Freedom’s Just Another Word for Nothing Left to Lose

you matter

What follows is important stuff so stay with me on this.

Yesterday, I led a Red Boot Coalition Meeting at the Women’s Jail. Ann Crehore and Sarah Funkhouser were there too.

Sixteen women attended.  The youngest was 18; the oldest, 51. We sat in chairs in a circle.  Dressed in burgundy, blue or white suits, some of these women had been there 8 months.  Others for years.  Several were headed to Federal Prison.  The rest would finish out their stay here.

I read the script we now use to kick off all of our meetings.

“Welcome to The Red Boot Coalition​.  ”

We are here because we recognize that right now the world needs us.

Some of us have known it all along.  For others of us, we have just discovered this, but eventually we all heard and felt the call to that voice inside that says, “I matter.”

We are concerned.  At times, even frightened by the current levels of polarization, apathy, fear and violence in our neighborhoods, communities and nations. Anger, fear, violence, us versus them…it’s everywhere.

We want to do something to make a difference, but we feel so small and powerless…like “What good can I do?  How can I possibly change anything…make a difference?”

Well the part of us that says “I matter” and the part of the world that is crying out for help, have combined forces to bring us here, together.

We’ve talked, researched and explored just HOW we can help and we’ve discovered that what we need to do is really quite simple.

We just do the following 11 steps.”

After a few more words on how the meeting would be conducted, I read Step One.

“We came to see that, despite sometimes feeling helpless, angry and even apathetic about the current course of human events, we each play an essential role in our communities, our families, and our lives. We Matter.”

I continued, “And so, we’ve got about fifty minutes to share and ponder the following questions:  Why do you matter? Who matters to you?  Why do you think some folks feel like they don’t matter?  How can you help others feel and know they matter? ”

Immediately the responses begin.

Our 51 year old was first, “I matter because I can love.  I AM love.  I can support and love the other women here.  I can be a source of strength for the younger ones.”

Someone else:  “I matter because my four year old needs me.  As a matter of fact, I’ll get to speak to her today.  I matter because she knows I love her.  I matter because I do love her.”  A long pause.  “I miss her.”

Another:  “I matter because I am a Child of God.”

At times during the next fifty minutes, I was so giddy with love I could hardly contain myself.  At other times, I felt a profound respect and appreciation for being given the opportunity to learn from these women.  To grow with them.

There were several women who did not speak, at least not at first.  One woman, in her 20’s, strong in stature, stoic at first, cried…she wept actually .  The older woman across from her, acknowledged her tears.  “Sometimes we cry in here and that’s okay.  We can’t run from it. We don’t got nowhere to go so we just got to be here in it…in it together.”

With about ten minutes to go, I asked the women to share ways they could help other women know they matter.  One woman said, “I can tell when someone is having a hard time.  I can walk up to her, say her name and look her in the eye.  I can see her.”

One of the other respected elders said, “I like to serve coffee to the younger ones.  I say to them, ‘You look like you need some coffee.  Can I get that for you?’ and then we  just go sit and talk.”

The youngest one, only 18 years old, had remained silent the entire time.  “Sometimes all it takes is a smile.  Just a smile can change somebody’s day.”

I was awed and truly humbled by their vulnerability and willingness to share like that.

As I walked away I knew I would have to write.  I would have to share another time…a time several weeks ago, when I conducted this very same meeting and this very same step with a group of our city’s wealthiest people…top earners with prestigious titles…fine clothes and private school educated children.

We sat in a circle.

“Why do YOU matter?”  I asked.

The discomfort was immediate…that squirmy feeling that comes when you want to get up and run, but you can’t.  Unlike the response in the jail, the silence was deafening, long and uncomfortable.  For several minutes, a good three or more, not a single one of these well-respected, high income earners could find the answer to that question.

I sat there in the silence with them…that awkward and painful silence remembering in my early 30’s when I had acquired all the things this world had told me (a young Southern woman) would make me matter:  a sexy body, a handsome boyfriend, prestige as an elite athlete, popular on the social scene…and yet I still felt unheard, “unmattered”, lost and without meaning.

When finally the silence was broken by one very brave woman. “Because I am capable of great.

I’m beginning to question everything I’ve ever been told, freedom means 

Crepey is not Creepy

Okay so I crack myself up.  Yes…me, myself and I.

