Intentionality

Posted on February 27, 2015. Filed under: Girls on the Run | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , |

“A speck of glitter is an accident,” said the woman across the conference table. “A blotch of it is intentional.”

I thought of the splotch of glitter glue stuck to my home office floor, a reminder of the previous owners, and the fruitless hours spent attempting to pry it off.  The box our first Girls on the Run team decorated as a collection bin for used shoes and running clothes, the finger paint and feathers, sparkly ink and glue, and the stretch of glitter it left behind in the back seat of my car. How for months anything unlucky enough to sit there emerged shimmering. My briefcase, papers, and books. My dogs. The seats of passengers’ pants.

There was nothing intentional in that.

This word keeps cropping up, intentional.  Particularly there, at the Girls on the Run annual conference in San Diego this January, where conversation ranged from strategic planning to tutus, from volunteer management and retention to glitter. All of it important, deliberate. Every moment weighted with an unusual mixture of gravity and joy.  orange glitter

Girls on the Run is our business. Our passion. Our vision for the way we would like the world to be, the value we place on ourselves and in each other.

We strive to be intentional in our decision-making.  The core value I notice the most throughout the conference. One I will repeat seven times during trainings back in San Antonio over the two weeks that follow.

Intentional. The word materializes in the books I read, the radio programs I listen to while driving from sites to meetings to my office.  It’s punctuated in conversations with the people I meet, and even in the sermons I hear.

Do I live an intentional life? Do my decisions, actions, words reflect a thoughtfulness and care?  So many hours and days that feel like the splotch of glitter glue dripped randomly, accidentally on my office floor when my plan called for a more measured and permanent line, situated elsewhere.

I’ve never been one for glitter. Avoid it at all costs. Although I’ve always liked to look at sparkly things. The sun ricocheting off the tips of waves like diamonds scattering across glass. Stars like rhinestones piercing the blackest sky. The shimmer of raindrops tumbling down my windows.

If the sea could be my skirt and the sky my mantle, if I could wear raindrops like jewels dangling from my ears, I wouldn’t mind the shimmer at all. But a patch of glitter smeared on a cheek, stretched across the back of my pants, stuck eternally to my office floor, these are the kinds of things I’ve railed against.

Yesterday I stood under a tree on the playground at one of our new sites, shifting my weight from foot to foot attempting to keep warm. Trying to quiet the stretch of thoughts in my head—phone calls to make, emails to send, reports due and plans undone—and focus instead on the girls as they ran around the field behind the school.  They shouted out answers to the lesson about what it means to be healthy, their hair flying behind them, ponytails whipping in the wind.

I watched their feet and bodies at first. Was the ground too uneven? Would they fall? Was it too cold to be out here running under a sky all windswept and gray? But I trust the coaches and their judgment. They’ve been doing this for three weeks, more. They know their school, their girls. Their abilities.

So I watched the girls’ faces instead.  Eyes sparkling with the thrill of movement, lips curling in joy as they rounded the bright orange cones stuck haphazardly in the grass, their voices carried away with the wind and their forms a dazzling light against the gray and windswept sky.

Surely there is something intentional in that.

 

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Running Buddies, Part II

Posted on October 24, 2014. Filed under: Running | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , |

“Can we walk up this hill?” she asks, slightly out of breath, motioning with her chin to the incline ahead. “No wait,” she says before I can reply, “I’ll walk. You go on ahead.”

“OK,” I say, knowing I won’t. I’ll walk when she walks, stop when she stops. Run when she runs.

Not so long ago, I would have gone on ahead. Or, more likely, would have been out here alone instead of with a friend.

“No,” she says before we reach the hill, “I’m not going to walk. I can make it. I can push myself.”

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“OK,” I say as we run up the hill.

We’ve been pushing already, closer now to the end of this road, closer as well to the half marathon we’re training for, the Shiner.

We stop at the top of the hill for water, nearly done with our twelve-mile run, less than two miles to go. The sun is up and the heat settling in, even though it’s nearing the end of October. But this is Texas. Fall won’t feel like it’s here for awhile.

