Wildly Improbable Goals

Out of the clear blue, this message popped up on Instagram from Monique, my sophomore student eleven years ago. Eleven years ago I didn’t know that she had failed almost all of her freshman year classes in California, and I didn’t know she would only spend one year in Texas. All I knew was that she had an amazing gift in the written word and that we shared a love of English. Now she works as the Head of Community Relations for Get Lit Words Ignite in Los Angeles and empowers young people to use their authentic voices. Monique is a freelance writer and an agent for social change. She teaches writing workshops globally, speaks at conferences, and leads seminars. Her hustle landed her in Houston to close out the March for Our Lives summit.

Maybe you have heard of March for Our Lives?

In Parkland, Florida, on February 14, 2018, Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School was the site of one of the worst mass shootings in American history. Seventeen students and teachers were killed and seventeen more were injured. In the aftermath, a group of students channeled their sadness, pain, and rage into action, and created one of the largest youth-led movements in history. Monique would be a guest speaker closing the summit. Her topic— “Dealing with Trauma in Healthy Ways.”

In 2018 Monique spoke to the California senate influencing their decision to pass Senate Bill 933, a $50M arts education bill. As her proud former teacher, I just happen to have a YouTube clip. Meet poetry-in-motion Monique Mitchell, or as I like to call her, the next Maya Angelou.

When I met up with Monique in the lobby of the Houston Airport Marriott at George Bush International, she embraced me with an energy of love and light.

The reason I teach.

We sat down in the hotel restaurant, perused the menu, and ordered a drink. “It’s been so long. Tell me. What’s going on with you?” she asked.

If you happen to have me in an intimate one-on-one setting and ask me how things are, I will tell you without the gloss. It just so happened when Monique said, “Tell me. What’s going on with you?” I laid out my truth—the current shit show of my life, Acts I-V with the grand finale of me quitting my job the week before. (That blog post remains unpublished and password protected).

And you know what? I believe in God’s perfect timing to bring people into your life when you need them. Monique counseled me with her radiant joy and the insight of a licensed professional, and she made me feel like the thousands of students I’ve taught over twenty years stood behind me cheering me on. “What are your Wildly Improbable Goals?” she asked.

Most people my age stop talking about goals, not that I don’t have any. I just keep them to myself, you know, in case I fall on my face. “Well,” I hesitated, “I have been accepted into graduate school. It’s an MFA program in Creative Writing. I have to figure out the money part. I don’t like the idea of student debt at my age, and the university is private.”

“That’s awesome! Don’t let the money stop you. You’ll find a way. So what will you do when you graduate?”

“Well, I hope to publish at least one book.”

“No,” she cut me off, shaking her head back and forth. “Don’t use those limiting words. Instead of ‘at least one,’ you should say ‘the first of many.’” The student had become the teacher. “And where do you see yourself ten years from now?”

 “Well, with my masters, I could teach Creative Writing at the college level. Before we moved to Houston, I taught Creative Writing at my last high school, and those were my favorite classes ever.”

Monique sat for a moment processing all the words that had passed between us. “Tomorrow is the new moon,” she said. “A new moon represents the ending of one cycle and the beginning of a new one. For a while I’ve been writing out my intentions on each new moon. You can google the dates. I had been wanting to move to Africa and spend time writing a book, and I wrote down my goal on a new moon, and a path opened up for employment in Ghana.”

I stared at her halfway disbelieving, simultaneously knowing of her upcoming move and contemplating all of her success stories. “Are you serious? That’s amazing!”

She searched my eyes and found the connection. “When you set your new moon intentions tomorrow, open your journal entry with ‘I now declare all of this or something greater for my highest good and the highest good of all involved.’  Speak in the affirmative like ‘I now receive’ or ‘I am thriving in my master’s program.’”

And through my transformational reunion with Monique, I became acquainted with Martha Beck’s article “Dream Big: Why You Need Wildly Improbable Goals” from the September 2002 issue of O. The Oprah Magazine.

Before we parted ways that July day, Monique hugged me one more time and said, “We are blessed to be here. The world needs your voice. I love you!”

