The Year of The Most

There really is nothing magical about the flip of the calendar to a new year. Yet, midnight on New Year’s Eve is a unique kind of magic where, just for a moment, the past and the future exist at once in the present. When we countdown to the new year, we are sharing the burden of our history and committing to the promise of tomorrow.

Flipping the calendar from 2021 to 2022 was a ceremonial act for me. 2021 was one of the most challenging years I’ve had to live through. It was filled with unimaginable loss and grief. As much as I would like to forget 2021 even happened, the fact is, it did. It is another year, added to an accumulative list of other past years. I can’t ignore it. I need to acknowledge it. I need to appreciate 2021 for what it is – another chapter added to the narrative of my life story titled, “The Year of the Most.”

I EMBRACED “THE MOST” CHANGE.
Life can change in a second. Finding yourself under new circumstances without any forewarning, good or bad, can be scary, overwhelming and a major source of stress. But change itself is a constant in life. It will happen whether you want it to or not.

Embracing change this past year helped me to grow, learn new things and discover new insights about myself and my life. Change has brought new beginnings, new experiences, new relationships and new opportunities and in ways I could have never imagined.

Change is inevitable in life. You will never come out as the winner if you fight it. My best advice is you just as well as embrace it.

I LEARNED “THE MOST.”
Going through bad times happens. Experiencing bad times can help us fully appreciate the good times we will also experience in life. And while we are living through the bad times, some of life’s most important lessons are being learned. It is then that we are being prepared and trained to grow up to the next level that our life is about to demand of us.

The preparation and training I endured in 2021, taught me that:
• Courage is not something you have; it is something you do.
• Letting go creates the space for healing to happen.
• Dawn always follows the darkness.
• Building new circles of relationships is just as important as nurturing the old ones.
• Gratitude leads to happiness and it’s not the other way around.
• Nothing is coincidental in life.

The most important lesson I learned is that good times become good memories and bad times become good lessons in life.

I WAS “THE MOST” VULNERABLE.
One of the statements I heard most in 2021 was, “You are a strong person, Kathleen.” It was hard for me to accept what was meant to be a compliment or an empowering statement because I didn’t always feel strong. And, if I’m going to be honest, 2021 brought me to my knees many times over. And yet, the statement made me wonder, “What makes a person strong, or at least, appear to be strong?”

“Being strong” can manifest itself in different ways with different people. For me, I learned that I am most strong when I am the most vulnerable. I made a conscious effort this past year to be an “open book” with myself and others – sharing my grief story, revealing my deepest and sometime darkest thoughts and questions, feeling all the feels no matter how ugly and uncomfortable it was, admitting my shortcomings and weaknesses and risking being hurt and rejected. And yet, while in this fragile and weak state, I also found strength. The strength to still have faith and hope.

I have come to understand that being vulnerable is not a sign of weakness, but rather, a sign of strength.

I WAS THROWN INTO A FUTURE WITH “THE MOST” UNKNOWNS.
As human beings we thrive on predictability and pride ourselves on being the fortune-tellers of our own futures. In truth, life is unpredictable, unknowable, and impossible to control. As a result, we are many times blindsided and hit on the back of the head with the 2×4 of life’s randomness and thrown into a future of unknowns.

2021 took me on a journey of uncertainty. It was a journey that made me scared, apprehensive, anxious, stressed and sometimes, angry. But the journey also transformed me in ways I could have never imagined. It made me more open to new possibilities, willing to adapt to new and changing situations, inclined to let go of what I can’t control and confident in what is yet to come.

Being thrown into a future of unknowns isn’t all bad. So, buckle up and go on the journey and know that at the end all will be fine. You will be fine.

2021 was “The Year of the Most” for me, but it is only one chapter in my life and not my whole story. My story continues into 2022. I trust that no matter what happens in this new year, or how bad it seems at times, life will go on and tomorrow will always be better.

And, this is what I know and believe to be “THE MOST” true.

The Joyful Salvation Army Bell Ringer

A number of years ago, I ventured out on Black Friday to purchase a Christmas gift. I have never been one to shop on Black Friday, but the sale was too good to pass up and the gift was a “must have” for a family member.