We’re both tired, elated, spent, happy to be out here running, getting stronger, faster with each passing week, following a training plan that started nearly three months ago. I can’t imagine, now, having had to run all the long runs alone.

This is what long runs are for. Endurance.

I think about the girls I observed just a couple weeks ago, preparing to run in circles around the playground, who threw their arms around each other at the thought of running with a buddy.

They instinctively knew what we so easily forget. The road is easier to endure when you’re on it with a friend.

 

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Planting Seeds

Posted on October 17, 2014. Filed under: More... | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , |

THOREAU-EXPECT-WONDERSHard choices. The theme for the day’s lunch. Discuss our hard choices and what we’ve learned from them, how they’ve shaped us.

Was the choice hard from the beginning, or did hardship arise only in the middle, when we were knee-deep in, no going back? Or was it the end of the choice and the bearing of its consequences that brought hardship on?

I immediately thought of all the times I’ve moved, over twenty when I stopped counting several years ago. Some easy–a few blocks away, in college, to the other side of town, same city. Some decidedly hard, requiring the shedding of material, intellectual, philosophical things, like a snake sheds its skin, leaving me feeling naked, exposed. Another state, another country. Back again, and always the question, now what?

I’d taken to thinking of my life as if I was a dandelion spore, blown about by the breeze, landing here or there by chance. Not a lovely thing, not rooted.

Until I landed here, where I stumbled into a community, a home. A place where hope multiplies like dandelions in a field, ineradicable.

I’ve always been a fan of fields and flowers and trees, but I now understand the power of a seed.

 

“Though I do not believe that a plant will spring up where no seed has been, I have great faith in a seed. Convince me that you have a seed there, and I am prepared to expect wonders.”

Henry D. Thoreau

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Running Buddies

Posted on October 3, 2014. Filed under: Girls on the Run | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , |

I recognized a face or two as they came into the gym, smiling, twisting their hair into ponytails up and away from their necks to escape the stifling, pungent air. Ninety-plus degrees and the air conditioner down. I stood against the far wall trying not to move, not to exert too much energy or breathe too deeply.

Such awesome girls, the head coach had told me. Never seen anything like it. They’re so innocent and sweet.

A new season of Girls on the Run, three weeks in. Many sites still in the process of bonding, coaching teams as well as girls. It can be chaotic, challenging. I dropped by this site to deliver shoes and had asked in advance if I could stay, just a bit, just long enough to help me remember why it is I do this.

I sat cross-legged on the floor next to the tower of empty boxes, away from the circle of girls. My salmon colored t-shirt appeared to have sprung stripes where rivulets of sweat had trickled down and settled during the flurry of shoe trying-on that preceded the lesson.

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The girls hadn’t seemed to notice either the sweat or the pressing heat. They hurried to change clothes, find and fill their water bottles, grab a granola bar, and form their circle, eager to get started. A lesson in negative vs positive self-talk, the same lesson our coaches had practiced in training. The adults had related, nodding in agreement as the lesson uncovered the ways in which we tear ourselves down, dismantle our uniqueness and achievements as quickly and easily as dismantling a Lincoln log house, and then separate ourselves into oneness.

In the very places the adults had nodded and their bodies slumped, the girls sat upright looking puzzled, oblivious as to what the coach was talking about. I chuckled, amused but mostly relieved. They hadn’t yet started that conversation with themselves.

C’mon, a coach waved me in as the girls stood up, moved on to their warm-up. You’re here. You might as well join us.

Join? I hadn’t been a joiner. But how could I say no in the face of this? High knees. More sweating. Yet the girl on the far side of the circle smiled broadly as if she had just been crowned princess instead of standing here in this gym, hiking up her knees, excited to go outside and run circles around the small dirt playground.

At last we filed out the door and I inhaled the fresh air and warm breeze. I hung back as the team walked out to the shade. Several girls held hands, vied to hold the coaches’, leaned in sideways touching bangs as they talked.

Most hadn’t known each other when they started, yet here they were sticking together like buns in a pan, oblivious to each other’s imperfections, or their own.

