Tag Archives: Wisdom

September 3 – Life Lessons in Mentoring

by Kali’ Rourke

Kali

I started mentoring a first grade girl last year through Seedling’s Promise, a school-based, research driven and metrics based program that has great training and support. I will mentor her again this year!

My childhood family had its share of poverty, dysfunction, and divorce. I even had a Dad who committed suicide in prison when I was an adult. The parallels between me and my Mentee are many. You would think I would know everything I need to about how to communicate constructively with her, but you would be wrong.

You see, I have forty plus years on her. During that time I had a career, married, had children, became a philanthropist, and along the way I became removed from the culture of poverty and crisis. I had to re-learn these lessons. Thank heavens, Seedling’s Promise assumes we will all need that and prepares us to be intentional mentors.

Here are just a few things I learned this last year.

  1. The gifts I bring to my Mentee are hers to do with as she wishes with no expectations from me. Why? Because in the culture of poverty, all things brought into the house belong to the family. When I gave her flowered bobby pins for Valentine’s Day, she told me her mom “put them on the baby.” Untrained me might have said, “But those are yours; you should take them back!” or perhaps even worse, “Oh my gosh, why would you put those dangerous things on a baby?” Both statements would be damaging and would distance my Mentee from me because it would be painfully clear to her that a.) I didn’t understand her family at all, and b.) I disapproved of them. Instead, thanks to my Seedling training, I simply told her that she was kind to share with her sister.
  2. I must avoid judgment of her parents. One of the most damaging things a Mentor can do with a child of the incarcerated is to express disapproval of the missing parent or the caregiver who is present. I helped my Mentee write a note to her Dad in prison. It was simply filled with the unconditional love of a child for a missing parent. (And smiley face stamps, of course!)
  3. I must always respect the pride of the Caregiver. She is the gatekeeper of the mentoring relationship and it exists only with her approval.  I don’t know her story and I don’t have any right to judge anything about the way she is parenting. We are all tempted to jump in and “save” or make them fit our paradigm of success but good mentoring is combining acceptance and role modeling. If you have an effect on a child, it will be because of your friendship.
  4. I am there for my Mentee. Anything else is just distraction, and my focus in this relationship is to listen and do no harm.

What will the coming year bring? I have no idea, but I hope it includes her smiles and giggles!

Kali’ is an active volunteer in Austin, Tx, and serves on several boards and advisory councils for mentoring. She is also a mentor, an Impact Austin Philanthropist and a social media wonk.

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December 30 – My Next Door Neighbor

by Patricia Roop Hollinger

nails

As a hospice volunteer I entered the room of a new resident who had just been transported to the Dove House. Often just my presence sitting by the side of the bed is all that is needed, but that was not to be with this still-very-much-alive woman.

Often, as death is imminent one begins to reflect on one’s life. What events have constituted the days, minutes, and years that we spend in these physical bodies?

This woman became tearful as she poured out a story of an abusive father she remembered as being drunk most of the time and getting her mother pregnant with yet another mouth to feed and care for. He sexually abused her and her sisters. They survived the best way they could, getting a couple of bucks here and there to go dancing. Yes, her face lit up as she talked about going dancing.

“Oh,” she said, “You fingernails are beautiful. I want polish on my fingernails.”

I headed for the nurses station and several different shades of red polish were already awaiting me. They had heard the request.

Ragged edges on her nails were filed and then polished with her choice of red. She was ready for dancing again.

“My sisters didn’t have time for me,” she said, “so I would go to the next door neighbor’s. She had an abundance of kids herself. She was poor, but she always gave me a sugar cookie. She believed me when I told her of the abuse. My next door neighbor was my safe haven all those years.”

If you are a next door neighbor, always remember that it may be through you that the Divine Presence shows up in someone’s life.

Patricia Roop Hollinger, better known as “Pat”, is a Pastoral Counselor in a mental health facility. Voracious reader. Lover of cats. Losses in life have been launch pads for future ventures. She married her high school heart-throb in 2010.

May 3 – Penteli Mountain

by Marilea Rabasa

My son and I loved to fly kites when he was growing up in Virginia. The right kind of wind could propel his paper bird high and far, with us right on its tail giving it enough slack to keep it soaring in the air currents.

He’s a grown man now, but I remember a day twenty-five years ago when we were living in Athens, Greece. We were driving home from his friend Chris’ house. Chris lived on Penteli Mountain, one of my favorite haunts outside of Athens. From the crest of this hill on a clear day in winter you could see the whole bowl of Athens, with the smog hovering overhead, and even beyond. This was where the Brits came to celebrate Boxer Day every December 26. They hiked up more for the whiskey than the view, but that’s another story.

As we turned the corner, we saw the tail of a kite peeking out from under a pile of rubbish. We knew it was a kite tail because it had flags zigzagging down the string. Also, everyone came to fly kites on Penteli Mountain in December when the weather changed. This kite had lost its wind and lay abandoned in the field, its owners having no more use for it.