I hoped the shopping experience wouldn’t be as bad as I imagined it would be. Unfortunately, it was worse. Between the mobs of shoppers, the long check out lines and the ransacked shelves, it was far from what I imagined.

As I was walking out of the store and back into the cold with my purchase (and a headache), I heard the Salvation Army bell ringer standing near the entrance joyfully say to me, “Merry Christmas!” I walked by him without a glance, a greeting back or even an ounce of consideraton to donate. As I continued walking towards the car, I thought, “Yeah, right. You HAVE TO be joyful and cheerful if you want to get donations. If you would have experienced what I did inside the store, you wouldn’t be saying, ‘Merry Christmas!’, with so much cheer and joy.”

As I continued the walk to my car, I overheard the volunteer say to another shopper exiting the store, “It’s cold out here today. You should button up your coat. You don’t want to be sick during the holidays. Have a Merry Christmas!” He exuberated the same joy to that shopper as he did with me.

I stopped in my tracks and turned to now look at the volunteer. I saw a middle-aged man, volunteering his time in 20-degree weather, dressed in a light-weight jacket, ringing his bell with a smile and being concerned about another person’s warmth, health and well-being over his own. And a stranger no less! And the joy I had questioned seconds earlier, now sounded real and genuine. Could it be that he really is this happy and joyful about Christmas?

Suddenly, the holiday store madness that had overcome me seemed to dissipate quickly. Joy (and a tinge of guilt) now began to take over. I turned around and walked back towards the man. He watched as I approached him. Neither of us said a word to the other as I grabbed my wallet out of my purse and emptied its entire contents into his donation bucket. Before he had a chance to say anything, I looked directly into his eyes and said, “Merry Christmas to you, too!” Despite how cold he was, he warmly smiled back and in the joyful tone I expected, he said, “You, too!”

I turned around and made the walk back to my car for the second time. But, this time, something was different. I had a smile on my face and a heart that was filled with gratitude and joy – and it was all because a stranger, out in the cold, took a few seconds to share his joy with me.

During this holiday season, don’t let the “Grinch” attitude or holiday stressors and distractions keep you from hearing, seeing, feeling and sharing the true joy of the season with others.

In the spirit of the Salvation Army bell ringer who inspired me to do good and who also reminded me what joy really feels like, let me joyfully say to you, “HAVE A MERRY CHRISTMAS!”

P.S. I will be enjoying a holiday break and will not publish a blog on Wednesday, December 29. But, I look forward to being back in your Inbox on Wednesday, January 5! Have a wonderful holiday and may your New Year start with a sense of renewal, refreshment and of course, joy!

Creating 5-Star Experiences

I recently walked into a meeting, and even though I was invited to attend the meeting as a presenter, I walked out of the room at the end of it feeling very unwelcomed.

I wasn’t the only person who felt this way. There were two other invited guests, along with me, who experienced the same unwelcoming environment. The three of us left the meeting at the same time, and after a brief conversation with one another, we realized we were all leaving with a similar negative experience.

There were a lot of little things that happened over the course of the meeting, and that accumulatively, added up to being a BIG thing by the end of it! It was the lack of being greeted when we initially entered the room. It was the lack of not being named by name the entire time we were there. It was the lack of inclusiveness – having to sit in chairs away from the group and ignored as if we weren’t in the room at all. It was the lack of a proper introduction of us to the group by the leader when it was time for us to present. It was the lack of instruction as to where we were to stand for our presentation requiring us to figure it out on our own last minute. It was the lack of attention by the group leader who seemed more interested in her phone, monitoring our time, than to what we were actually presenting.

If the group ever asks me to rate my experience as a guest of theirs based on that one meeting, I would give them a 1-star rating when it came to extending hospitality.

Merriam Webster’s Dictionary defines hospitality as, “generous and friendly treatment of visitors and guests or hospitable treatment.” Dictionary.com goes further to define it as, “the friendly and generous reception and entertainment of guests, visitors, or strangers.”

