind, we would allow children to come to work.  This was typically done as a temporary measure because we needed someone to work and there was no other option for the employee or for us.

This was not an ideal situation and would often create questions from other employees and managers about fairness, and the standards we were setting. I wish we lived in a black and white world, but there is often so much grey.

The complaints started coming from co-workers about Sandy’s child being disruptive and causing issues at work. Her Supervisor addressed the situation with her and informed her she needed to find day care for her son on the weekends she worked.  Sandy explained her Mom had been her day care provider but they had a falling out so she was no longer willing to watch her son.  While her Supervisor empathized with her situation, she explained because of the necessity to maintain performance standards, bringing her son to work would no longer be allowed.

Sandy’s son stopped coming to work and we assumed she had arranged for a babysitter. One day a police officer showed up at work to arrest Sandy.  Quote- do not be dismayedSandy had made the decision to leave her son at home while she went to work. He had left home, and was being disruptive in the neighborhood and she was arrested for child neglect.

This hit me hard. I felt terrible Sandy was put in the position to decide between her job and her son and I have forever wondered if I could have done something more to help her.  Some may judge Sandy for being a poor decision maker, or worse, a bad mother.

That is not what I saw. I saw a girl who tried to make the best of the cards she was dealt.  No question her life involved many choices and had she made a different choice, she may not have ended up in the circumstances she did.  What person doesn’t have that story to tell?

What I saw was a girl who tried to do the right thing when the choices were hard. When she unexpectedly became pregnant, she chose to have her baby.  She got a full-time job to support her son, even going to school to better herself.  She didn’t want a hand out so she didn’t quit her job.  But Sandy certainly needed a hand up.

Sandy represents so many women in America today. Many of the decision makers we have elected, have likely never worked with a woman like Sandy, but she played by their rules.  Quote- Pro-LifeShe did not get an abortion, she worked full-time, and she did not expect government to take care of her.  She was faced with a difficult choice and she made the best one she knew how to do at the time.

What some people don’t know is Sandy likely did receive government assistance, as many full-time workers do. Many people see welfare recipients as lazy people, living off someone else’s hard-earned tax dollars. ChristiansSandy worked

harder than most people can imagine.  Are there lazy people on welfare?  Yes.  Are there lazy people with million-dollar trust funds? Absolutely.  There are lazy, unethical people at all ends of the socioeconomic scale.  But what about people like Sandy?  She played by the rules and she just needed some support to help her succeed.

In some areas of our great nation, we are facing a worker shortage like we have never seen. With baby boomers retiring by the thousands, there are going to be significant worker shortages in many industries.  When you go out to eat, we depend on people to cook our food, serve our table, and do our dishes.  When we stay at a hotel, we count on employees who check us in, clean our room, and fix our shower when the water is cold.  When our parents get sick, we count on people available 24 hours per day to save their life at the hospital.  When our parents need care after the hospital stay, we depend on more employees to help care for them while we go to work.  While at work, we hope there are qualified people available to care for, and teach our children.  These are essential services for our society to continue to function in the manner we have become accustomed to.

I do not view finding solutions to Sandy’s child care dilemma and looming worker shortage as a partisan issue. I see it as necessary for our survival as a collective society.  The reality is, we will need all the able adults working, and will need immigration to fill in the gaps.  Eliminating barriers to work is what the government, employers, and all of us should be thinking of as we prepare for the future.

What can we do? The first step is awareness.  You can start by paying attention to the many people you count on and expressing gratitude for their work.  You can also ask what life would be like if those people were not there to meet your needs of the moment?  Saying thank you, noticing hard work, and expressing gratitude for work that benefits you goes a long way to encourage people to stay in the work force.

You can also support candidates who have policies that support working parents and families. Although she is not a lawmaker, my understanding is, Ivanka Trump has been advocating for a child care proposal that helps wealthier parents but leaves Mom’s like Sandy with the same options as she has always had.  Do I go to work or take care of my child? I applaud her for at least raising awareness about the need for policy changes.

I agree with Sister Joan Chittister, and do not believe it is ethical to advocate for policies that support birth, but not the programs that help the mother and child after the baby is born.

If we elect officials who have known women like Sandy, or even better, lived her life, perhaps a story like Sandy’s will not be possible in the United States of America. I truly believe we can and must do better.

The World is our Classroom

The world is our classroom.  What are you learning? Do you see the world through compassionate eyes or eyes filled with judgment?

Quote-on-Lighted-candle-of-compassion

I know I have looked through both lenses, and I am trying to choose compassionate eyes as I look for the lessons my experiences are offering.