You all ready to run? the coach asked as she resumed the lesson. A twitter rippled through the team.

Oh! Oh! A hand flew up from the center. Can we have a running buddy? As if on cue, each girl turned to her neighbor, and they hugged.

The coach caught my eye and smiled. Never seen anything like it.

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Wednesday Night Coffee

Posted on September 12, 2014. Filed under: Girls on the Run | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , |

But why don’t you tell me a little about you, I say and raise my cup to my lips to silence myself.

Only 6:30 and a long day already, fourteen hours and still more to do. Fueled by caffeine, I have been talking since she sat down, conveying the usual information about volunteer opportunities, the usual story about Girls on the Run, barely pausing for a breath much less a response.

She sits post straight across from me, deportment suggesting a tightly made bed, sheets taut, covers smoothed, corners tucked in hospital-style, and listens politely. When I say tell me about you her eyes shift right, seek the corner, some point on which to focus other than me. She speaks quietly but directly, measuring words, and I am once again astonished by the honesty, the trust a complete stranger has in me.

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I watch her face as she talks, still taut, no wrinkle to underscore the furrows of her life, like we’re taught to smooth away pain, tuck it under cover, hide it underneath so no one sees.  But for a moment a ripple like wind kissing water passes over her eyes, which widen almost imperceptibly, the only inflection to underscore the agony in broken relationships, loneliness, death of which she speaks.

Why running? I ask, although I too know the answer, but I listen for the epiphany, the connection, her need to say it.

Because it’s not self destruction, it’s another way, a safe way, a path toward community, she says. It feels like what happiness should be.   

She wriggles excitedly in her chair as she says happiness and I think of the girl another coach told me about only an hour earlier, the girl who walked out of math class bursting with joy and said, Math makes me so happy. I love it so much I just have to do it.  I had laughed when I heard this, thought how odd, to get such joy from math, and then, yes but it is the same with me and running, and how odd that must be to some.

She has stopped speaking and once again sits post straight across from me, waiting. Do I gloss over her admission of pain, her declaration of happiness, step back into my own reserve, my own tightly-made bed?

Another sip of coffee as I consider the balance of safety and risk, the imperative of which I have been speaking for weeks of open hearts and connection. One more sip and I venture in. Running saved my life, I say and speak to her of divorce and sickness and death. If only it had been shown me when I was young…

But what do you want? I ask suddenly, surprising myself, as I have not asked anyone so directly before. Why volunteer? What is it you expect to find here?

For the first time she looks me square in the eye. Myself, she says. My way back to me.

 

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Open Heart

Posted on August 22, 2014. Filed under: Girls on the Run | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , |

Lead with an open heart and assume positive intent.

One core value of Girls on the Run. It’s what all staff and volunteers are supposed to do. As council director, it’s what I’m supposed to do. Although “do” is not exactly the right word. It’s what we’re to model, to live. To be.

The second part is not so hard. I’ve always tried to find the best in people, see through their eyes, run in their shoes.

It’s this first part, the open heart, that I find a little bit tricky. I suspect the allusion has more to do with poetry than medicine, more with Robert Burns’s or H.D.’s red roses than with scalpels.   red-rose-side

As a kid, I thought open-heart surgery meant that doctors actually cut into a heart, lay it open, poke around. Of course, that’s not really what they do.

It’s worse, almost, more violent. The slicing of skin, splaying open of flesh, prying of ribs with tools that appear better suited to construction or cars in an effort to reach the heart, hold it gently in hand to mend.

Surely that’s not what Girls on the Run has in mind.

What I think they mean, rather, is that we are to give of ourselves–not simply our time or money, our skills or talents, but our humanity. Our love for people as they are, where they are. To be vulnerable, compassionate, real.

Such an easy proposition when you consider the people that are drawn to this program. Amazing people. With amazing hearts.

Such a difficult proposition when you consider how often they come and go. How quickly the demands of life, of family or career, misfortune or opportunity eclipse a passionate heart. No sooner, sometimes, do you allow an amazing person in and they disappear, called away on some sort of adventure.