And oh my gosh, I love that girl, too. On 12/12 she heads off on her next most excellent adventure to Ghana, which reminds me of a wildly inspirational memoir I just finished—The Heart of a Woman, by the wildly talented Maya Angelou, who had one wildly improbable goal after another. Her story begins in 1957 Los Angeles, hosting Billie Holiday in her home, and ends in 1962 Accra, Ghana. Coincidence? I’m telling you, Monique Mitchell is the next Maya Angelou.

And as for me, I received a little scholarship, applied for financial aid, and found my way. I’m now officially registered at Houston Baptist University for classes that begin with a retreat to Galveston on January 5, in the new year, the new decade, seven days after my 50th birthday. How wildly improbable!

Speaking of wildly improbable, you’ve reached the end of my 75th post. Thanks so much for reading, supporting me, and sharing in my formula: Faith + Gratitude = Peace + Hope

(If you have another few minutes, I happen to have one more short film produced by Lexus for the holidays starring the wildly talented Monique Mitchell. Grab a box of tissues.)

It Is Well with My Soul

Thanksgiving Episode I

I’m on a two-week church streak. Since moving to Houston in 2016 and leaving behind my seemingly irreplaceable Chase Oaks in Dallas, well, let’s just say I sort of slipped off the church wagon. I visited here and there, and in a city the size of Houston, it’s weird that I couldn’t find a place that felt like home. Eventually, I gave up and just lived in sin.

(Ha Ha! I kid. We’re all sinners and by that I mean imperfect. But I keep trying to be a better human anyway.)

Two Sundays ago, I found myself at the Methodist church in my Oklahoma panhandle hometown. Olivia, my five-year-old great niece, was singing in the children’s choir, and well, I couldn’t miss that. Their song went something like this, “Count your blessings, name them one by one. Count your blessings for what the Lord has done.” And I did. While the kids sang, I counted my blessings.

  1. Seeing my sweet mother again.
  2. Hearing my mom say, “I love you,” to me one more time.
  3. Seeing and hearing Olivia’s performance and gleaning a jewel of wisdom.
  4. The opportunity for some time off of work to spend time with my family.
  5. A safe solo trip to the panhandle.
  6. My three-year-old niece Allyson, playing hide and seek with me in the next pew.
  7. My last class of my 12-week, long-term sub job, where we had a round of Show and Tell, and Jennissa and Neicko brought down the house with their own rendition of Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper’s duet “Shallow” from A Star Is Born.

I could’ve continued counting, but I zoned back into the service in time for the hymn “It Is Well with My Soul,” which led into the sermon and the backstory of the song writer Horatio Spafford. A lawyer from Chicago, in 1871 Spafford’s four-year-old son died of Scarlet fever and the Great Fire destroyed his real estate investment and ruined him financially. Two years later his wife and four daughters headed to Europe on vacation, where he planned to later join them, and their ship the S.S. Ville du Havre sank in the Atlantic Ocean. His wife’s telegram read, “Saved alone.” Their four daughters had drowned. He wrote “It Is Well With My Soul” on his journey to England to meet his wife while passing near the spot where the ship went down. In the face of more tragedy than the average person could bear, Spafford’s soul was well. Mid-blessing count, my soul is well, too.

Click here for Episode 2.

Let It Go

Thanksgiving Episode 2

Back in Houston last Sunday, I tried a new church, River Pointe, by recommendation of my friend Mary. Like my Chase Oaks back in Dallas, the music was outstanding, a mix of contemporary and traditional, and for the second time in a week, I sang “It Is Well With My Soul.” This time the minister referenced the songwriter Horatio Spafford and said, “You should Google him.” I remembered the story from last week’s service in Oklahoma (Thanksgiving Episode 1) and silently wondered if God was trying to tell me something. I mean, my soul still felt pretty darn good. As pastor Ryan Leak spoke, I heard the boom of God’s voice and a special Thanksgiving message crystal clear.