We all play an important role in how we treat guests and visitors. But it’s a very important role if you are the leader of an organization or group. A leader sets the expectation of hospitality by first modeling it themselves. I did not see hospitality modeled in any way by the group leader at the meeting I attended, so it’s not surprising that many of the group members didn’t emulate hospitality either.

The individuals who are also the first point of contact with your visitors play a vital role in extending a friendly, welcoming and hospitable reception. They set the tone for the visit and can influence whether visitors have a 5-star experience or not.

When my son and I were touring middle schools to determine which one he would attend after elementary school, it was the receptionist in the front office at each of the three schools that set the tone of our visit and ultimately influenced our decision.

The receptionist at the first middle school was friendly, but she didn’t go out of her way to help us. She simply answered some of our basic questions and handed us information to read later.

The receptionist at the second school seemed irritated the minute we told her why we were visiting. She made us feel like we were an inconvenience and informed us that we needed to schedule a time to visit and not come unannounced. So, we left with nothing in hand to read and none of our questions answered.

The receptionist at the third school greeted us with a smile as soon as we walked through the door. When she heard why we were visiting, she immediately quit what she was doing and took us to meet the principal, school counselor and school nurse. They were all friendly and greeted my son by name. They asked him about his favorite classes and outside interests. They seemed genuinely interested in him and excited at the possibility of having him as a student at their school the following year. Each of them also thanked us for coming to visit their school. The receptionist also arranged for a student to give us a tour of the building and when we were done and ready to leave, she asked us if there were any unanswered questions that she could still help us with.

As we got into the car to leave the third and final middle school, my son turned to me and said, “Mom, that’s the middle school I want to go to.

I agreed with him. But I was curious as to if his reasons for choosing it were the same as mine. So, I asked him, “Why do you want to go to this school and not the others?”

He answered, “Because everyone was so nice and they all made me feel like they wanted me to come to their school.”

These were my same exact reasons, too.

Hospitality is best shown when you go above and beyond what is normally required. Though hospitality can be different for various people, it will always involve giving the best effort you can to provide a special and memorable 5-star experience. This is what the third middle school gave my son and me – a 5-star experience based primarily on the hospitality shown to us. They went the extra mile to make my son feel welcomed and wanted and it influenced not only his decision to attend the school, but also my daughter three years later.

 
 

Never underestimate the influence hospitality can have on a visitor – whether they are invited or not or are an adult or a child. You can’t go wrong by going above and beyond with your gestures of hospitality. It can make all the difference as to whether your visitors have a 5-star experience and whether they will want to return to your organization again.

Giving the Gift of Another Day

Wake up in the morning and give thanks. You’ve been given the gift of another day.

Give thanks for the roof over your head. Many sleep without cover.


Give thanks for the food in your belly. Many bellies are empty.


Give thanks for the money in your wallet. Many wallets are bare.


Give thanks for the clothes on your back. Many have no change of clothes.


Give thanks for the electricity that flows. Many do not have outlets.


Give thanks for clean water to drink. Many walk for miles for potable water.


Give thanks for the love that surrounds you. Many are alone and feel unloved.


Give thanks for the heart that beats in your chest. Many hearts stopped beating overnight.


Give thanks for the opportunity to be of service. Many people are in need of your gifts.


Give thanks for all you have in your life. Many live with little.

Give thanks for your ability to give and lend a hand to others. Many will give thanks when you do.

Rest your head on your pillow at night and give thanks. Many were given the gift of another day because of your kindness, generosity and compassion.

Have a blessed Thanksgiving holiday!

 

 

Leading from the Top Down

I have served as a volunteer for my local United Way for over 15 years on a team that recommends funding for afterschool programs in Lincoln. A thorough review of the program’s application, followed by an in-person interview with a program representative, is part of the process of awarding funds for a two-year period to worthy programs. In the second year of receiving the funds, our team conducts site visits to the funded programs to see them in action. It’s an opportunity to talk with top leadership, program staff, volunteers and kids and hear first-hand about their successes, challenges, needs and visions. Our top priority is to ensure the funding they received is positively impacting the kids they serve.

