Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Connecting the Dots

“You are the reason the sun came up today. Believe it.”

Mike Dooley

There are times when I simply cannot connect the dots.

As a kid I used to love the “connect the dot” games I’d find in the “Highlights” magazine at the doctor’s office. I would try to imagine what the final picture would be, but in most instances the outcome never completely matched what I had initially envisioned. Somewhere though, around three quarters of the way through the numbers, I could feel a delicious kind of anticipation as the image would magically emerge from the connection of all those dots.

I often feel like my life is about connecting the dots. I love to apply meaning to the physical experiences of this life, to conjure up hope, passion or love from what to others, may appear to be nothing more than a random series of events. Sure, a sunset is just a sunset. But if I breathe deeply beneath the glory of her reds, oranges and yellows, I feel joy, peace and surrender. What to some may be the end of the day is for me a time to ponder the greatness of the sky, the smallness of me and the peace that comes from feeling both powerful and humbled beneath the tapestry of approaching night’s sky. You see? Nothing really has meaning until we give it meaning.

I’m at one of those times I simply can’t connect the dots. I intentionally added two days to a work-related trip, two days for me to refuel, refresh and re-me. I love the travel, the speaking and the time with our girls and volunteers, but have learned over the years that Molly-time is critical to my emotional, mental and physical health.

So on one of my recent “re-me” times…I met two people who, without knowing, are permanently tattooed on the neurons of my brain. I can close my eyes and get a strong visual picture of them. I haven’t yet figured out how their stories will be connected. I’ve yet to connect the dots of our shared experience. And so I invite you to come along. My guess is by this essay’s end, I’ll have figured out how Amelia and Vincent are connected.

The story starts with my walking to the Starbucks in Atlantic Beach, Florida. I had just finished my morning presentation and was looking to take in the sun, the ocean air and enjoy a strong cup of the Starbucks Joe.

I ordered my coffee at an outside window, took a seat outside and proceeded to just enjoy the moment, when I see her out of the corner of my eye. A beautiful, vibrant and alive young woman rolls up in her wheelchair. Her strawberry blonde hair accentuates a youthful and open, radiant face to which I am immediately attracted. I wanted to know her story. I wanted to understand her joy. I wanted to understand her peace.

Seconds later, a homeless man begins begging two men for a few dollars. “I just wanna call my mama,” he pleads. “Could I have just a couple of dollars?” The men ignore him.

I stand up and walk to him. “Here,” I said. “Take this.” I hand him a five dollar bill.

He thanks me profusely…for several seconds he showers me with his gratitude. “Miss, I see you have a phone. Could I use it? Can I just use your phone to call my mama? I want her to know that I’m okay.”

I hesitate. I take a few deep breaths. “What’s her number? I’ll type it for you.”

He gives me her number. I type it into my phone. I hand him the phone.

“Mama!” he shouts out gleefully. He proceeds to talk with his mother. I tried my best to give him his privacy and so at this point, the only chair remaining on the Starbucks outside deck is a chair at Amelia’s table. I ask her, “May I sit here?”

She says yes. I sit. The homeless man continues to talk to his mom; tears are streaming down his face. I sit quietly with Amelia. We are both struck by the oddity of this particular moment. The homeless man then proceeds to sit at the last chair available, of course, at the table with me and Amelia.

Amelia and I are silent, as he wraps up his conversation. After saying his final farewells, he hands the phone to me and begs me to tell his “mama” that he is okay; to tell her that her son Vincent is okay.

I talk with her for about a minute. She doesn’t want to talk. She’s heard it so many times before. We hang up.

And there the three of us sit: Amelia, Vincent and me. The silence was painful at first. I wasn’t sure what to do with this opportunity. What do I say? Surely there is something I am to gain by being here. These circumstances are too odd to be random. So I turn to Vincent. “Tell me about you.”

The three of us chatted for fifteen minutes, each sharing our stories. Vincent is an alcoholic. He has seizures when he doesn’t drink. He can’t lie and shared with us that the first thing he planned to do with the five dollars I gave him, was go to the liquor store. He has two children. He is 46. He misses his mother’s love like any son. He misses his children, like any father. He is one of 9 children. His mother is in her 70’s. He hasn’t been able to get his act together and frankly wonders if it is even worth it at this point. “I just want to sleep,” he kept saying. “All I need is a hotel room and some sleep.” Vincent is drunk, homeless, tired and so sad about the path upon which he now walks.

Amelia is 25. She currently works at a rehab center for people who have disabilities or become disabled. Her job is to help secure the needed resources for people with disabilities so they can become thriving, independent community members. She ended up in her chair at age 15, after a botched scoliosis surgery. She was walking one day and the next she wasn’t. She shared with me and Vincent that she could either accept her situation and deal with it, or she could be angry about it. She chose to accept her situation and find joy in her circumstances. Of all the things she does in her work, helping her clients find joy is her first priority and a gift she was given by others that she, in turn, shares with them.