This past Sunday, I decide to watch a little TV while I’m paying some bills.

Now mind you, I’m not a TV watcher.  We have it, but the majority of folks…that would be actually everybody in this household…lean toward Netflix, listening to music and well…that thing we don’t hear much about anymore…silence.

I’m flipping though the 1,234,563rd channel.

Oh hi there one-woman-pulling-out-the-hair-of-another-woman while other women stand around drinking cocktails.

Oh hello, mister-man-in-a-suit yelling at another mister-man-in-a-suit.

Ah…now here’s something…two women (one of them is a famous actress) discussing something that is apparently very important because there is a large audience of women happily clapping at nearly every other word.

I settle in.

Now, let me state for the record…I am almost 55.  Yes, I can hardly believe the words coming out of my mouth, or rather from the tips of my fingers, myself.  I’ve never been happier.  Never felt wholer.  (When you are 55 you can make up words.)  I’ve never actually felt more beautiful.  Now I know that sounds weird to some of my younger sisters, but the truth is…once you get to a certain age the stuff that used to matter, at least as far as bodies go (and all that damn advertising that would suggest otherwise) just doesn’t anymore.

Cellulite?  Ha!  Makes me a woman.  Small breasts?  It appears they are “fashionably popular” again.  Straight, curly, frizzy hair…it’s all good.

But as I became increasingly more mesmerized by the-famous-actress and her lovely interviewer, I realized that I have something that OH MY GOD I DIDN’T KNOW I SHOULD BE WORRIED ABOUT BUT APPARENTLY ITS JUST TERRIBLE TO HAVE…crepey skin.

No…I didn’t say creepy skin.  I said crepey skin.

Now people.  I know and am very grateful that years without tobacco, alcohol and unhealthy foods coupled with exercise and a positive outlook, have made me look younger than some would expect.  But suddenly while watching this ad, I began to realize that I am old.

Why?  Because I have what is now being marketed by a slew of people as something I should apparently be very ashamed of…crepey skin.  I hadn’t ever really noticed my crepey skin.  I just thought it was skin that had been around a while…skin that had covered an otherwise healthy 55 year old body for 55 years…skin that enjoyed the wind, a child’s touch…a lover’s touch.  :)   Skin that turned brown in the sun and skin that protected the organs, blood vessels and muscles underneath.  Skin that stretched across my belly when I was pregnant with my kids…skin that itched, got freckles and turned red when I ran.

I watched that whole damn infomercial and by the time it was over I actually went to the website that touted erasing the wrinkly crepey skin.

Since that ad, I’ve talked with a few of my 40 plus sisters and it seems that everyone else knew about the dreaded crepey skin.  They knew the word, the dread, the products associated with removing it.

I’m not sure why I’m sharing all this except here I sit on Thursday morning and I’m still thinking about the impact this silly little infomercial had on me.  I’m thinking about the ads that constantly bombard our girls about their beauty.  I’m thinking about the industries that make millions and millions of dollars suggesting that what we look like…just isn’t pretty enough.  I’m thinking about how beautiful I felt Sunday morning on my long run…with nothing on but a jog bra, shorts and running shoes…apparently unaware of just how awful and offensive my crepey skin looked to every one around me.

And now, I’m thinking about my mother…and how she touched the soul of everyone she knew…how people still tell me about how she changed their life…about some of my friends who are sixty five and older and how they are wise, courageous, peaceful and strong…the women who impact me with their presence, their power, their gentle prodding to keep on in the work that I do.

Red Boot Ride 2015: Meeting the Ripple People

red boot ride 2015 title

Here it is.  This year’s Red Boot Ride awaits and it requires your participation.  As in I really need you to make this all happen.

• The journey will take place from July 7th to August 4th.

• And yes…once again, I will be renting a convertible for the trip. I am after all, a blonde-Southern-middle-aged-cowboy-boot-wearing-white-woman.  Mustang convertibles were designed for people like me

• Starting now through June 10th, write me at theredbootcoalition@gmail.com and share the story of one person who deeply influenced the path your life has taken.  I am calling the subject of your essays the “Ripple People.”  They are real, honest, gritty and authentic.  They leave a wake of wonder and love behind them.

