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How Bullies Inspired Me to Youth Leadership

In my less than perfect childhood, which included more time in trailers than traditional homes, I encountered bullies. My middle school and high school years, living on the wrong street in town, were at times an exercise in avoidance, seeking safe places and refuges where the bully across the street couldn’t get to me.

We often forget that those terrible experiences can be used for good purpose by God. He did with me.

Ten years ago, when I was a mother, I encountered bullying behavior in an organization with my own children.  I saw a minority child who was taunted with racist comments. And I learned that on breaks, a girl had bullied others to the point of tears – and no one stopped her.

I realized I had to say or do something. So I became president of their parents organization and immediately instituted a new policy:

Zero Tolerance for Bullies

When you’re in leadership and set a standard like that at the top, it filters down. So far as I know, the bullying stopped. The few times it nearly erupted its head, I turned into Battle Ax Mary, Defender of Those Who Are Bullied.

Over the years, friends of mine who have seen my protectiveness of children sometimes joke about it. But they know that if I’m present – if I see a child being bullied either by other children or an adult, I will throw myself between them and do what it takes to stop it.  They know I have never caved to a bully.

Ten years later, my own children are nearly grown.   I still work in youth leadership, but it can sometimes get easy to lull into a complacent spot of going through the motions. I know that the first essential element of any successful youth program is that the kids need to feel safe and comfortable.

Then something happens. I see a child mistreated and remember why I first ventured on this path of volunteering with kids.

I know what it’s like to try to do something and to be humiliated. I know what it feels like when you work hard and someone publicly mocks you.

Our inalienable rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness can be compromised with we let the bullies do their dirty work.

As a result, now and for a lifetime, I will volunteer with youth programming to give kids a safe place in which to nurture their talents. Most of the time, that role will be fun.

But no matter what, my Battle Ax Mary supersuit, complete with a hammer of Wrathful Mom (which is stronger than the hammer of Thor), will be hanging in the closet, in case I need to reach in, grab it, and wear it to protect a kid.

Bullies be warned. The only way you will come between kids and me is over my cold, dead body.

Snow Adventures

“We’ll get to the doctor’s office and back before the snowstorm hits,” I assured my mother several years ago. Her appointment was 1 1/2 hours from her home, and I took my kids, ages 5 and 7, with me. We booked a hotel room the night before so we could get in for her early a.m. appointment and dash back home the next day.

As I sat in the nearly deserted waiting room the next morning, I watched the snow become ice and pelt the pavement. Locals had cancelled their appointments. I needed to manage my kids and help my mom (who spent most of her time wheelchair-bound) avoid injury.  By the time the appointment ended, we knew there was no way we could return home and booked an additional night at the hotel.

When I watched the news in the small city, further south than ours, the news reporter proudly reported, “There’s our snow plow, clearing the roads.” Yes, snow plow, not plows. Singular. That’s when I knew we were in trouble.

Extra nights in hotels are the kinds of adventures kids like. We grabbed enough food for lunch that we didn’t have to venture out for dinner. Though I often sent my son outside to run circles in the front yard to wear off his energy, we got to keep him in a hotel room most of the day.

The next morning, I took my daughter, a 2nd grader, outside to clear the snow and ice from the van so we could try to get home.  I left my kindergarten-aged son in with my mother. Half an hour after we started clearing, my son came out. I figured he had run faster than my mom with her walker, so I told him, “Go tell grandma we’re almost ready to load and go.” He went back inside.

After the van was clean, I returned to the room to find an angry mother. When she went to the bathroom, my son had slipped out the door, ventured through the hotel, and found us outside. When I sent him back in, he went back to the room by himself. “What were you thinking? You TOLD him to go back through the hotel alone?”

Yep. That’s me. Just pin the Bad Mom of the Year award on my Parenthood cloak.

Yes, we made it home.

And that’s when I learned that my children’s behavior was as easy to predict as the weather.

Strap on your parachute! Seize the adventure!

God's Got This

A miracle is like a rainbow pebble that touches a pond and spreads multi-colored ripples to distant shores.

I’ve watched one happen this week online through Caring Bridge, a different kind of social media site – one that helps families in medical crises communicate updates to friends.