I shared with Vincent and Amelia that I was in recovery for alcoholism. That I had once been lost, confused and unsure too…but on July 7, 1993 I had a moment of clarity when I knew that I needed to get help. Three years later, after getting a lot of my own life in order, I started a program for girls to help them see how powerful, beautiful and wonderful they really are, just as they are..

Vincent walked away. He looked back over his shoulder several times. I walked back to my hotel and Amelia returned a few emails.

As I write to you, I want so desperately to connect the dots…to unequivocally state the reason Amelia, Vincent and I met. But as hard as I try, I can’t find it. There seems to be too much randomness to this experience--the inequity of joy. The ability for some to see through the pain of their story to the joy that rests on the other side and the inability of others. How unfair it seems that Amelia and I, are able to see the challenges in our lives as the root of all upward growth, the cornerstone of our personal evolution.

And Vincent, who still wanders the streets of Atlantic Beach, unknowing and unaware that the first step to beating his addiction is a drastic change in his perception; a willingness to see how powerless he really is, and to not just seek help, but let others help him.

Maybe the connection for this story is the lack of one. The inability to explain why this is, or maybe it’s too early to connect the dots. There are too few of them. The image is not yet ready to be revealed…

BAM. I’ve got it! As I write I realize that I’ve landed on the connection at this moment and right before your very eyes.

Whether I see Vincent again, in this lifetime or not, Amelia and I are two of the dots in the “connect-the dots” experience of Vincent’s life. So, too will be the others, the future “dots”, who when connected to me, Amelia and each other, over time and in the right order, will reveal the image of Vincent I see now and that that will be revealed to him when enough dots show up and are connected. I can with only a few dots see what Vincent could be, will be and is (not just in physical form yet), but it may take many more dots for HIM to see! (Just as it happened for me. Who knows? How will Vincent emerge in a new image I'm creating now for me, with my life?)

We never know the power of our influence. You could be the one final dot in the “connect-the-dot” game of someone’s transformation.

Nothing ever happens by coincidence…at least not in my reality. Your reading this could be a dot in your “connect-the-dots” life’s story. What do you think???!!!!

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Madeline's Heaven

“I am like a falling star who has finally found her place next to another in a lovely constellation, where we all sparkle in the heavens forever.” Amy Tan

I just returned from a beautiful experience with our Girls on the Run Council in Atlanta. Saturday night, Sue Payne and her crew put on a fabulous event to thank board members and to spread the word about the program. On Sunday morning, 1100 runners, girls in our program, parents, caregivers and running buddies showed up to participate in the Girls on the Run 5k. The Atlanta Youth Soccer Association, New Balance (thank you Matt) and Goody’s Hair Accessories (thank you Jana and Jennifer) were all present to support our efforts!

At the awards presentation I stood on the stage and tried to soak it all in…to be completely and wholly present. The sea of orange Girls on the Run t-shirts, the smiling faces, the sweat and wonder at what had just been accomplished seemed to go on forever. Really…as I’ve shared before I simply can’t fully comprehend how “big” this program has grown.

But I do get some level of understanding when I really focus on how all this makes me feel. I remember when I was a kid, hanging out at the park. I used to love to walk onto one end of a see saw and gently make my way across the wooden plank toward the other end. Slowly I would proceed across the wood…smaller steps as I approached the middle. At some point (and I can actually feel it now as I write to you) I would feel a delicious kind of anticipation, wondering when the plank would move from one end being on the ground to the other end being on the ground. The tipping point was never quite known, but it was always certain to come.

As I wake up each morning and “google” Girls on the Run and cruise through the various news stories and blog entries about our program I feel as if I’m approaching the fulcrum of the see saw…the tipping point for our program is slowly approaching. The word is out. . .the girls, the coaches, the women and men attracted to Girls on the Run are each steadily walking toward the middle of that board with me. It’s easy to lose sight of "the girl" in all of that. The girl in me, in you, in each other...

I remember vividly, in the late fall of that first season in 1996, I was wrapping up with my Girls on the Run girls at Charlotte Country Day School.

The weather all day was unsure--in a constant state of changing its mind--would it be rainy, cloudy, cold, warm, thundering, or sunny? Our attempt to do the final lesson was in question right up until the 3:30 hour when I met the girls. We stood in our circle of friendship together and all said one word about our Girls on the Run experience. I've heard them all by now..."Awesome, Real, Cool, Fun, Running, Love."

As we walked to the track, I felt as if I was peering through an emotional kaleidoscope…one turn to the right and I felt joy. A small turn to the left and I felt sorrow. This was, after all, our last day together.