Regardless of what you think about Jesus, you have to admit he has a common sense approach to relationship restoration. And while some of us can’t wait to gather with our families at Thanksgiving and throughout the upcoming holidays, some of us have some relationship issues that strike discord and darken spirits.

As I typed up a few sermon notes to keep for myself, I decided to share with you if you so choose to read on. Let us now turn to the New Testament.

“Then Peter came to Him and asked, ‘Lord, how many times will my brother sin against me and I forgive him and let it go? Up to seven times?’ Jesus answered him, ‘I say to you, not up to seven times, but seventy times seven’” (Matthew 18:21-22).

Did you see the italicized and? It’s not just about the forgiveness. We must also let it go.

“If your brother or sister sins against you, rebuke them; and if they repent, forgive them. Even if they sin against you seven times in a day and seven times come back to you saying, ‘I repent,’ you must forgive them” (Luke 17:3-4).

Before you sit down to the Thanksgiving table, remember the words. You see, faith allows you to do what sometimes seems impossible…like letting go and moving on. It is impossible that no offenses will come. We are human. None of us are perfect, but it’s so much easier to point the finger in blame rather than to let a wrongdoing go. Jesus says, “Let it go. 490 times. Let it go.” Did you notice the imperative statement, also known as a command (ment). Ask God to give you an opportunity to be honest (rebuke them), then be generous with your forgiveness and discerning with reconciliation. That is God’s message. The message I needed to hear.

As I left the sanctuary that day, the woman sitting next to me turned, looked me in the eye, and said in a lilting Nigerian accent, “And to think that God would give us the grace to forgive every family member.”

Seeking Joy (Who’s in?)

And in the end, I found my tribe…and strength…and joy.

My Canadian blogger friend Dave left me the message above on my post last week, and I found myself Googling James 1:2.

Dave would know a thing or two about trials, having undergone two kidney transplants. I wondered, but didn’t ask, if his group experiment happened as he waited for that second kidney earlier this year. I copied and pasted the scripture into my iPhone notes and replied:

And he responded once more:

Oh dang! So now I can’t keep the joy to myself, Dave? You mean, I have to seek it and share it with others and coerce them to do the same? I mean, that takes some vulnerability, Dave!

Of course, I didn’t say any of that. Instead, I took Dave’s challenge and texted my like-minded, elementary-school besties: Pamela, Starla, and Denise, my friends for forty-plus years, whom I voted most likely to play along. Their words in turn conveyed varying degrees of enthusiasm in no particular order:

“It’s going to be a hard month, but I will do it with you.”

“I thought that was why God made wine? To find joy in the struggles.”

“Count it all Joy! Oh boy…this is tough. I will write it on a sticky on my desk.”

And in the end with some arm twisting, I found my tribe…and strength…and JOY. Ya’ll, my life is not without problems. Am I seeking joy? Um, yeah. Do I intentionally surround myself with good energy? Absolutely.

Paul from Lightly Seared on the Reality Grill shared these four minutes of pure JOY:

By the way a recent survey has named Belgium the happiest country in the EU.

Life is not trial free, and our struggles strengthen us. May you seek and find JOY in your challenges.

How’s Your Day?

It’s Monday again, and this past week I just couldn’t shake last Monday’s lunch conversation. As I sat down with my leftovers, a young and adorable first-year teacher asked me and another twenty-something in his fifth year, “How’s your day?”

“Good,” I said, nodding my head up and down, no details to offer.

“Great!” said our other co-worker at the table. “Monday’s my jam. It’s my second favorite day of the week.”

Young and adorable laughed out loud, and so did I. “Why?” she asked.

“Well, Friday is my favorite obviously, and the weekends don’t count. Monday is a brand new beginning.”

“I love that. I’ve never thought of it that way before,” she said.

“Right? So many people hate Mondays,” I chimed in.

“Thursday is the pre-Friday,” he continued justifying the goodness of the other days. “And Wednesday, you’re halfway there. The only one I have a beef with is Tuesday.”

“My dad always said, ‘You can choose your attitude.’ I believe you’re onto something, Mr. B. I’m going to spread the word.”