I had the amazing opportunity to travel to Nashville for a conference and here are a few things I saw that gave meaning to my trip.

The first person I met in Nashville was our taxi driver. He was friendly, helpful, energetic, and knowledgeable about the great city of Nashville.  He told my co-worker and I he had immigrated to the United States from Somalia and he loved Nashville.  He said driving a taxi was his second job. He worked full-time during the week and drove taxi on the weekends to help pay for his daughter to go to college. She wants to be an engineer. Considering our national conversation, I will forever think of him when I think about immigrants from Somalia moving to the United States.

We immediately saw homeless people, which is always heartbreaking to me. Someone told me research has shown, homeless people often feel less than human so I always try and make eye contact and say hi.  Nobody should feel less then human.  Our driver told us many of the homeless people are veterans and the City of Nashville had given some of them jobs selling newspapers.  I met a homeless man who said he had served our great country.  I will forever wonder if the reason someone is homeless is perhaps they served in the armed forces and didn’t have the resources and support they needed when they returned?

The creative energy in Nashville is inspiring! There is music everywhere. Because I have been studying creativity and writing, it hit me how brave every one of these musicians are.  They put themselves out there night after night in the hope of fulfilling their dreams.  I hope they feel they already are.  Albert Einstein creativityMost of the musicians have other jobs to support themselves and sing for free at the bars and nightclubs in Nashville.  They get paid a little bit when they pass a bucket around for cash from the crowd.  I had the opportunity to speak to more than one singer who was extremely talented.  One woman was walking through the crowd with the bucket accepting tips, and I told her she was so brave and to keep singing!  She told me, “I have been doing this for five years and I am scared to death every time!”  I will never take for granted how brave it is for people to put themselves out in the world as a creator.  For every singer, writer, actor, dancer, comedian or anyone out there creating art, there are thousands of others too scared to try.

I attended a reception and was offered the opportunity to go to the Grand Ole Opry because a group I had just met had an extra ticket! Because of that experience, I am a new fan of Mo Pittney.  He spoke from his heart about finding God after a tough road, and sang a song straight from his soul to mine.  I encourage you to look him up.  He is someone using his God given talent to inspire the world.  He certainly inspired me.

A perfect conference for me is when I get practical advice combined with inspiration. The Argentum conference did not disappoint.  There was a speaker, Derreck Kayongo, a refugee from Uganda who is now the CEO of the Center for Civil and Human Rights and founder of the Global Soap Project, a project that recycles soap to send to countries in which soap and infection control education is in short supply.  What an inspiration he is!  His talk, which was no accident for me to hear was titled, “Harness the Power of Observation.”  When he was a young boy he witnessed the cruelty of human beings at their worst.  He watched people get shot in front of his own eyes.  He used his pain to lessen the pain of others, not inflict more of it.

I had the blessing of meeting a kindred spirit on the plane ride home who spent time as an actress in Hollywood, only to discover that industry was too harsh for her. The world is your classroomShe wanted to find her true calling and has recently completed her degree in Spiritual Psychology, as she struggles with poor health because of complications from Lyme’s Disease.  She has a service dog/soul mate to help her navigate her life. What an inspiring person and conversation we had!

I arrived home to my co-worker who has immigrated here from Nepal. She is an amazing spirit, who cares passionately about social justice, animals, and seniors.  The United States is so lucky to have her in our country and I am personally a better person because I know her.

I have learned so much from each of these interactions and when my eyes look with compassion, I see so much more than when I look with judgment.

The world is our classroom, and I try not to discount any encounter as meaningless. There are amazing opportunities to learn everywhere and for that I am so grateful.

I am curious to know, what are you learning? What are you seeing?

Silent No More

SilenceThe year was 1990. I was 16 years old and had recently been hired at a family owned restaurant as a hostess.  It was my second job, so my experience was limited.  In the days before texting and email, employees had to stop by to check the schedule and request time off.

I was standing in my manager’s office, it was summer, and I still remember the shorts I was wearing.  I needed to request a day off and I was telling the manager who was at least 10 years older than me, my request.  His response is one I will never forget. He said, “If you come over here and put your legs on my desk, you can have all the time off you need.”

I was mortified! I wanted to crawl into a hole and disappear. I remember the heat of embarrassment traveling from my head to my toes.  I do not have any memory about what I said in return.  I imagine I did what most girls and women have been conditioned to do in those situations.  I likely laughed and pretended it was no big deal. And I didn’t tell one single person.