The second part, then, is not so hard. To see through their eyes, run in their shoes. Do a jig of excitement with them for their gain, sit quietly in sorrow with them for their loss. And when they go, you consider again this first part, the open heart, that’s still a little bit tricky, so that closing the heart seems less risky, less violent. A safer way to lead.

Last week, four of us gathered outside at a local pub in the sweltering August heat to plan our next coach training. Three hardly know each other. Maybe they have some things in common, some experience or history yet untapped. Initially, what draws us together is our passion for what we do, creating an environment where girls can be themselves, can feel safely strong and confident.

Before long, an animated discussion broke out. I sat as quietly as I could and observed. What I saw in each expression, heard in their words and silences was some facet of me, some part of their personality, some joy or fear or quirk that we share, and I knew that this was what really drew us together. Something deeper that we would only find if we were willing lay it open.

And as I looked around the table, a sense of peace embraced me and my heart bloomed.

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To Say It Makes It So

Posted on May 16, 2014. Filed under: More... | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , |

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I’m in the process of writing a book about—wait for it—running. I know. Who’d have thought?

The book is part memoir—how running has transformed me personally and professionally—and part community collaboration. It will include the stories of remarkable women I’ve been fortunate to know here in San Antonio and how running has transformed them too.

It’s because of these women that I found the courage to write this book. And I was lucky enough to meet them because of the work I do as council director for Girls on the Run of Bexar County. Through it all, I am learning what it means to be part of a community. And I am learning so much more.

Writing is a tricky process. It comes in fits and starts, and sometimes goes even quicker. There are days when I can’t wait to get in front of my computer to dump out the piece of story that’s written itself in my head, and days when I can’t, for the life of me, string together one true sentence.

But it’s coming together nevertheless, slowly but surely. I’m half way there. Over the hump. Which is why I feel safe enough to say it out loud. And you know how words work. To say it makes it so.

 

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Community Trust

Posted on April 25, 2014. Filed under: Running | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , |

ring around the rosie

“Trusting.”

Not a question but an imperative. The girl in the middle closes her eyes and tells her team she is ready.

“You can trust us.”

In unison. They are prepared. To bear her weight, right her when she tips too far out of balance.

It’s a risky game for all involved. A frightening prospect particularly for the one in the middle, who must rely on her peers.

And so begin the Girls on the Run lessons in community. I’ve witnessed this lesson half a dozen times over the past several seasons, showing up by chance to observe a team on the day it’s facilitated.

Only I don’t believe in chance.

This time, something about the game strikes me. Why is it that the very first in a series of games to reinforce the concept of community is about trust? There are so many components of community: What we have in common—values, attitudes, interests, demographics, language, geography—and what we don’t. None of that sort of glue requires trust.

Why do we expect these girls to throw their weight on their team, and why do we expect the team to support it? Is it too much to ask?

I sit on a rock in the shade and watch the girls stand vigil, shoulder to shoulder, over the girl in the center, their eyes somber with responsibility. They giggle and squirm but never remove their gaze from the girl who is trusting, and they never lose their footing.

They seem to know instinctively the importance of their role. If they step aside, a gaping hole remains and the girl in the center falls. There is no one to fill their space. Each of them is necessary.

I watch from the sidelines feeling both hollow and filled. Each time I observe a team I am astonished by the wisdom and strength of these young girls, blown away by their mutual encouragement, moved to tears by their interaction with their coaches.

Yet, each time, I walk away feeling alone. Not lonely, but solitary.

I head back to my car mulling over this day’s lesson and the relationship between trust and community. Most of my own involvement in community has been in the outer circle, standing shoulder to shoulder with others. I have yet to spend much time in the middle, as the girl who is trusting.

I chuckle at the realization and my emptiness dissipates. I have witnessed this lesson half a dozen times over the past several seasons. Today I finally get it.

I don’t believe in chance.