The girls began to run. The clouds were building, a thunderstorm was rumbling hundreds of miles away. Rolling, building, powerful. Madeline was the smallest girl in Girls on the Run. At some point during the workout portion of the lesson, Madeline came to me, her tiny hands cupped around the corners of her mouth. She whispered, "Molly, come here. I have something I have to show you. I must show you. Please."

I was busy handing out game pieces and cheering for each girl as she ran by me. "Sorry Madeline, but I really need to stand here and cheer on each girl."

"But Molly you have to see this." She continued to cup her mouth with hands on either side and whispered, "I think I see Heaven."

Well, that’s certainly interesting, I thought. If Madeline sees heaven surely I must see it too. So we each grabbed the hand of the other and ran as fast as we could to the far end of the track. "Look!" she said. "Look. I see Heaven." I turned to my right and was struck speechless by what appeared before me. Dark black clouds surrounded a brilliant white light…. like the blade of a silver knife this light pierced the sky and sent beams of itself down on the earth miles and miles away. "See," she said, completely convinced. "Heaven!"

I was reminded of the heaven I saw sixteen and a half years ago, on that run of July 7th, 1993. When only the day before I had considered my end—to run the following afternoon amidst the power of an approaching thunderstorm. To, at mile five of that six mile run, see, feel and know the brilliance of my own potential followed by the desire to seek moments of similar power as often as I could from there on out.

"Madeline," I said. "Yes. Heaven, surely." But I didn't need to look to the sky. I didn't need to look to some distant space in time. I only had to look at the two small, but brilliant rays of light--there in Madeline's eyes to know that indeed, heaven is right there, resting inside her little girl soul...that little girl body.

Heaven rests in me and you and the brilliance of our own lives. I am convinced, as convinced as Madeline was that she was witnessing a glimpse of heaven on a stormy day, that Girls on the Run is creating our own heaven, a place of safety where girls can feel a peace of such depth, simply being themselves.

What moments of peace have you experienced as you make your way toward living your greatest human potential?

Let me know at molly@girlsontherun.org.


Tuesday, November 10, 2009

The Quest for Certainty

“The quest for certainty blocks the search for meaning. Uncertainty is the very condition to impel man to unfold his powers.” Erich Fromm

I’m at a space of in-between--the unsettling space between what I know and what I can't yet articulate.

I remember once when I was in my early 20’s; I was in a space I’ve come to call “the space of not-knowing.” At the time I couldn’t articulate it as anything other than an anxiety producing state of mind. My sister Emily and I were talking about the unsettled-ness of that space and the anxiety it provoked and she likened it to being between two trapezes. One hand releases one of the ropes and the other is reaching for the one that is sure to come, but depending on where we are in the release and then catch…there is some time in that process where we are suspended mid-air…hurling through space…unsure, uncertain and praying for the other rope to hurry up and appear.

When I was younger, particularly in my 20’s this place created such discomfort, that I usually did one of two things:

1.) I numbed out by trying very hard to be anywhere but where I was. I might drink, run, work, sleep, eat or party. I would DO something to disengage from the uncertainty, not in a healthful or stress management kind of way…but in a denial or not-present kind of way.

2.) When number 1 didn’t work I would often turn to number 2 which was to make up stories to explain the anxiety. Instead of just being present with it and owning the fact that “I don’t know where I’m going, what’s happening or why I’m feeling this way” I would make up stuff…the stuff was usually focused on something outside myself, such as a person or situation.

Here is a perfect example. Several years ago I was feeling a lot of uncertainty around what my role at Girls on the Run should be. In the early days of our development I wore a lot of different hats. I was fundraiser, spokesperson, curriculum developer, coach, trainer and manager. As the program grew, it became critical to the sustainability of the organization to delegate, empower others and enrich the program with additional people who could utilize their gifts and talents to fill in the gaps which were clearly absent from MY skill set.

But, as necessary as it was to delegate these tasks, when they were removed from my to-do list, I was left with a void. This state of “empty, unknowing and uncertainty” skyrocketed my anxiety levels to an all-time high! I was restless, irritable and discontent. To alleviate some of that anxiety and the unsettled-ness of the empty space within, I immediately began to fill it in with all kinds of activity. I started training for a marathon. I started creating new initiatives and thinking up ways to engage myself with other organizations. My wheels were spinning out of control and my thoughts were as well.

I also started making up stories. There were lots of stories that involved other people, both in and out of the organization, but the underlying theme of these stories was rooted in the Girl Box messages I had received over the course of my lifetime and had come to claim as my own: “Molly, you are inadequate, incapable and not good enough” which when translated into work words showed up as “Molly, you are inadequate, incapable and not intelligent enough to serve in a leadership capacity with this organization.”