I do remember how I felt.  I felt humiliated, uncomfortable, ashamed, and insecure.  I recall thinking it was a mistake to wear shorts and made a mental note to not do that again, as if it was my outfit that caused him to say that.  I avoided him from that point forward and was lucky it was a part-time job for me. Unlike other women, I didn’t have to endure daily interactions like this.  I know now, just like pedophiles, serial harassers look for targets by making comments and gaging the reaction they receive.  Now that I have a 16-year-old daughter myself, this story makes me feel angry and protective of her.

About a year later, I turned on the television, and there was Anita Hill testifying about her experience working for Clarence Thomas who was a nominee for the Supreme Court. She was describing how he had harassed her at work.

I was transfixed and I found her testimony to be very compelling.  She sounded very professional.  The announcer explained what Anita Hill was describing was called sexual harassment. I immediately thought about my experience a year earlier, and thought, “That’s what that is! I know exactly what she is talking about!”  I did not have a name for my experience prior to watching her testimony.

Anita Hill was a brave woman who spoke her truth despite the fear of retaliation, and ridicule, which I know she received.  Her bravery helped name something many people had experienced but had silently endured for fear of losing their job.  Despite her testimony, Justice Clarence Thomas was sworn in as a Supreme Court Justice and remains one today.

His confirmation stayed with me too.  To me it sent a message about who is more important in our society.  Although I believe in redemption, it’s unimaginable, a woman accused of sexual misconduct would ever get the same level of forgiveness.

Today, 26 years after Anita Hill’s testimony, it was announced after years of accusations of sexual harassment, Bill O’Reilly has been fired from FOX News. Considering, the first public scandal involving Bill O’Reilly harassing a female producer happened in 2004 in which there was recorded proof, I find it hard to congratulate the network for doing the right thing.  Executives turned a blind eye for years, and Bill O’Reilly’s boss, Roger Ailes was accused of similar conduct 9 months earlier.

It has been reported, the network paid 5 women 15 million dollars to stay silent.  It wasn’t as if the Executives were unaware of this issue.  It was the public pressure from Wendy Walsh, the brave woman who had not sued or been silenced with money who told her story of losing her job because she refused an advance from Bill O’Reilly, and her Attorney Lisa Bloom, combined with the loss of advertising revenue that helped force the decision.  It turns out there was a culture of harassment at Fox News and there were many victims silenced over the years.

I think this culture extends higher up than Fox News. When President Donald Trump was asked about the allegations he stated, “Bill is a nice person. I do not think he did anything wrong. I do not think he should have settled with those women.”

Bill O’Reilly and Donald Trump are cut from the same cloth.  They both hold the same regard for women.  They both have had several women speak out about how they were harassed by them.  Respecting meBoth men had ex-wives who described abusive situations. During Bill O’Reilly’s divorce, his daughter testified she had witnessed Bill dragging her Mother down the stairs.  Donald Trump’s first ex-wife wrote about an incident where he grabbed her by the hair and raped her because he was mad about the pain of his hair transplant.

I have heard commentary from people when talking about sexual harassment policies. They say things like, “You have to be so politically correct these days” (sound familiar?), or “You can’t have any fun at work anymore!”  This story is not about not being able to handle an advance or a joke.  This is a social justice issue and being entitled to be free from harassment at work.

Bill O’Reilly and Donald Trump have also both denied any wrong doing and have called the women who accused them liars. One thing I know for sure is, if you are unable to acknowledge and take ownership of behavior, that behavior will never change.

Both men suggested this is what happens to men when they are successful, painting themselves as the victims.  This is simply not true when there are multiple stories.  People who are in the public eye and hold leadership positions are under high scrutiny and with power comes responsibility for your actions.

I do not recall women coming forward with stories of misconduct from Sean Hannity, another Fox News contributor, or Barack Obama for example.  Not all men in public positions have this “happen” to them.  Having men be held accountable for their harassment is not just a win for women.  Joe BidenThis is a win for men too.  I know so many men who are respectful towards women and we should honor and lift men up who do interact with honor and integrity.  Men can also be victims of harassment, and although it is less common, it does happen.

I have learned if you are harassed, you are likely not the only one. Years later, I heard the manager who harassed me when I was 16 was fired for sexual misconduct with another female employee.  By staying silent, the harasser is emboldened to keep harassing and there will be other targets.  It is important for people to speak up- men and women.  We can change the culture of workplaces and pave the way for the women and girls of the future to be free from harassment at work.

I would imagine I am not the only woman who has a story like mine?