It’s interesting to see the similarities between all the programs as we visit each of them. But, what’s even more interesting to me are the differences between them. One thing that clearly sets programs apart from each other is their leadership. I’m talking about the leadership at the top of the ladder, whether their title be the Executive Director, Chief Executive Officer, Director of Operations, President or Principal. It’s obvious that their leadership style and the tone they set at the top drifts down to those below and can ultimately determine the program’s impact on the kids.

The leader impacts a lot. The leader impacts staff recruitment, morale and retention. The leader impacts staff work performance. The leader impacts the level of trust and respect their staff have towards them and with one another. The leader impacts the sense of community within the organization. The leader impacts the energy, enthusiasm and outlook of those they lead.

Again, the leader impacts a lot.

The leader may not be the one on the front lines working with the kids, but how they treat and interact with the staff and volunteers that do, indirectly impacts the kids. There might be many rungs of the ladder between the leader and the kids, but the staff in between who are working directly with the kids are looking up to their leader for guidance and direction on how to do what they do. What they see, hear and feel from the leader is what they are more likely going to model back to the kids.

It’s become clear to me as I have visited various afterschool programs that when great leaders do a lot of things right you can see it, hear it and feel it with the staff. And, I believe the kids can see it, hear it and feel it, too.

The bottom line is…if you want great outcomes with kids, you need great staff. If you want great staff, you need to be a great leader.

So, if you are a leader, here are some of the most important things I have seen great leaders do:

    • Great leaders recognize the value of every adult in the organization and they praise their staff members as often as possible.
    • Great leaders support their staff at every turn – with challenging students, challenging parents and challenging colleagues. They trust their staff, they have their back and they always try to give them the benefit of the doubt.
    • Great leaders don’t spend much time in their office. They are in the halls, in the classroom, at the bus stop, at carpool, in the gym or wherever the action is and they engage with those around them.
    • Great leaders do not try to do it alone. They involve others in the decision-making process whenever possible.
    • Great leaders are willing to do the things that are hard and difficult and in the best interests of the organization.
    • Great leaders do as they say. They follow through and model what they expect of their staff.
    • Great leaders intentionally foster a culture of collaboration in their organization. They recognize their staff are stronger when they work together so they create the conditions in the organization that facilitate this process.
    • Great leaders are never content with the status quo. They have high expectations for themselves and everyone around them. They articulate a bold vision for their organization and inspire others to elevate their game.
    • Great leaders equip their staff with the knowledge, skills and financial resources to do their job in the most effective way.
    • Great leaders understand the importance of morale and are intentional about creating positive and fun working conditions for their staff.
    • Great leaders commit to bringing positive energy to work every day. They realize that positivity is a nonnegotiable quality when creating a culture students enjoy being in and adults enjoy working in.
    • Great leaders always make it about the kids. They work to build relationships with the kids and they ensure that the best interest of kids drives every decision in the organization.

You may be one of those leaders who sometimes succeeds at being a great leader and sometimes you fail. The important thing is that you always keep working at it. Being a great leader at the top of the ladder should always be your goal with your outcome always being to make a positive difference at the bottom of the ladder.

Now, go forth and lead in great ways.

Being Promoted from Manager to CEO

Life is full of transitions. As a parent, it begins when your child is born and it continues throughout the years – when they go to daycare, preschool, Kindergarten, elementary school, middle school, high school and then on to life as a young adult. While each transition period has its own set of unique challenges, the transition after high school graduation is a particularly big one, especially if your child leaves home.

Ask any parent what it’s like to have a child leave home for the first time and you will hear about a range of emotions – happiness, anxiety, sadness, excitement, uncertainty and fear. Most parents will agree that, above all else, it’s a really, really hard transition.

Life after high school graduation is as much of a roller coaster ride for parents as it is for the high school graduate. The excitement and joy about opportunities awaiting your child are mixed with the waves of nostalgia and a sense of loss. Like your child, you are being pulled between the past, present and future.

Being a parent is a full-time job that lasts your entire life. Just because your child is a young adult now doesn’t mean that you don’t care or worry about them just as much as you did when they were newborns. This is also not when you completely abdicate and let go. Young adults still need their parents. You are not completely out of the picture; it’s just your role shifts from being a manager to a CEO.

