2020 and Clear Vision

A lot of people are talking about 2020 as the year of clear vision, and I like it.  I want to see clearly this year.  Easier said than done.  Am I the only one who can hear the voice of my biggest critic louder than my supporters?

Seriously, there could be 10 people telling me that they appreciate me, that they love my work, and that they are thankful for various initiatives I’ve led, and I will feel appreciated in the moment but replay the opposite feedback in my head…over and over and over.  I think it comes down to this for me…

It is an important value of mine to treat all people with respect and equitable care.  So when that critic raises concerns, I truly want to listen.  I also truly want them to see that I am not an ass, when maybe I should just focus on making sure they feel appreciated and valued while letting their opinions go.  Valuing the person while disagreeing with their perspectives is hard.  Really hard.  Isn’t easier to just write the person off altogether, or work to win their approval?  What will it look like to value the person while letting their hurtful words fall like snowflakes on warm ground, disappearing as if they never existed?

That is what it will take for me to have clear vision in 2020.

Leading Community Development

The funny thing about developing a community is that it throws a wrench in the whole “work life balance” conversation.  My job is literally to facilitate the development and growth of a community, specifically at Inspire Academy, a community that grows and learns together.  Guess what happens when you foster the conditions that result in a living, breathing, dreaming community?  Friendships are developed.  Real, deep friendships, focused on a common mission, and everyone realizing their full potential.

Do I work with some of my closest friends?  Absolutely.  Were they my closest friends before the work or would we find ourselves in the same place without the work?  Probably not.  One of our staff norms at Inspire Academy is to unite around a shared vision and serve a common purpose. This is what a meaningful life is made of.  So, yes, many of my closest friends are work friends…friends I met through the work.  They’re also life friends because we’ve structured our lives around the work and around community.  People are drawn toward community, and I am no exception.  My community brings me joy and friendship.

So how do we turn off the work in a situation like this?  Some would say we never do, but that is not entirely accurate.  We make sure that we turn off the parts that drain us, the parts that are taxing, the parts that we just need to get done.  We turn those parts off but continue in the relationships and the joy-giving parts of the community.

We’re all in this together, friends.  Let’s make sure work/life balance is related to setting tasks aside, not people.


Assessment and Joy

These two words don’t go together…just ask anyone who works in education.  So how do we bring them together?  Outcomes.  What?  Outcomes, aren’t those assessments?  Maybe…but let’s dig a little deeper.

I’ve spent hours recently aligning State Standards (things the State determines every child should learn) with the State assessment (the way the State measures if every child is learning these things) and determining which of these things our teachers should prioritize with students.  (After all, none of us can be good at everything!) 

As I did this, I got excited. What if our kids could actually do all of this?  What if my standards aren’t too high, but actually reasonable?  High standards ignite hope because they represent belief…belief that we can prepare kids to reach new heights, belief that teachers can empower students with knowledge and skills, belief that we are more than our critics believe we are.

What if standards, and assessment of how well we’re meeting those standards, could serve as a catalyst of belief and hope instead of a catalyst of condemnation and criticism?  What would this look like?

We need more joy in education.  We need kids to believe that we believe they will lead our world to new accomplishments.  We need teachers to believe that it is possible for kids to break the painful patterns they have inherited.  We need teachers, administrators, and parents to spend time getting to know each other as fellow humans in this journey of life.  What if parents, teachers, and administrators actually became friends and co-conspirators for a stronger community together?

We’re all in this together, friends.  Let’s assess progress to ensure the outcome of a meaningful path for each student as they do what we all do, find their way through this life in a way that brings meaning and joy.

Evening in Missoula: A Sabbath Reflection

A week and a half into our Sabbath Year grand finale trip, we ran into a curveball. We had planned to drive up the east side of Glacier National Park and camp on the east side before driving west through the park on our way to Seattle. As we began more detailed planning, we found out that only vehicles much smaller than our beloved skoolie are allowed on Going-to-the Sun Road, the only road through Glacier National Park, so we began looking at a route further west to take us from Yellowstone to Glacier on the west side of the park. This would enable us to explore the western areas of the park that our bus can handle. While looking at the map to reroute our trip, I noticed a city named Missoula within reach.

As most of you know, I’m a tea drinker, specifically herbals. One of my favorite teas is “Evening in Missoula.” I hoped that my tea was named after the Missoula I found on the map because any city with a tea named after it has to be magical. I decided to spend an evening in Missoula because, if nothing else, being able to say I spent an evening in Missoula would be enough to bring me joy.

Honoring the cycle of Sabbath is about taking time to pause, be in the moment, and enjoy rest.