Three weeks ago, Kristy, the daughter of a friend & lady I work with was hospitalized. Nothing seemed to beat her infection. Her pain grew worse as she battled endocarditis.

Her mom kept me updated through the phone and Facebook.  Kristy’s condition worsened daily.

Her friends and family came together to pray for her – and to support her husband and 2 young daughters. Last week, she was rushed by ambulance to a teaching hospital 100 miles away, diagnosed with an aneurysm, and placed in a neuro ICU unit.

Prayer chains from Kristy’s hometown to the other side of the planet prayed for her.

The prayers grew more urgent. Surgery, predicted to last 12 hours, was scheduled. Kristy continued to pray. Two days before her surgery, while in Neuro ICU preparing for the operation, she wrote a poem:

He’s Got This

I will not fear, cause God, He’s got this
I will not tear, cause God, He’s got this
I’ll share with all, cause God, He’s got this
I will not fall, cause God, He’s got this
I will praise, cause God, He’s got this
My hands I’ll raise, cause God, He’s got this
I have no needs, cause God, He’s got this
I’ll plant my seeds, cause God, He’s got this
Those seeds will grow, cause God, He’s got this
He’s in control, MY GOD, HE’S GOT THIS!!!!!!

The morning of surgery, Kristy told her family and friends not to worry. “God’s got this.”  Updates were given by way of Caring Bridges. Facebook friends and family posted updates and prayer requests.  Her Caring Bridge guestbook filled with notes from those concerned about her.

Fourteen hours later, we learned her surgery was a success.

God took a situation straight out of the valley of the shadow of death and turned it into miraculous steps climbing a mountaintop.

Though I’ve never met Kristy, through her family’s updates, I feel that I know her now.

Those who face death and witness miracles are never the same. In Kristy’s case, by way of social media, I know God’s got this and will use her ordeal for good.

She’s reminded me once again life is precious and to treasure every moment with Richard and our kids.

Along Came a Spider – Real Time Problem Solving

Case study in how real people solve real problems faster via social media.

One week ago, I attended the Social Media Club of Evansville monthly meeting, where Robby Slaughter of BlogIndiana spoke about building business productivity with social media.  I met a new mom there, Talina, and we began to follow each other on Twitter.

Through Twitter, we learned of common ground as coffee lovers.  Then we learned we both blog, enjoy Excel, and try to be environmentally friendly parents.  She has a baby, and my kids are now teens. We commented on each other’s blogs and became friends via Facebook.

Last night, I saw her tweet she was trying to figure out what kind of spider she found in her house.  I asked her to post the picture on Facebook.  She posted it, and then I shared the photo, asking my friends who are pest control experts to ID the spider.  Within an hour, two competing local pest experts ID’d the spider.

Not only did they ID the spider – they had a civil conversation about spiders in general. By this morning, a 3rd pest pro had posted.  Among the 3 of them, they had ID’d the spider, discussed where it was usually found, assured us it was not poisonous, and given a quick way to get rid of the spider.

What did I learn on Facebook today? This varied color orb spider is large – they are usually this big in the fall.  It is an outdoor spider, usually found in soffets and on porches, spinning large webs by which it catches other insects.  Sometimes they eat so much when they fall to the ground, they are so full they “burst” on impact.

Oh – & what did I learn about social media? Last week, Robby Slaughter asked for a good definition of social media.  I said it’s a tool by which real people build and enhance relationships in the real world. 

Along came a spider and sat down beside her and proved the point.

This could be a case study in how companies on Twitter can be first responders to potential customers. 

But that is another blog altogether…

Fast Times in Tornado Alley

(Written 7 years ago)

My son, only 3 at the time, peered out the storm door as dark clouds approached.  Welcome to springtime in Tornado Alley. 

I had just cleaned the door. “Don’t think about getting your fingerprints on that door,” I told him.

He looked at me, grinned, and turned, putting both hands flat on the storm door.  The moment he touched it, it happened.

The storm sirens blew, and thunder boomed. 

Nick jerked his hands back and ran straight to my lap.  A spring thunderstorm began.  The boy didn’t move for half an hour.

He never touched the storm door again. 

We’ve seen strong storms but have never been devastated by them personally.  However, five years ago, our home was damaged by a fire.  The kids lost their toys.