And so, our curiosity taking over, we stopped the car, got out, and went to investigate. Right away our curiosity turned into compassion and we wanted to breathe new life into this broken and tattered old kite. I never thought that something inanimate could come to life. But at this time in my life there was a dying in me that I knew I had to defeat or it would defeat me. My son was part of this tragedy, and somehow we knew that the road to healing could start with repairing this kite and watching it fly again. A dust-covered old TV pinning it down to the ground was holding the kite hostage. Its colorful tail saved it from certain death.

So we took the kite home and repaired it with glue and tape. We waited for a good day with just enough wind to try and fly it. The day finally came, a clear sunny day with a nice breeze. Together we took the kite back to the mountain and flew it. We watched it continue to rise and float in the air until all the string was used up. We ran with it as it leaped in the wind. It was flying like it was brand new – a miracle!

We didn’t let that kite go. We brought it down and carefully put it in the car. We knew we would probably never fly it again, but we couldn’t let go of something that had taught us such an eloquent lesson: I was sure from that day on that there are second chances for those who have the heart to reach for them.

Marilea is a retired teacher. Toward the end of her career, she earned her Master of Arts in Teaching. “This was a critical step on my life journey because it concentrated on reflective practice. Now I have time to reflect back on my life and put my stories down on paper. I look forward to sharing them with you.”

February 13 – First Blood

by Caroline Ziel

“I ring the bell
So we can tell
The story of her passage”.

The incantation began.

Leelee was a thirteen year old young lady who had just started her “first blood”. Night was unfolding around us and our circle of women stood in the shadows of a cold Saturday evening. We had come to honor this passage. We were eleven women. Some of us had already passed into being crones. Others were still of childbearing age. She stood in our midst and we asked her: “Are you ready? Are you really ready?”

We wanted her to know in the cells of her being that monthly bleeding wasn’t just about cramps and tampons and the need for protected sex. It was about being fertile for all of life–it was about possiblities. One by one we reminded her who she was:

“Leelee, you are creative. Leelee, you are spunky. Leelee, you are helpful and kind and caring. You paint and dance with abandon.”

We wanted her to be firmly rooted in the splendid reality of who she is so that she can blossom into all that she can be.

l rang the bell again and asked her if she was ready to move into maidenhood. She said “yes” and her grandmother walked her out to prepare her for the passage.

Later, one by one, we asked her to remember: “Your body is an altar. Remember that it is sacred. How you live your life is an act of worship. Your words have power. Bring light into a world that sometimes seems dark. Be the light in your own world.”

We then made an arc for her to pass through. Our arms stretched across her and we joined hands, remembering pieces of our own journey into maidenhood, into womanhood, into cronehood.

Later that evening we pondered the importance of having community, of being community. It’s so easy to get lost in the demands of the day and to become isolated with life’s expectations. What Leelee helped us learn that night was not only that we need to honor our passages, but that we needed to continue to extend to each other the hand of remembering. We need to hold each other in the light and remember to be the light in our own lives. We need to remind ourselves that our own lives are sacred and to find a way to renew that awareness day by day.

Caroline has been a delighted member of SCN for three years, and a member of Writing Circle 6 for all of that time. She is a gardener, grandmother, and goddess centered woman who is grateful to have the support of this circle.

September 29 — Reading with Rachel

by Kali’ P. Rourke

“Hi, my name is Rachel.”

She looked down and protectively wrapped her arms around herself. Then she looked straight at me with big, brown eyes.

I introduced myself and asked if she would like to find a place to sit. We were in the library of her middle school, and there were long tables with incredibly uncomfortable little plastic chairs grouped around them.

The smell of books, children and an occasional whiff of whatever the cafeteria was serving that day filled the air. I let her lead the way to a table near the back of the room and she sat with her back to the bookshelves. I took a chair across from her and so began our first mentoring session.

I tried active listening, the way I had read mentoring should be done…but that assumed that the other person was talking. Rachel wasn’t saying much at all, and I found myself floundering, just asking one leading question after another with little response.

I tried telling her about myself, seeking in vain to find some common ground we could tread. I was thanking God that I was an extrovert, so this was not the root canal experience it might be for some people, but I also felt that Rachel tested the outer limits of my social skills.

Finally, something I said clicked. I saw it slot into place just from the look in her eyes, and like an anxious angler, I cautiously tugged on the bait line to see how far she would advance.

“So you like art?” I asked, leaning forward slightly. “Who is your favorite artist?”

“Oh, I don’t know,” she said, “But I really like pictures of oceans.”

“I think I might want to be a marine biologist some day.”

“Really, “I asked, “What do you have to do to become a marine biologist?”

“Um…go to college, I guess.” The corners of her lips drooped in a defeated curve and I realized this was something she hadn’t thought through at all. It was as much a child’s dream as wanting to be a ballerina or an astronaut and she had no idea that it might be within her grasp.

I suggested that we get a book about marine biologists, preferably with lots of pictures, and we set off to the check out desk to find the first of many marine biology books that we would bond over in the coming months.

In time, I would share in the grimy truth of Rachel’s home life, her incredible challenges and mourn her ultimate decision to fail that year of school and to terminate our mentoring relationship.