So off we headed to Missoula. This is typical Sabbath Year behavior for me…some people call it “whimsy.” Following the breezes, following the heart, pursuing joy and restoration. We pulled in late at night, parked the skoolie, and went to sleep. It was too late to officially count as spending an evening in Missoula, so we planned to stay through the next day so that I could satisfactorily check an evening in Missoula off my list.

As we awoke the next morning, Andrew asked me what I wanted to do. My list was pretty simple: find a teashop and spend an evening in Missoula. Well, Missoula did not let us down. We found multiple teashops, breweries, and distilleries, along with a downtown arts and music night complete with over a dozen food trucks.

Missoula was not perfect; it had a visible homelessness problem, and the city’s punitive approach to the problem was also quite visible. But for me, this was a helpful reminder that there is work to be done in every city…even a city with an herbal tea named after it!

We started our morning at some beautiful, riverfront playgrounds and parks. We rode on a carousel that was constructed by a man with a dream who rallied community members to raise funds and donate volunteer hours to make it happen. School children raised over a million pennies toward the project. All the horses on the carousel were hand carved by volunteers. This is, indeed, a city where dreams are valued. We watched people get in their wet suits and go surfing on the rapids in the ice, cold river. (Surely, this is more dangerous than surfing in the ocean, as rapids in a river are caused by rocks, right?!?) We took our dogs with us to all the parks, something we couldn’t do in the national parks.

By early afternoon, we decided it was time to put the dogs back in the skoolie and pursue lunch at a local place. We found a brewery, and it was already past 3:00, so we enjoyed wings and a ridiculously large portion of loaded nachos at happy hour prices.

Next, we walked to what looked like the best teashop within walking distance, Liquid Planet. Surely, if this is the right Missoula, they would have my tea, “Evening in Missoula.” Oh. My. Goodness. Liquid Planet was amazing!  They had oodles of varieties of bulk teas and bulk ingredients to make your own teas. They had so many wines, including some local, sulfite-free, organic wines. They had bulk hot cocoas…a spicy and a mild. They had all the things, so we bought our boys some coffee drinks (a rare treat for them), and I took my time enjoying all the things to kick off my evening in Missoula.

Next we went to a distillery. God bless the Wild West, where we can enjoy wineries, breweries, and distilleries with kids in tow. (It felt like being back in Europe, in an odd kind of way. Random fact: did you know that alcoholism rates are higher in places with historical Puritan prohibition values than in places where alcohol has always been an accepted part of the culture?)   It was here at the distillery that we all sat and talked and laughed and realized that we prefer the urban life to the rural life, even though the national parks are beautiful.

After the distillery, we headed to the park with the outdoor music and food trucks, the same park as the carousel. In only a few short minutes, we decided that summer in Missoula is quite different than summer in Muncie and headed back to the bus for some extra layers. It wasn’t long before we were back in the park, bundled up for a summer evening in Missoula and enjoying music and good food.

 I didn’t find any gluten free, warm desserts in the food trucks, so we made one more stop at Masala, an Indian restaurant, for some delicious rice and coconut fudge with saffron to take back to the bus.

After a cold walk in the rain (Ya’ll, the northwest is fun to visit, but I could not live in a place where summer is this cold and rainy!), we drove the skoolie to the Cabela’s parking lot, turned on our fireplace, and settled in for the night, calling our evening in Missoula complete.

I needed that evening in Missoula before I was ready for more wilderness adventures. May each of you follow the breezes more, follow your hearts more, and pursue joy and restoration more. I know I hope to do more of this during the weekly Sabbath cycle that continues beyond the Sabbath Year. A little bit of rest, a little bit of “whimsy,” provides the energy and sustainability for the adventures of our life work.

On a Consistent Ethic of Valuing Life

One friend described me saying, “Leslie’s a pacifist, but she’s a fighter.”  I kind of like that description!  When people hear the term pacifist, they often think of passivity, but the reality is that I am far from passive, and my journey into pacifism is a result of this.

As a Christian, I believe it is wrong to take the life of another human being.  I am a pacifist.

All throughout my upbringing, I was taught that abortion was murder, and therefore, wrong.  I believed it, and to the dismay of some of my liberal friends, I still do.  I don’t believe abortion justly falls under the umbrella of women’s rights.  I believe the fetus is an incredibly vulnerable human life that deserves protection, just like it does out of the uterus.

But here’s where I moved from traditional “pro-life” (aka – anti-abortion) to a consistent ethic of valuing human life.  In Sunday School one day, I raised the subject of just war and abortion.  I don’t remember how I framed the question, as it was decades ago now, but I was never satisfied with anyone’s answer.  If we as Christians believe that abortion is the unjust killing of a vulnerable human life, wouldn’t the rates of abortions justify the bombing of abortion clinics?  No one said yes, and yet they all believed in just war theory…arguably any war theory.  In my experience in American White Evangelicalism, cultural rules and boundaries are equal influencers in life decisions as Scripture, though no one would frame it this way.  Basically, it was culturally obvious that bombing an abortion was a ludicrous thing to do, but culturally obvious that nationally sanctioned bombings of other nations was respectable.