Lord, Make me an Instrument of Your Peace

I have had the pleasure to spend time with the Franciscan Sisters of Little Falls because of my work. Their mission is, “Living the Gospel Courageously, with Energy, Spirit, Peace.” They truly live out their mission.  These are strong, courageous, liberal, women who care about social justice, take the vow of poverty, and dedicate their lives to making the world better.  What a blessing it has been.  As we prepare for Easter tomorrow, I am filled with a grateful heart for the people I meet who brighten my life.

I want to share about one Sister in particular-Sister Annella. She is a human being who brightens up a room with her presence.  Although her frame is small, her spiritual presence is so big.  She has such a generous, loving, spirit.  She is in her 90’s but her skin does not show it and her eyes have a youthful twinkle.  Sister Annella 2I see her about once a week and she always greets me by name.  She grabs my hand and says, “There’s my pal.”  She wishes I was there more, and said, “Can we keep you?”  It just warms my heart.  At the end of our visits she often asks if she can pray with me.  She puts her small hand on my forehead and prays the sweetest prayers for God to watch over me.  She has a coffee mug on her desk that quotes St. Francis’s famous prayer, “Lord, make me an instrument of Your peace.”  She truly is.

You may think her caring is to be expected since she is a nun. One of the things I was told by the leadership team at the Franciscan Sisters is “nuns are people too.”  The Sister who told me this, was explaining that Sisters struggle with the same things that other people do, and for some the spiritual life comes easier for some than it does for others.

Sister Annella has embraced this life whole-heartedly and stands out as someone who truly wants to make life better for others.  She told me a bit about her life and like me, she dedicated her life and work to caring for the elderly.  Her Mother died when she was fourteen and she was charged with caring for the household.  Her first job as a Sister was as a cook in a nursing home.  After many years working in dietary, she had someone tell her, “You need to come out of the kitchen, and be amongst people.”  They were right about her.  Her gifts are with people.  She worked in activities and spiritual care which she said, “was her favorite.”

I remember a guest on the Oprah show years ago, who had been involved in a plane crash. He was one of the few survivors.  He told Oprah he witnessed people’s spirits leaving their bodies and he said some were distinctly brighter than others.  He said his mission from that point forward was to live his life so he would leave the world as one of the bright lights.  This story has stayed with me, and I often think about living in such a way so I can be a bright light.

Sister Annella certainly is a bright light and I am so very grateful to have met her. She is an instrument of God’s peace, and has inspired me to be one too.  As we celebrate the gift of Jesus’ resurrection, I encourage you to be grateful for people you encounter in your life who give you inspiration to be a brighter, more peaceful presence in the world.

I leave you with the famous prayer of St. Francis. Have a blessed Easter.

Instrument of Peace

Can you think of an acquaintance who has touched your life and you feel they entered your life for a purpose?

The Power of Empathy

I want to share a paper my 16-year-old daughter Sierra wrote. I think this story describes exactly what the world needs more of and it happens one heart at a time.

“My Mother is the most outstanding person I have ever met and by example she has taught me how to be of service to society. Many people show a lack of empathy toward others, only looking out for themselves. Feeling empathy for others is something people must not disregard. Empathy is something my Mother taught me from a young age and it helps guide my life.

 As a child, empathy isn’t always thoroughly understood, but my Mother always made sure to put things into perspective to help me understand. EmpathyWhen I was in 1st grade, birthday parties were extravagant social events. The excitement of getting an invitation decorated with printed balloons and confetti in the mail or on your desk was such an honor. I would pace the aisles of Target searching for the perfect gift, something when unwrapped would be the best of all the presents. In contrast, I remember the feeling in my stomach when I came to school on Monday and I would hear girls giggle and tell stories of the party last weekend. The party I never received an invitation to.

 It was an ordinary day in Mrs. Newman’s 1st grade class, until something peculiar happened. A boy in my class, who smelled funny, was on the chubby side, and always had an extra teacher by his side, passed out ripped off sheets of lined paper with the details of his birthday party. He hand-wrote the invitations himself for the entire class. I could hear the girls giggling about whether they were going to go, followed by an exaggerated, “NO WAY!”. When I was asked, I responded the same. What if I was never invited to a birthday party again? I quickly shoved the paper into my backpack.

 When I arrived home my Mother looked through my bag to see my work, as she always did, and found the invitation. She reacted as if she didn’t notice the difference from the other invitations I received in the past. I told her I wasn’t going and the obvious reason why. She went on to tell me I had to go.  I whined and cried. How could she do this to me? After I calmed down, she left me with a question that ultimately convinced me to go.  She said, “What if you invited the entire class to your party and no one showed up, how would you feel?” Immediately I thought of the embarrassment I would feel.