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En Pointe

Posted on April 4, 2014. Filed under: Running | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , |

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I’ve never been a “girlie” girl. Until quite recently, I refused to wear pink. I’ve never been big on dresses or diamonds or bling. Other than a couple of unfortunate teen years (why didn’t anyone tell me my hair was so big?), I have tended to shy away from curling irons and bows.

So when my friend, a running coach, made tutus for us to wear last weekend to her training run—big, froufy, glittery, pink and green and white tutus—you’d think I would have refused. Not that she gave me a choice: “I’m sorry—it’s not really a question. It’s just what we’re doing.”

But I did not refuse. We wore our tutus, and for good reason.

Our point was to support Monika Allen, a runner, business owner, and board member of a Girls on the Run council in San Diego who was treated meanly by SELF magazine for running the 2013 LA marathon in a tutu.

Monika had lots of good reasons to wear a tutu, but only one really matters. She wanted to.

Monika had lots of good reasons to run a marathon. One in particular stands out. She was diagnosed in 2012 with inoperable brain cancer and this was her first marathon after undergoing chemo. She was out there to prove to herself that she could do it. She was out there with the support of her friends. She was out there simply being herself. Her bold, beautiful, joyful self.

I was proud to wear this tutu, proud to support someone like Monika and what she stands for. Proud to be part of a program like Girls on the Run that empowers girls to be true to themselves, to not do the kind of thing SELF magazine did.

And I discovered something about tulle and glitter: I like it. No, I love it. How can a person not smile when wearing a tutu? I have never had so much fun running a practice 10k, ever. And I have never seen so many early-morning-grumpy-looking drivers smile so readily as they drove by. How could they not? Tutus spread joy—and a fair amount of glitter—to—or on—all those around them.

My tutu hangs on my office door, where I can see it every day. It reminds me to be strong in the face of adversity. It reminds me to be myself, no matter who’s looking, or who’s not. My tutu will not hang there indefinitely. I fully intend to wear it again, and soon.

 

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Creating Order out of Chaos

Posted on March 21, 2014. Filed under: Running | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , |

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My new training plan is posted on the side of my refrigerator, a black and white grid containing daily directives and empty white space awaiting my penciled-in results. I love a new plan. It’s challenge and promise weigh equally. It gives me a sense of purpose each day. A reason to get out of bed earlier than the birds.  And the direction and clarity to know what to do even after the white space is filled in.

That’s the key, really. The “after” part of completing the daily plan.

Sure, running is the reason for the plan. And, for now, for my new 16-week plan, biking and swimming is too.  It is the reward, the goal, the tool, the end in itself and the means to a greater end all rolled into one. There is freedom in running. There is joy and health and confidence.

But there is more.

Running helps me to create order out of chaos. And chaos is, after all, life, mostly.

It is a million different forces all pressing on us at once, vying for our attention, demanding action.  It is a million bits of information clamoring to be heard, absorbed, incorporated into the design.

It is a million blades of grass forming a raggedly blanket of a lawn that the HOA insists must be flattened and smoothed.

I get tremendous satisfaction in mowing my lawn.  Watching straight lines form in the grass behind my mower, leaving a wake of structure.

So it is with me in running.  The sheer act of physical movement, of allowing my mind the freedom to construct my day, week, month, story, life at the dawn of each day produces the structure for all else.  Without it, I cannot write, at least not well.  Without it, the organization I lead would not be led strategically, compassionately, or wisely, a goal I mindfully set each day, but instead would become like the field behind my house, overgrown with weeds.

My desk has always faced a wall. Until recently, the wall has been blank. Now, a corkboard hangs in front of me, the center space empty, all else tacked to the sides.  Whenever I look up, I see the vision of what will be that my mind’s eye projects there, like a movie on a screen, the endless possibilities a swirl of chaos.  Writing and leading an organization have this in common:  You must always keep your vision in front of you to make the right choices, choose the right ideas, to create order out of the chaos.

My new training plan started this week.  The Royal Empress and Mountain Laurel have just begun to bloom. Their fragrance rolls out before me like a red carpet when I run. There is so much promise in the newness of spring, its plan unfolding.

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