Basically, in my teen years, I came to the conclusion that, to be consistent, I either had to be a pacifist or join the ranks of defending abortion bombers as equally justified alongside World War II bombers.  The pragmatist in me decided that being a pacifist was the safer bet, and as I’ve grown and matured, I absolutely embrace the ideals of true pacifism.  I believe that genocide is wrong.  I believe that abortion is wrong.  I believe that euthanasia is wrong.  I believe that the death penalty is morally wrong, never mind horrendously archaic and carelessly sentenced.  I have told my family in writing that, if I am ever murdered, I do not want my murderer put to death.  I believe that war is wrong, and I do not think that Christians should serve in the military.  I do not keep weapons in my house, but my dogs will do a number on you, so don’t get any ideas!

I chose to write a blog entry on this topic because someone put the following comment in response to my support of a Christian Democrat running for presidential office:  “Anyone who supports abortion is not demonstrating the Christian faith. I do not respect this man.”  Ouch!  Comments like this are spiritual abuse and manipulation, and I will not vote for a man with the complete disregard for human dignity and human life shown by our current president.  I will not succumb.  I have good friends who have had abortions, and many times, it happens due to male manipulation and pressure.  Based on our current president’s sexual lifestyle, I would be very surprised if he hasn’t paid for abortions.  I don’t care what supreme court judge he nominates, to call our current president pro-life is a disgrace.  I wouldn’t even call him anti-abortion.

You see, there is not a single presidential candidate that demonstrates a consistent ethic of valuing human life to the extreme that I believe it should be valued.  A president’s job includes authorizing the killing of human life.  It just does.  (One of many reasons why I would never run for president…my religious views would prohibit me from doing the job.)  I believe that it is important to vote.  I believe democracy is important.  While our system is very flawed, and we have a long way to go in improving equal access and representation in our voting system, I still believe it is important to participate in the process and exercise our right to vote.

I am not a Republican, and I am not a Democrat.  I believe both parties have strengths in various areas, and I believe that various voices are needed at the table to make the decisions that are best for our nation.  I sift through the candidates, and I consider who has the most consistent value for all human life, in speech, in deed, and in policy.

A few other thoughts on abortion specifically:

The number of abortions in the US has consistently been going down every year.  There are much more effective ways to reduce abortion rates than voting for Republican presidents who, to date, have not proven effective at changing abortion law.  Services to women and children have been proven more effective in reducing abortion rates, and as a general rule, Democrats tend to pass budgets and policies that support more of those services.  Even if a Republican president did indirectly change abortion law through the appointment of very conservative supreme court justices (unlikely), it would simply return the power to each state.  Very few states would actually criminalize abortion, and for those that did, the result would simply be that women travel to neighboring states for procedures.  The best protection this would provide for unborn children is cutting back on impulsive abortions of convenience, which, admittedly, is something, but not much.

We need to be careful how we talk about abortion.  When people talk about abortion politically, they are often horribly under-informed on the vast array of procedures that initiate doctors to click the abortion box on paperwork.  I have friends who have had pregnancies terminate of natural causes that were still marked abortions.  I have had friends who have made the hard decision to terminate a pregnancy because choosing to let the pregnancy take its natural course would have ended the lives of both the mother and the developing fetus.  I have also had friends and family choose life who were advised to otherwise, and sometimes it turns out beautifully (for instance, my husband is alive and affirming value in the lives around him) and other times it turns out incredibly painfully (saying goodbye to a child within minutes or months or years).  If you choose to vote based on this one issue, please be incredibly careful with your words.  As Scripture says, “The tongue can bring death or life.”

I, Too, Have Put My Life on the Line for This Country

I often feel like people say they served to protect our country as a way to stop voices of dissent, and dare I say, revolution.  This gravely concerns me because I believe that one of America’s most important freedoms that we need to protect is the freedom to question those in leadership.  Leadership is hard.  I’m a leader; I get it.  But the populous must be free to question the decisions and belief systems of voted, public leaders.  If I ever run for office, I know that I will be signing up for public scrutiny and questions.  It’s not easy, it’s not comfortable, but it needs to be part of a healthy, free democratic society.  I am always under-impressed when a public official acts offended at this questioning and accountability.