Last November, a tornado devastated our town.  When we drive through the areas where the tornado hit, the kids see the path of destruction.   They remember how hard it was for us to rebuild; the fire was their watershed; their lives are measured in B.F. (before fire) and A.F. (after fire) time. 

The disaster was a reality check to heed those warning sirens.

When I hear them scream in the dark of night, I no longer roll over, listen for the wind, and go back to sleep.  I turn on the news to learn the cause of the siren.

Last week, we made our way to our basement during a tornado warning.  Once we got down the stairs, I noticed what our kids grabbed.  Our daughter had her cat.   Nick grabbed two of his stuffed animals.  He sat with his storm supplies and a toy light saber. 

Nick said, “I’ve got my light,” as he swung his battery-operated light saber.  Then he pointed, “And I’ve got my bank [his piggy bank] and my Bible.  I’m ready for anything.”

In six years, he’s grown from the young toddler who thought his handprints made the sirens scream and the skies to storm into a boy planning to handle problems. 

For a moment, I saw the brave heart of  a Peter or Edmund from Narnia, ready to fight and provide for those he loves.  

Do you face Fast Times in Tornado Alley?  Take heart – the things we view as fast times are the pruning of a Master Gardener caring for His vineyard.  Grab your weapons, and you too will be ready for anything.

Epilogue update: Now he’s gone through weather spotter training and watches Doppler when storms happen.

Good Night Moon

Over a decade ago, I cuddled with my babies each night as we read Good Night Moon.  My kids “read” each page aloud with me.  When we finished, the lights would go off, and I would hear their trying to sneak a few last games in before going to sleep.

In this time just before they are legal drivers, my life is now measured in tag team pickups and carpools.  I’ve not yet mastered bilocation so I can pick 2 kids up in 2 different places at the same time.  Thank God I have a great husband who helps as much as he can.

Yesterday, my son had a robotics contest at a local university while my daughter was going to a formal.  Brand new experience – her escort picked her up at our house and drove her there.  We had never before allowed our kids to ride with a teen driver anywhere.  Yes, he’s a good guy and a good driver.  But this was my baby.

Richard took our son to the robotics contest, and I stayed to see our daughter off to her formal and take “those” pictures – the dressed up teen couple ones.  As soon as she left, I raced to see the robotics conclusion.

After we got home, it began to rain.  I controlled my urge to call her cell phone and tell her we would pick her up there.  I controlled my urge to call and see how she was doing.  Yes, he was a good driver.  But it was a dark, rainy Friday night.

So I sat, waiting for her to get home.  I chatted with another mom on Facebook as she waited too.  Please God keep my baby safe and send angels to clear that road as she comes home.  They warned us about 2:00 feedings with a baby, but I don’t hear much about staying up for curfews.

She got home fine.  The confident lady who left in the jewel blue formal with sparkles had sparkles in her eyes as she told us what a wonderful time she had.  Then she went to her room, to do her thing and listen to music I don’t understand.

I sat alone for a moment in front of my computer, thinking.

Good night moon.  Good night nobody.  Good night mush. And the old lady, whispering hush.

Now, I’m the old lady.

A Castle’s On the Kitchen Table

P. Sherman. 42 Wallaby Way, Sydney
Image by M. Angel Herrero via Flickr

A model castle’s on the kitchen table and the fish tank’s in the sink.

Sometimes I get so busy, dear, I’ve forgotten how to think!

 The kids are in the backyard making spears from dead tree limbs,

The garden’s not near planted but the baby sings a hymn.

We’ve lost our pens and pencils and the school year’s near the end,

Derby cars swing on my clothesline; neighbors swear I’ve past the bend.

Told my kids the other day, the library’s not made for roller skates,

The laundry’s piled, the kids are wild – No shoes can find their mates.

Sometimes I get so busy, dear, I’ve forgotten how to think!

That’s when it’s time to measure the moments that pass before we blink.

Then the plates will set the table, no stacks will pile the sink,

I fear I’ll get so lonely, dear, I’ll forget how to think!

These days are few and fleeting – Treasure each and every day,

Whether trials or laughter – Drop extra stuff for time with kids to play.

Give me a castle on a kitchen table and a fish tank in the sink,

And a heartful of children’s memories, more precious than gold or mink.

(Written a few years ago – now the kitchen table gets filled with laptops, and I miss the castles.)

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