For years as a parent, you supervised, micro-managed and organized the day-to-day everything for your child. You established expectations and provided consequences and rewards for your child’s choices and behavior. These are all functions of a “Manager”.

Now, you must trade in your manager hat for one that reads “CEO”. Effective CEOs are those who believe in their people and consult them. CEOs can be heard saying things like, “I wonder what would happen if you tried this,” or “I can see you’ve thought that plan out well. Check-in tomorrow and let me know how that goes.” This is a time when kids still need their parents to guide them, to mentor them, to give them feedback, to be a sounding board and to listen.

Here are a few “Don’t Go There” tips for any of you who have recently been promoted to CEO or will be at the end of this school year:

  • Don’t make their leaving all about you.
  • Don’t beat yourself up wondering if you prepared your child well enough for life after high school.
  • Don’t say, “These are the best years of your life!” Be open with them about the highs and lows.
  • Don’t rescue your child. Coach and empower them.
  • Don’t second-guess your child. Trust them. You will undermine their ability to make decisions.
  • Don’t monopolize their lives. Remember KISS (Keep It Short & Sweet) with texts and emails reminding them of your unconditional love and support.
  • Don’t talk too much. When you do connect in-person or through calls and video chats, ask open-ended questions and listen more than you speak.
  • Don’t intervene or react when your child calls home with a problem. There will be conflict and stress. Express your support and give your children time to solve their own problems.
  • Don’t feel guilty. There are “new beginnings” and adventures awaiting both you and them in this transition. It is okay to look forward to this new chapter in your life with excitement as well.
  • Don’t do wake up calls! Adult children need to structure their time on their own, including sleeping, studying, working, errands, eating, and life in general.
  • Don’t turn their bedroom into a home gym. The graduate’s room is their “home base” – try not to change it very much during his or her first year away. They need to still feel a sense of security and identity at home.
  • Don’t focus on outcomes. Instead, focus on embracing challenges, learning from mistakes, persistence and effort.
  • Don’t be an open ATM for your child. Talk about finances and set a budget.
  • Don’t make surprise visits. Be respectful of your child and their newfound independence. Plan ahead with proactive communication.
  • Don’t forget…your child will always need you!

Remember, you are still their parent, but your job description has been tweaked. Look at your role now as less the protector, disciplinarian and provider and more the coach, consultant and CEO. It’s a promotion for both you and for your child! Enjoy!

 

 

It Matters

I was recently looking through my high school senior yearbook and reminiscing (and sometimes grimacing!) as I thumbed through pages and pages of photos. They took me back to a time in my life that, now in hindsight, was fun, carefree and exhilarating. I vividly remember being so busy during my Senior year of high school with extracurricular and social activities, that even though I had plans for life after high school, I had little time to really think about them. I was living in the moment and loving it.

And then, BAM!

High school graduation happened and I found myself in a whole new world!

I had made plans for what I wanted to DO after high school, but I had not prepared myself for how life was really going to be DOING it.

For me, life after high school meant going to college. I was ready to move on in life and was excited and looking forward to it.

So I thought.

Instead, I found myself struggling with being displaced for the first time from my family and friends and experiencing loneliness. Going from living in a large home to a “cracker jack box” sized dorm room with a roommate I didn’t know added to my loneliness and made me sad feeling like I had lost important relationships in my life. I went from being the “big fish in the pond” to the “little fish in the ocean” and felt lost. My sense of purpose and direction was waning. I questioned what I was doing and why. I was experiencing idle time and boredom for the first time in a long time and didn’t know how to deal with it. My college classes required me to study harder than I ever had to before, but making myself do it was even harder. All of my newfound freedoms I was looking forward to were now frightening to me.

I managed to maneuver through my first year of college without quitting, but doing it wasn’t easy and came with making some bad decisions and learning some hard life lessons.

My story isn’t much different than it is for many high school seniors today. In fact, my son has a similar story to mine. The transition from high school to life after high school can be one of the biggest transitions in life. Even if you think you’re fully prepared and you’ve been dreaming of it for years, many of us struggle with it, no matter if we are going to college or trade school, joining the military or jumping into the work force. Sometimes we deal with these post-secondary challenges in unhealthy ways.