I am a pacifist, so I don’t carry a weapon, but this doesn’t mean I’m a wimp or naive and entitled.  (Don’t worry – I won’t run for president as a pacifist.  I recognize that my religious beliefs would interfere with my ability to do the job.) . I put my life on the line for this country 180 days a year for 5 years and continue to do so many days each year on an ongoing basis.  You see, I am a public educator, and one who opened a school six short months after the Sandy Hook shooting.  What I didn’t know at the time was that this would become an alarmingly frequent pattern in our country.  I am here to protect and to serve our students, our next generation of voters, the same people that military personnel sign up to protect and serve.  More specifically, I am the top office in a public school building.  This means it is my responsibility to put myself in harm’s way to protect the lives of staff and children if a gunman walks into the building that I am in charge of protecting and serving.

I don’t carry a gun because I don’t believe that “good guys” killing people is better than “bad guys” killing people.  (As a matter of fact, I don’t believe there are “good guys” and “bad guys” at all, and I strive to dismantle these mentalities in staff, students, and families.)  I don’t carry a gun because I believe that choosing when to end a human life is God’s decision, not mine, but that doesn’t mean I’m not a fighter.  As one friend described me, “Leslie’s a pacifist, but she’s a fighter.”  I have no problem asserting my authority and making people leave the premises as needed.  I have no problem grabbing the nearest chair or desk and using it to knock an armed intruder unconscious or break his knees.  I am trained in restraint and am comfortable incapacitating someone until help arrives.  I believe in protecting people.  I believe in protecting our rights.

And I believe in standing up to a bully in the highest office.  I have been a school leader under two different presidents, and I can tell you that the way the president behaves impacts the way students behave, as well as the systems that impact their existence.

I am incredibly thankful to live in a country where I can speak up when I see a leader harming our country.  I am also comfortable living and working together with those who believe differently than I do, including those who believe it is in the best interest of some human beings to kill other human beings.  That being said, I expect people to respect that I protect and serve the American people every day, not with a gun, but with my mind, my words, and my actions.

I Found My Categorical Placement!

My entire life, I have felt like I don’t quite fit into the categories people create to define each other. In truth, this has brought me a lot of pride, to be indefinable, and a lot of frustration, as people just never quite “get” me. As I was exercising on my bike this morning…that is propped on an indoor stand between my bed and my closet, with my “Happy Light” shining on me and listening to a TedTalk  (just trying to paint a picture of my oddities for you)…I was introduced to myself. I learned from this TedTalk that there is a category of people labeled “originals.”

I am an “original.”

Many of you will respond like my husband, “Yes, you are!”

But really, it’s a thing!  While being categorically labeled as an original doesn’t feel very original, I’m super excited to discover why the things that drive everyone crazy about me are also the things that help me make a visible impact on society.

Below is the TedTalk:


If you took the time to listen to the whole TedTalk, you now understand me and how my brain works a little bit better. Fast to start, slow to finish, pauses to think a lot in between, and yes, I use Google Chrome!

Through sabbath rest, reflection, reading, conversations, counseling, and the current status of my career journey, I am learning to trust my own expertise.  In counseling one day, I mentioned in passing how I used to think all the people in high positions in public education knew way more than me but that I have figured out no one truly knows what they’re doing and everyone is just finding their way and doing their best.  In similar passing fashion, my counselor said, “We call that Imposter’s Syndrome.”  We move on.  I thought she was saying that everyone pretends to know what they’re doing, but no one really does.  A few weeks go by, we’re talking again…this time about whether all the pressure I feel is coming from the inside or outside, and I shared an example about an advisor of mine who I respect highly and holds an MAE from Harvard.  I was expressing how hard it is to sift through his advice, taking some pieces and leaving others, without feeling the pressure to follow everything he says because he’s super smart (don’t know if I said smarter than me…may have) and knows his stuff.  She quickly replied, “on paper.”  I suddenly thought, “She thinks I’m really smart and know my stuff.”  Mind blown.  So I decided to Google “imposter’s syndrome” after that session to see what she was really saying in her brief comment a few weeks prior, and I found this:  themuse.com/advice/5-different-types-of-imposters-symdrome-and-5-ways-to-battle-each-one.  Wait a second!  After just the introduction to the article, I realized this therapist (with a PhD) was saying I was underestimating my own expertise, not overestimating others’ expertise.  (For those of you who read the article, I’m probably a combo of “The Superwoman” and “The Expert” in the article.) Again, mind blown!

I guess I’m a smart, competent, successful “original.”  Who knew?!?

We doubt our ideas, not our value as a person.  We fear failure, but we fear failure to try even more.  There are many of us out there, and apparently, we are the people that really change the world, which is the scariest, most exciting outcome I could dream of!

Here’s to trusting my own expertise in the coming months and years and continuing to generate a high volume of ideas worth trying, to find the ones that will truly make a difference in our society.