(Of course, we can all name those folks who may have inadvertently influenced us in a negative way with an unintended unkind word or even an intended one. I’m not looking for those people.)

I’m looking for that person, who with the smallest of actions unknowingly set your life on a course that forever changed you…a course for which you feel an immense amount of gratitude…a course that has undoubtedly freed you to be the person you are today.

Maybe it was the housekeeper at your elementary school, who comforted you one afternoon when you were crying.

Maybe it was the teacher, who believed in you and expected nothing short of extraordinary.

Maybe it was your first boss who, over a simple cup of coffee one day, encouraged you to think bigger about your future.

I want to hear about THOSE people, who by just living and going about their daily lives, changed yours.

• Your essays need to be in by June 10th.  I will then select 15 to 20 of these life-changing “Ripple People” and hit the road, July 7th through August 4th, to meet them.  If your “essay” was selected, I hope you will join me.  We can all sit down, over a cup of coffee, a good meal or a long walk and get to know each other—for you, again, and for me, the first time. It will be, I imagine, a time of tender thanks and gentle remembering.

I will share these encounters by writing about them and (if I can get one of my teenaged children to show me) filming them.

• In between these scheduled and more structured stops, I’ll be asking people in coffee shops, restaurants, gyms and convenience stores to tell me about one of their “Ripple People.”  Who knows what we will see, uncover, experience and learn over the course of these four weeks?

• So, Let’s Do This.  Send in your essays to theredbootcoalition@gmail.com.

As a quick sidebar…in some instances the subject of your essay may have passed away.  Their story is still worth telling…so I’ll figure that out somehow.  As a matter of fact, all the stories you guys send in, will find space in this journey.   Just not quite sure how yet.

Any questions?  Write ‘em here or email them along with your essay at theredbootcoalition@gmail.com.

Oh Goodness…what have I gotten myself into this go ‘round.  I’m sure whatever it is, it’s really, really good and its chock full of love.  Cause that’s how this all works.  Remember?

I’m in KINDERGARTEN. 

On my way to. Red Boot Meeting, this happened.

Molly standing in line at Starbucks. She notices a very short human, of the girl gender, standing next to her. Said human is wearing a fabulous maxi skirt, pink and green, with matching running shoes and a blingy tshirt with the words Selwyn Elementary.
Molly to girl:  So, are YOU in Girls on the Run?
Fantastic little human places her hands on her hips and gives a slight sassy look. “I’m in KINDERGARTEN.”
Molly:  Oh, I thought you were older.
Girl gives a satisfied nod.
Molly:  Are you a runner?  I noticed your running shoes.
Girl: Yeah, I am.
Pause then girl speaks. “I run around on the playground.”
Molly: Cool
Girl:  Do you go to Selwyn?
Molly:  I’m 54.
Girl:  Oh.
We wait for our drinks. Her mom smiles.
Watch out world. This one is a powerful.