Data shows that the rates of alcohol and drug use are already high in 12th grade, but the rates continue to increase after graduation. Some may experiment with substances as a way of celebrating their independence or doing it to “fit in” with their new living situation or with the new people they are meeting. Others may use substances to deal with the negative feelings they are experiencing.

The research shows that this substance use can interfere with a person’s social emotional development, physical and mental health, academic progress, job performance, relationships with others and overall happiness and success later in life. Making a healthy transition out of high school matters. It matters a lot!

This is why itMatters: Healthy Transitions will be so important. It will be an online program for high school seniors designed to focus on alcohol, tobacco, marijuana and vaping use and will be framed around the choices students encounter as they graduate from high school and into post-secondary life. The program will be completed by Seniors in less than 90 minutes on their own time or as part of a high school course or a graduation requirement and will not require any teacher training.

I say, “Will be,” a lot because it is a program yet to be designed. In fact, at this point it is a concept that is well researched, well thought out and being highly considered for funding.

I am honored to partner with , a prevention research company in North Carolina, along with the Pennsylvania State University research department, on a funding proposal that will develop, support and evaluate itMatters: Healthy Transitions. The proposal is a strong proposal and has already undergone its first review. The next submission of the proposal will be in early November and for this round we are adding letters of support from 50 high schools nationwide. A letter of support allows the 50 high schools to be first in line to be invited (not obligated) to participate in the project and eventually receive the itMatters: Healthy Transitions program at no cost! The first 50 letters of support we receive will be submitted with the proposal.

I am offering a 30-minute webinar next Wednesday and Thursday, October 13 and 14, at three different times for you and others to learn more about the itMatters: Healthy Transitions program, how your area high school(s) can get involved with the design and testing of it and the benefits it will have for your high school seniors, schools and community.

To register for one of the three webinars, just click on the image below.

 
 

If you are unable to attend the webinar and would still like to receive the letter of support template, along with a written summary of the project, ! I would be happy to forward the information to you or even visit by phone to answer any of your questions.

I am thankful I went to college and proud that I graduated on time four years later. But, I’m not going to lie. It was hard to accomplish. I just wish I had something or someone that would have made me stop long enough during my Senior year to really think about what life after high school might really be like. It’s true in that we really don’t know what it will be like until we get there. But, at the same time, some forethought and preparation would have mattered and perhaps made the transition easier and healthier for me.

Perhaps it would have mattered for you, too.

More importantly, let’s make it matter for today’s high school seniors.

Showing Up

As you know, every other Wednesday, around noon CST, I hit the “send” button for a blog I write and write to over 1660 subscribers across the country, including you and many others of whom I have never met or talked to. Even though my blog is read by many and generates positive comments on a regular basis, I still find myself wondering if it really matters to those of you who subscribe to it. Sometimes it’s hard to find the words to write and it’s easy to talk myself into believing you wouldn’t notice if I didn’t write a blog post on my regularly scheduled Wednesday. But, somehow, I have always managed to push through my writer’s block and consistently show up in your Inboxes every other Wednesday.

Until recently…

Over the past several months I have spent a significant amount of time away from my office to travel back home and accompany both of my parents to doctor appointments to address serious health issues they were facing. Coming home after days that were emotionally, mentally and physically exhausting and facing a mountain of work in my office was overwhelming. Writing for my blog was impossible.

So…

I decided not to write a blog post on Wednesday, July 21.

In the days that followed, I began to receive email messages from many of you. Some of you requested that I re-send my blog to you thinking yours got lost in cyberspace. Others of you shared how you missed not getting my blog and how much you look forward to receiving it. Several of you talked about how you have applied some of my blog content in your personal and work lives. A number of you even inquired as to if I was doing alright as it was unusual for you to not hear from me on my regularly scheduled Wednesday.

Maybe you have experienced something similar yourself. Have you had someone reach out to you when you didn’t show up for something they were expecting you for? How did it make you feel? Did it make you want to show up again?