On November 6th, 2007, I was hit by a car. For six weeks I couldn’t walk and for six months I couldn’t run. As I look back over the course of those six weeks to six months I feel my body take a huge sigh of relief. As scary and as painful as that time was, I was forced to hurl through space…releasing the handle on one rope and pray, meditate and believe that the other handle would miraculously appear.

I journaled, meditated, and spoke with friends. I tended to the simple things in life like paying bills, helping my kids with their homework, curling up with my dogs and writing thank you cards. I floated in the in-between and made a very intentional and conscious decision to have faith…that somehow, somewhere if I just waited long enough and with patience, the clarity and the knowing would arrive and so would the rope. The stories to emerge would be ones filled with strength, character and power.

Two years later I can say with a certainty I couldn’t have dreamed of then that the rope did appear and it said, “Celebrate YOUR gifts and talents and allow others to do the same.” This shift in perception has catapulted Girls on the Run to a new level of not only growth and sustainability but a new level of deeper awareness…a deeper awareness that is showing up in all kinds of ways such as how we structure ourselves from a business perspective; and the creation of brand new, deeper and more relevant Girls on the Run and Girls on Track curricula.

So now…while I sit here…in a space of unknowing and as I write to you, I feel a huge sigh of relief and an almost visceral giggle begin to erupt from my being. What lies ahead for me? What rope will I catch? What will it tell me? How will it show up and from whom?

What have been your unhealthy mechanisms for dealing with the anxiety of “not-knowing” and how have those mechanisms changed over the years? Let me know at molly@girlsontherun.org.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Just Picture That!

“Be the change you wish to see in the world.” Mahatma Gandhi

I remember back in November of 1995. My son was six weeks old. My mom and I took a few days to go to the North Carolina coast. We loaded up her car with diapers, plenty of food and our need for some quality mother-daughter time.

The solitude offered by winter’s beach is just so palpable. The quiet of it... beaches raw and exposed; the wind is wild with its restless howling, flying uninterrupted in the cold space above the waves and around the dunes. Sunlight’s edges, unhindered by summer’s humidity, are crisp, cold and sharp. Rays of sun cut through winter clouds, piercing the landscape of some far-away horizon.

One afternoon I was on the porch, rocking Hank as he lay nestled in the crook of my lap. The dramatic play of ocean’s waves, wind and sea gulls were performing only yards from our front-row seat. I was reading a book that at the time was very popular. “Reviving Ophelia” was the first of many-to-come books which addressed the deep and profound impact gender-roles and stereotyping had on tweens and pre-teen girls.

About 75 pages into the book, I could read NO MORE. Majorie Pipher’s words were pulling up memories from my own past—painfully revealing wounds not yet healed, only bandaged with alcohol, relationships, people-pleasing and a host of other quick-fix solutions.

The rising warmth of winter sun was tenderly falling down upon the two of us…me and my boy. I watched him sleep and marveled at the occasional flutter of eyelid or twitch of baby-finger or foot.

Tears slowly emerged from the corners of my eyes.

Surely, there is more to life—my life—than covering up, bandaging and running from the wounds of my past. Hank, my baby-- like spring’s first sprout, sprig and blossom, rested so peacefully in my arms. He was my son, my future, the hope of all that is good, beautiful and possible in me, in him, in all of us, in the world.

I closed my eyes, leaned back to fall gently into the lap of that rocking chair, to take it all in, the peace, the wonder, the gratitude, the joy and desire for something greater not just for Hank, but for the girl in me and the girl in all of us.

When I was struck by it—the first clear vision of IT. I was running through the streets of an unknown city. I rounded a corner, when there she was—Molly—me, at age 8. I motioned to her to join me, and she did. We ran together for several steps when another girl, I didn’t know, joined us, and then another. Slowly, but surely they emerged and began to run with me, hundreds eventually. Women were now in that mix, a huge pack of us, running through the streets, when we came to a large set of steps, a hundred or more of them lay before us. We paused and then one by one and step by step we climbed to land at last at the top. All of us there--a sea of women and girls; we lifted our arms, hands held, and rejoiced together.

As simplistic as this sounds, I hold onto this vision with faith and strength anytime I’m feeling challenged by the operational side of what has become Girls on the Run International. I hold tightly to this vision when I’m not sure what path to take, both at the personal and professional level. I feel the presence of it now as I write to you and the power of my own potential, the challenge of life’s climb and the strength I gain in its ascent.

Since that amazing November afternoon, there have been only a handful of visions as clear as this, but they have all been glimpses of my potential, the potential of my children and of this organization. As large as our numbers are these days, I can’t get a real sense of our impact. My finite brain is just that…finite. But I can revisit that vision, those steps, those hands held high, the sea of faces, smiling, empowered and rejoicing.

What vision have you seen with such clarity that it defines the path your life now takes? How has your vision been challenged and how do you stay on course?

I’d really like to know. Comment here or email me at molly@girlsontherun.org.