Loving Gwyneth Paltrow

For the record I do not know Gwyneth Paltrow.  As a matter of fact, I know very little about her; but in the past few days I’ve become somewhat fascinated with how much a portion of the population  seems to enjoy bashing her. This past weekend when opening up the newsfeed on my Facebook page, I came across  a recent article about Ms. Paltrow.  The piece, posted by someone I didn’t know, appeared on my newsfeed because it was posted on one of my Facebook Friend’s page. The post referenced a comment made by Ms. Paltrow. “Gwyneth Paltrow said in People Magazine, “I’m incredibly close to the common woman, in that I’m a woman and I’m a mother, and we are all in a physical body with beating hearts, with compassion and love.”  The post continues….”please decipher for the common woman and common mother.” Since reading this post on Saturday morning, this quote from Ms. Paltrow has made more rounds on the internet…thousands and thousands actually. The comments being said about her, based on that one reference are in the millions at this point.  Millions.  And none of them are nice. Here’s a small sampling: “Ms. Paltrow is like a common woman only if a common woman is full of shit.” “Bruce Jenner is more of a common woman.” “She needs to march her organic eating, gloop writing ass onto her spaceship and go back to her planet.” “What a f’ing MORON!” As the founder of a girls empowerment program and the mother to two children, these words disturb me…not just a little bit, but a lot. I decided to dig a little deeper.  I found the original piece featuring Ms. Paltrow and was not surprised to see that she was set up by the interviewer to respond with the word “common” as part of her response.  The interviewer uses the expression “common woman” in her question: “So do you think you are anything remotely close to the common woman now?” Her response when taken out of context, as was done here by People Magazine and even CNN the originator of the interview, intentionally takes us to our worst common denominator…to the negative and mean comments being said about her.  As someone who works with young girls…I try to teach that so much of what we see and read on the web is pulled out of context in order to generate this kind of vitriolic debate and in the end…dollars for the publications . Here is a link to the original interview. http://money.cnn.com/video/luxury/2015/03/17/gwyneth-paltrow-goop-im-close-to-the-common-woman.cnnmoney/ As a flip to the story, watch what happens when I pull Ms. Paltrow’s comments out of context, like this, instead:  “…I’m a woman and I’m a mother and we are all in a physical body with beating hearts with compassion and love.  We are all seekers.  We all want fulfillment.  We all want to live our best lives.  We want to be healthy and happy and squeeze the most we can out of life.  I think that’s all women.” Totally different perspective, right? Whatever the case, I see Celebrity Bashing as no different than bullying.  It’s mean.  It’s hurtful.  It’s painful.  It’s unproductive.  And to put it as simply as I possibly can.  It makes me mad and even more so, sad. And yet the part that REALLY gets to me and is  THE bigger challenge I find in having this dialogue is best articulated by my friend Omar Sharif​. “This sort of bashing is not really the problem. It’s a symptom of a much deeper self-loathing.” And boy do I get it. I get it totally. I’ve been there, done that and still find myself there every once in a while. And so for me the even harder question is how can I somehow express compassion for those who bash…because after all…it’s the lack of it that led to the bashing in the first place.

My guess is…somewhere along the line the bashing and bullying started because someone bashed and bullied them. And this is the point in all of this where my frustration levels go crazy. How do we stop this endless insane way of engaging with the world around us?

It’s not easy. It’s kind of  like looking in the mirror using a mirror. The anger begets more anger and so the image continues.
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So, I guess I just gotta keep doing what I’m doing.  Asking the hard questions, trying my darnedest to be kind to the people around me and adding some compassion to the answer…including a toss of it in your direction.

#MillionthGirl

This spring season Girls on the Run will serve “her” millionth girl.

I remember back in 1997…I was about four seasons in and the demand for the program was growing.  The fabulous Dori Luke​ came on board to help me manage the demand as well as offer her right-minded thinking to my left-brained feeling.  She created more games and lessons and gave so much to the framework that GOTR still uses today!

One day she said.  “Hey…my Mom has worked in the adolescent psychology field for some time now.  She is specifically an expert in the field of eating disorders.  I bet she would take a look at the curriculum and give her feedback on it…some pointers if necessary.”

I remember immediately feeling afraid.  The self-doubt that plagued me for much of my life, reared it’s ugly head.  “You don’t know what you are doing, Molly.  There are others more qualified to write this, lead this, DO this.”

A couple weeks later Dori’s Mom, Sue Luke​ contacted me and invited me to meet her.  We met at the Harris YMCA.  I dropped my almost two-year old Hank off at the childcare and promptly made my way to the food court.

There she was.  I remember her as bigger than life.  Confident, welcoming and strong.

I sat down across from her.  My guess is there was some small talk, but to tell you the truth I remember nothing of it.  All I remember is sitting there waiting…nervous…wondering what this accomplished woman would say.

And as I recall…it went a little something like this.

Sue:  “Well Molly.  I want to thank you for letting me take a look at the curriculum.  I’ve gone through it thoroughly.”

Molly:  “Uh…Your welcome, I guess?”

Sue:  “I think it’s important that I just cut to the chase.”

Molly:

Sue:  Her hands now rest on the front of the curriculum.  “Molly, what you have here is truly remarkable.  It’s amazing.  It is life-changing.”

Molly: A deep sigh.

Sue:  “So, I don’t think we need to ponder another moment about the effectiveness of the program or the loving spirit in which it was written.  Of those I am certain.

I do, however, think you have a bigger issue…a bigger problem…a bigger question…to ponder.”

Molly:  “Yes.  And what is that?”

Sue:  “My question to you is this:  Do you keep Girls on the Run to yourself and affect a hundred girls a year or do you give it away and affect millions?”