Or…

Have you had the opposite happen to you where no one reached out to you when you didn’t show up? How did it make you feel? Did it make you want to show up again?

We all need to feel that our presence is important to others. When someone acknowledges our presence, but also our absence, it matters. It matters a lot. It can determine whether we show up again or not.

Saying, “It’s so nice to see you!”, when someone shows up lets that person know they are seen, valued and welcomed. They are more likely to keep showing up because you made them feel like they matter.

But, it’s just as important to acknowledge those who aren’t showing up. Have you noticed or felt the absence of someone? Is there a student who has been absent from your classroom, afterschool program or other youth-related activities? Maybe it’s a student you saw regularly before the pandemic, but you haven’t seen since. Or perhaps it’s a student who was absent even before the pandemic began.

Now, more than ever before, it’s important to let students and others know they are missed. Reach out to them through a phone call. Start your conversation by simply saying, “You’ve been on my mind and I have missed seeing you”. Inquire about how they are doing. Be ready to listen. Show compassion and care. Invite them to attend an activity or event that is coming up. Whether they decline or accept your invitation, know that by reaching out to them and letting them know you miss them sends the message that they matter and they are important.

For all the times I wondered over the past two years if my blog mattered or if I even mattered, I got my answer in the emails I received when I didn’t show up in your Inboxes on Wednesday, July 21. It struck me that it took only once for me to not show up for so many of you to check in with me and let me know that I was missed and that what I do is important to you. Because of what many of you did, I am committed more than ever to continue showing up in your Inbox every other Wednesday. Why? Because I know that I matter.

And, so do your students. You just need to let them know it like you did with me.

One Last Road Trip

There’s a saying that if you wish for something long enough you need to be prepared to receive more than you asked for. Nothing is more true than this when it comes to the one wish I had growing up.

Living on a farm in a family of nine meant you hardly ever had alone time with yourself or with another family member. Being the middle child and the oldest of the girls meant my time was mostly spent doing domestic chores in the house, alongside my mom and younger sisters. Time with my dad, alone, was very limited. Providing for a family of nine as a farmer meant he was out of the house early in the morning to start his day. He would return to the house briefly for family meals throughout the day, followed by going back outside to continue his work until mid- to later evening.

There was something about my dad that made me yearn for more time with him, especially one-on-one time. He was one of those people you just wanted to be in the presence of. It didn’t take long to figure out that one way to make this happen was to earn the coveted ticket to ride with him in the truck when he took livestock to sell at the Omaha Stockyards. It guaranteed one full day alone with Dad. We wouldn’t talk a whole lot on those day trips, but we didn’t need to because Dad’s actions always meant more than the words he spoke. At least once during every trip I could count on him reaching across the cab of the truck and grabbing my hand to hold it. Riding down the road, together, holding hands in silence was enough to fulfill my yearning and to remind me that I was always loved by him.

The yearning to spend one-on-one time with my dad never went away the older I got. The image of still holding hands with my dad and the feeling of love and security it gave me didn’t either. I found myself wishing for one more road trip with Dad, alone, and holding hands.

On April 19, 2019, at the age of 88, my dad started experiencing ongoing health problems. It started with kidney failure that resulted in doing dialysis three times a week for the rest of his life. A month after his kidney failure diagnosis, he got a staph infection in a knee replacement. He underwent surgery to remove the knee replacement and he had to live in a rehab center for two months without a knee while treating the infection and before undergoing another surgery to put a knee replacement back in. He returned to the rehab center to learn to walk again with his new knee and two months later he went back home to the farm walking – but now with a walker. Four months later, in early 2020, he was diagnosed with lymphoma. He underwent treatments and eight months later a scan showed the cancer was in remission. Two months later, in the fall of 2020, a tumor was discovered in his ureter and a spot was also found on his bladder. In December 2020 (at the age of 89) he had surgery to remove the ureter and kidney it was attached to. It was a major surgery to recover from and doctors believed he would need to go to a rehab center following it. Ten days after surgery my dad recovered well enough to return home from the hospital. Shortly after, early this spring, he started treatments for the bladder cancer. He finished his treatments in May and initial follow-up scans showed he was free of cancer – again. We had so much to celebrate on his 90th birthday on May 24th and even he said he felt like he wanted to live to be 100 years old. However, it all changed when in late July tests indicated cancer had returned and this time it was aggressive. He had a tumor in his rectum, cancer in his bones and a spot on his liver. On July 26, 2021, my dad was told he had terminal cancer and was given weeks to live.