Anyway, that’s it—I’m spreading the word. Monday, any day, life. It’s all a matter of perspective, and I’m thankful for my co-workers and their good energy. How’s your day?

A Legacy of Good and Kind

The day began with a rainbow. Kody and I chased it down the highway headed to OKC for my aunt’s memorial service. I noted the message on hope.

With the rainbow overhead, we sped past the Carol Rose Quarter Horse Ranch on our right. The ranch, the rainbow, all confirmations of my aunt’s presence. Her name is Carol Rose.

In high school, my aunt’s classmates voted her “Miss Hello,” the friendliest girl in her senior class. Two year’s older than my mom, one of my favorite stories is how Aunt Carol went to work after graduating from high school and bought my mother’s prom dress. It was white with scallops around the bottom and across the strapless top. There were still six mouths to feed at home. Dresses could be borrowed. Carol Rose is the epitome of good and kind. The whole family was. Was. Is. Time passes on. I hope the goodness does, too.

Speaking of rainbows, meet the Rainbow Bread Family. From left to right, my mother Sharon, Carol, my grandmother Catherine, Johnny, Joed, and Jimmy. I’m sure my grandpa was working.

Golden sunlight danced in the treetops as my cousin Marcus swept the fallen leaves from my grandparents’ gravestone nearby. “The epitome of good and kind,” I thought as I snapped a photo and contemplated the family tree…how the leaves fall one at a time…how new branches grow…new buds…new life. Ed and Catherine Savage, Christians in the truest sense of the word. No preaching. No judgement. A legacy of good and kind.

Introducing Me to Myself

Even at age almost 50, I’m still trying to understand myself. A few days ago, I clicked into Dr. Andrea Dinardo’s post “Saying No Is Not a One Size Fits All.” A college professor, published author, TEDx speaker, and retired psychologist, Dr. Dinardo dedicates her entire site to thriving under pressure, psychology workshops, and stress resilience. She hooked me with, “Do you have a difficult time saying no? While others in your life say no without a second thought.” Why, yes, Dr. D, as a matter of fact, I do.

She explains the difference between thinkers and feelers (I’m a feeler) and that thinkers have fewer issues saying no and that the safer we feel in a relationship, the easier it is to say no. From Dr. D.’s page, I clicked the hyperlink to a Myers Briggs Personality Profile site. Sometimes seeing and hearing people throw these letters around, I’m sure I’ve taken this test before, but I couldn’t have told you what any of it meant. The test explores introversion vs. extroversion, sensing vs. intuition, thinking vs. feeling, and judging vs. perceiving. Maybe I’m still trying to make up the D that I made in psychology during my freshman year of college. Studying some now explains much about me to me.

I believe I’m ISFP (Introverted, Sensing, Feeling, Perceiving), also known at the artist, the composer, and the adventurer. Verywellmind.com led me to an ISFP page with spot-on descriptions of my strengths and weaknesses. 5-10% of the population has this personality type. So there you go. I’m different than most and not completely proud of all my traits, but we’re all human, right? At least I see the potential for growth. As an ISFP…

  • I like to keep my options open and delay making decisions.
  • I’m kind and friendly, sensitive and quiet.
  • I need my alone time.
  • I’m peaceful and easy-going, caring and considerate, and tend to accept people as they are.
  • I dislike conflict.
  • I’m a doer rather than a dreamer.
  • I care more about personal concerns than objective, logical information.
  • I’m not good at expressing my feelings.
  • I’m in tune with the world around me, appreciative of nature, animals, and the arts.
  • I often develop “gut feelings” about situations.
  • I prefer spending time with a close group of family and friends.
  • I often defer to the needs or demands of others.
  • I’m not concerned with trying to convince others to share my point of view.
  • Teaching is a popular ISFP career.

Thanks so much, Dr. Dinardo! And dear readers, if you have a spare moment, click here to check out her site. I would love to be in her class, and I’m grateful to have the tools at my fingertips to learn from her anyway. By the way, do you know your Myers Briggs personality profile? Does knowing change anything for you?