This is the first memory I have of my Mother demonstrating empathy. It is something I feel quite often now; for the Syrian refugees, the homeless, the stray dog on the street, the old man who lost his leg in war. It is something I can carry with me for the rest of my life and I owe my thanks to my Mother for always putting things into perspective for me, and for that I am forever grateful.”

I love this story. You may be thinking the first sentence is my favorite part?  I was very touched to read her sentiment but frankly, I almost took that part out since I am afraid I do not live up to the compliment.

What I love the most is the insight Sierra has about the recognition of the pain someone else might feel, followed by the realization she had the ability to protect this person from the pain. That’s it.  That’s what we need more of. People have a choice to use their suffering to relieve pain or inflict it.  Sierra used her pain of not being invited to ease someone else from the same fate.  Empathy leads to compassion, and compassion leads to action to reduce the suffering in the world.  Compassion and EmpathyOne person, one heart, one birthday party at a time.  We should never underestimate the power of an act of kindness derived from a place of genuine empathy. This story gives me hope.  This caring heart is what I see in so many young people.   Thank you, Sierra, for telling it so well.

 

Can you reflect on a time when your empathy guided you to action?

God’s Work of Art!

God's Work of Art 2I came across this amazing mirror that said, “You are God’s Work of Art!” Note the exclamation point! Ever since I saw the mirror, the words have not left me.

What would you do if you knew this to be true?  What would you say to yourself in the mirror?  How would your inner voice change? How would you act? How would you carry yourself? How would you speak?  When you feel hurt, how would you react?  What career would you pursue? What fear would you overcome?

If you knew deep within your soul that you are God’s work of art!  What would change if you knew beyond a shadow of a doubt you were chosen to be here, during this time, for a purpose. What if you understood you were created as a true, creative expression of love.  How would this knowing change your life?

Imagine the toughest situation you have experienced. Perhaps, it was a job loss, the loss of a relationship, the death of a loved one, a person who you allow to get under your skin.  What if you had the ability to say, “I am not sure if you realize there is no challenge too great for God’s work of art.”

God does not make art, to see it destroyed.  God makes art for physical beauty but also to bring beauty manifested in the world through people.  A challenge does not take away the beauty, in fact, the challenges can bring out beauty that has been hidden before.  Emotional pain has the power to transform a cold heart into a soft, loving, compassionate heart.  Winter comes, but so does Spring.

I would love this message to be on everyone’s mirror. I believe firmly we are all the canvas for God’s work of art, and it is your job to discover this truth, and let the beauty inside of you shine so bright there will be no doubt this is true.

Would anything about you change if you truly believed you were God’s work of art?

Head Up, Heart Open

One of the highlights of my job is attending conferences through our trade association- Leading Age MN. There is always plenty of practical information to help me do my job better, but I especially look forward to the uplifting, inspirational messages from the keynote speakers.

Last week was institute week, and as my friend and co-worker, Angie tells me, you should always be on the lookout for the golden nuggets of information that stick with you and remind you to live better.

This year one of the “nuggets” I mined was from the gospel breakfast. The speaker was Jearlyn Steele from the award-winning singing group The Steele’s.  Jearlyn said her motto this year was, “head up, heart open.”  There is so much to learn from that short statement. open-heart

I fully believe our lives speak to us, and God is trying to get our attention through words, signs, people, nudges, quotes, and opportunities. The only way for us to hear this information is to have our head up and our heart open.  We must pay attention, and be open-hearted enough to hear and feel what we are meant to.

Another belief of mine is when you hear something more than once, it is a sign to pay attention. If two people ask you if you have read a certain book for example, you should buy the book. Interestingly, the speaker the day before said something similar so I am paying attention.

The speaker was Sara Ross, a Senior Research Consulting Partner with the Institute for Health and Human Potential, and one of her messages was also about keeping your head up. Sara referenced the work of Amy Cuddy, a Social Psychologist from Harvard who has researched the power of body language and how it can affect our confidence and connect to the power of our presence.  oprah-quote-open-heartShe has a TED talk in which she teaches power poses.  The stance that invokes the most power is described as the Wonder Woman pose (which works for men too).  She had us stand up straight, fists on our hips, elbows out the side, chest out, and chin up.  You can use this anytime you are facing a stressful situation.

Conversely, Sara explained confidence is lost when we are looking down. She spoke about how cell phones are causing many people to walk through the world with their head down, which is the pose that drains our confidence.  Think how much we are missing!

After hearing this information twice from two different people, I intend to spend more time with my head up and my heart open and thought perhaps you could too? I am hopeful this mantra will be as helpful to you as it was to me.

Can you think of times when you were using your full attention- both your head and your heart? If so, what did you learn?