On April 19, 2019, my instincts told me to drive back home and go to the doctor appointment with Dad when I heard his kidneys were failing. So, I did. It would be the first of many doctor visits and hospital stays I would accompany Dad to.

And so it began…a 2 ½ year road trip with Dad, many times one-on-one, holding hands in silence.

This road trip, however, was a bit different from those in the past. This time it was a grown daughter reaching across to grab her dad’s hand, holding it, and letting him know he was loved and cared for.

Our road trip ended when Dad passed away on Monday, August 30.

I may have had to wait many years for my wish to come true, but it was worth the wait. I received more from this last road trip with Dad than I could have ever imagined.

P.S. Thank you for walking alongside me these past four months as I journeyed with my husband and dad through their final days and weeks of life. Through your many messages I felt your hands reaching out to hold mine and offering me hope, comfort and strength. As the saying goes, I received more than I could have ever asked or wished for from you. Thank you for going on the road trip with me.

P.S.S. In my last blog on July 28 I also shared that my mom was diagnosed with a severe heart problem at the time of my dad’s prognosis. Fortunately, she was able to avoid surgery. Her condition is being managed by medication and it allowed her the time to be with Dad at home in his final weeks. Blessings abound!

When It Rains It Pours

The saying, “When it rains it pours,” would best describe what I am feeling right now and explains my blogging absence the past week and perhaps in the next few weeks.

I’ve always been committed to being honest and transparent with you in my blogs and this blog will be no different.

I have been journeying with my dad through some very serious health challenges over the past two years. In fact, I’ve written about it in some of my past blogs. Over the last few weeks his health has been declining and after several unexpected trips to the hospital emergency room over the weekend we finally got to the bottom of his issues on Monday. Unfortunately, it wasn’t good news.

My dad has cancer in his rectum, liver and bones. The cancer is too advanced for treatments and it is predicted that he has “weeks” left to live.

As you can imagine, it was devastating news to hear. As surreal as the moment felt at the time, I also felt like I was always meant to be there in THAT moment.

For years I wondered why I was born into the family that I was. Growing up in a family with six other siblings I always felt different from the rest of them. I didn’t feel better than them – just different. I just never knew exactly how or why. Until Monday…

Sitting in the doctor’s office with my parents and hearing the devastating news with them finally gave me my answer. I was meant to be in this family for THAT particular moment. It was a spiritual experience being with them and sharing tears, worries, apprehensions, and even laughter together. While the moment will always be etched in my mind as a very sad moment, it is also a moment filled with gratitude and purpose. I now know why I belong in my family.

But, it doesn’t end there…

My Mom was diagnosed with a severe heart condition a few weeks ago. The main valve to her heart is leaking blood and pooling around her heart. Surgery is the only option to repair it. I will be doctoring with her later this week to talk more about how we will proceed forward with her care.

So, yeah. I’m not going to lie. It’s alot to deal with right now and all on the heels of my husband’s passing in April. Thankfully I am able to see all the blessings right now and I feel extremely grateful to be able to walk side-by-side with my parents as they face some of the toughest times in their life.

I have stepped away from my full-time work for the time being. My intention is to be with my parents as much as I am able to and enjoy every minute that I get to spend with them.

I felt it was important to let you know why you haven’t heard from me in the past few weeks and might not for a while longer. As always, thank you so much for your understanding.

Until the next time, hug your loved ones, say, “I love you”, often and practice kindness and compassion to others. You never know if it might be the last chance you have to do so.

P.S. In honor of my dad, I am re-sharing the blog I published on December 9 that speaks about the father he was and still is to me…

Giving the Gift Back

My Dad, Leland, with my grandson and his namesake, Hudson Leland, on his 90th brithday in May.