I can remember feeling her words fall down upon my shoulders at first like heavy weights.  My mind was in chaos.  “NO!  I can never give this away.  No one could ever love this program like I do.  No one could ever love the girls as deeply as I do.  No…I’m afraid.  I’m very afraid and I do not want to give it away.”

And then the next moments…like grace, like love, like all things beautiful, real and pure… fell down upon my shoulders like wings.  Yes…like wings.

Because it was then…in those moments…where I remembered Sue’s beautiful daughter Dori,  Dori…who had shown up when I needed her, shown up on days when I was sick.  Shown up on nights when I wanted to quit, give up, cry, scream, shout.  Dori who lifted me up when the cynics ridiculed me for thinking something like this could work, or called me names for In their words, trying to masculinize young girls.

I remembered her daughter Dori, who loved our girls as deeply and as passionately as I did…who coached with an open heart, an open mind and the willingness to be vulnerable.  Dori, who shared her full, whole and authentic self with me…

And like magic Sue’s words no longer felt like weights…they were wings.  Wings to set me free from myself…and to know that if Dori could be these things, then surely there were others.

And there were others.  Lots of them.   They are you…reading this now or sharing this with others. Coaches, Council Directors, Volunteers, Sponsors, Contributors…it has taken literally hundreds of thousands of you both directly and indirectly to not only make this millionth girl milestone for GOTR come to fruition, but to support each other in the process of doing so.  The connections run deep…not just between coach and girl, but coach and coach, coach and staff, person to person!

Our millionth girl.  I nearly weep as I write this.  What a day!  What a glorious day!  The world is better because you stepped up to make it so.

I honor you.  I honor you.  I honor you!!!!!

Full Circle.

Today will be a day of great emotion for me.

My own daughter Helen…is being trained to be a Girls on the Run coach.

When I started Girls on the Run in 1996, she wasn’t born yet.

While I was pregnant with her, (I knew I was having a little girl), I wrote the piece that follows for our local newspaper. Runner’s World picked up on the program as did four very brave women who attended our first ever Girls on the Run training in August of 1998. I was SO pregnant and it was SO hot, and I was SO elated.

At that point, in my life I hadn’t experienced anything quite so beautiful, as being pregnant with a little girl and expanding (in more ways than one might I add :)) the program that was so dear to my heart to four cities outside my own.

Well, I can say that TODAY is as beautiful a day and one that brings me more joy than I thought possible.

Helen, my girl, I am proud of your strength, your courage and most of all your willingness to, as this piece first introduced to the world, shatter the Girl Box and choose a life defined by no one but You!!! Go get ’em.

Here’s that article:

” In 1976, I bought my first pair of running shoes. I was fifteen, and like most girls that age, trying to figure out who I was inside a changing body. I desperately wanted to fit in with the popular crowd, but I couldn’t fit into the box it placed over my spirit. The box told me things I knew in my heart weren’t true: That the way I behaved and looked was more important than who I was inside. That being a woman meant being quiet and submissive. That having a boyfriend meant having to mold my body and actions to meet prescribed cultural standards. But I stepped in anyway. The years I spent trying to mold my thoughts, body, lifestyle and being into what the box required were extremely painful.

So I ran. I’d put on my running shoes and head for the woods, the streets, wherever my feet would take me. I felt strong. Beautiful. Powerful.

July 7th, 1993 – I remember it well. I put on my running shoes and went for a sunset run. I am not sure during what point of the run the box disappeared, but like a glass womb, it shattered around me and pushed me out, born to an entirely new freedom. It was a moment of personal awakening.

A year later, I began to write the Girls on the Run curriculum. The concept, however, was born long before. It was born in 8th grade when a boy in my class told me that I looked like a boy. It was born when a young woman, weighing 85 pounds and starving herself, told me she needed to lose weight to be beautiful. It was born when a pregnant thirteen-year-old and I took a long walk in the woods.

Girls on the Run is a lot more than a running program. It will, I believe, lead to an entire generation of girls living peacefully and happily outside of the Girl Box.

In the year 2030, I’ll be 70. My daughter will be 32. If I have anything to say about it, she will never have to climb out of the Girl Box. Girls on the Run will shatter these constraints, like the spirit did for me that July night and help her and other girls feel comfortable simply being themselves.”

(Helen is second from the right.)

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