I learned far more from her than she learned from me, but she inspired me to help create a much better program than the one I had joined. I think of Rachel often, and her face is the one before me when I give speeches and presentations about mentoring and the difference it can make in young people’s lives.

“Blessings always, sweet Rachel.”

Kali’ P. Rourke is an avid volunteer in Austin, Texas and leads the board of the Seedling Foundation, which mentors children with incarcerated parents through a site based program called “Seedling’s Promise.” Seedling Foundation partners with the Austin Independent School District in positively affecting thousands of school children each year. Learn more at http://www.seedlingfoundation.net/images/stories/seedlingvideoicon.jpg and
 http://kalipr.wordpress.com/2011/08/26/58-a-promise-kept/

September 27 — Celebration

by Cathy Scibelli

Today I’m celebrating the good news I received–my MRI was “normal,” making me officially a two-year breast cancer survivor. The two year mark is an arbitrary one, but nonetheless it’s certainly comforting when they tell you that your odds of surviving long term just increased a few notches.

So how to celebrate? The first reaction to news like this is always to feel as if I want to dance on the moon and shout the news from the mountaintops.

Everyone I mention my good news to tells me things like “You should go out to a fancy dinner,” or “why don’t you take a really special vacation?” or “buy yourself something great.” But an odd thing happens after you’ve been through a life-threatening battle with disease, or at least in my case it happened. The most ordinary things that I used to take for granted become the very things that feel special and celebratory.

It’s like winning the lottery to hear that you’ve just beaten the odds and been given the opportunity to enjoy the fall (my favorite season) without another doctor appointment or scary test until after Thanksgiving. Suddenly, I can feel “normal,” joining the rest of the world picking out my Halloween pumpkins and buying decorations, enjoying long walks in the cooler weather watching the fall foliage emerge. I can look forward to the Pumpkin Fest at my cousins’ Sugar Shack where I can get plenty of warm hugs and hot cider. Then I can come home to my cozy apartment, do some fall cleaning and redecorating, work on my blog and writing class, and continue participating in the women’s writing and breast cancer groups I’ve joined.

Don’t get me wrong, I do still have bigger goals on my Bucket List. One day I’d like to go out to San Francisco and see some of the sites my father told me stories about seeing when he was there while in the Army. I’d like to visit relatives in Tennessee and then attend the Story Circle conference in Texas next April. I think about one day moving to the country and buying a little place where we can have a garden.

But right now it just feels great to wake up in the morning and look forward to a “normal” day. Because when you feel as if every day is a gift and where you are in your life is a place surrounded by loving friends and family, that’s really all you need to have a celebration.

Cathy Scibelli is a freelance writer and breast cancer survivor whose life has been immensely enriched by joining Story Circle Network. She blogs at http://iconicmuse.blogspot.com

August 1 – Hello Beautiful!

by Judy Whelley

I’m in Florida licking my wounds. My divorce finalized last September and the ex remarried in June. I’m still healing from the relationship betrayals that ended the marriage. He appears, at least outwardly, to be happy: new wife, new house, new stepson, and successful in his work. And me? Not so much. I was diagnosed with breast cancer just prior to the divorce and spent last summer and fall recovering from two surgeries and radiation. Between the divorce and the cancer, I’m feeling unwanted, undesirable, and afraid. I retired prematurely from teaching when the stress of the marital problems became so great that I could no longer function at school. I’ve come to Florida to gain some perspective, to focus on who I am, what I want to do, and where I want to go.

I feel least confident about my body and whether or not I am attractive. The ex had a sinister way of publicly praising me and showering me with exquisite gifts while ignoring or rejecting me sexually. The wounds came from what he didn’t say and do as opposed to what he did. Any private compliments given felt like being damned by faint praise. These mixed signals confused me. While mostly a confident and assertive person, sexually I doubted my worth.

He fancied himself a photographer, was always taking pictures. I was rarely the subject. He took pictures of others and often asked me to take his picture but inevitably when film was developed there were few shots of me. I had gained weight during the marriage, soothing my hurt feelings and loneliness with food, and felt shame about my appearance. I definitely did not have the self-confidence to ask to have my picture taken, even though there were times I wanted a photo of myself in a particular location because the magic and beauty of it spoke to me.

Today I’m sitting on the patio of a restaurant on Siesta Key. Because it is beastly hot and humid by midmorning, I get up at six to walk the nearby shady bike path and then come here to have breakfast and journal. I love this spot, feel like I belong. I smile at everyone I meet and they smile right back. Today I did something that required courage. I asked the owner to take a picture of me with my journal and ice tea at my favorite table. He was happy to do it and even though I felt self-conscious and awkward I posed with a smile. I treasure this not-very-special photo. Even though my hair is plastered down from walking in the heat and I’m wearing a tee shirt and no make up or jewelry, I look beautiful. I’m learning that beauty comes from passion within. No one else decides if I am beautiful. I decide that. I create that. And I welcome and embrace those who see and recognize it. Starting with me. Starting today.

Judy Whelley is a writer living in Dayton, Ohio. You can blog with her at www.sensuouslysixty.blogspot.com.