Wandering Through Nothingness

A Little Something from Molly Barker

George Clooney. A Hammock. Congress.

First…if you don’t know me…I and others have likened me to Camp Counselor Hippy Chick Girl whose mission in life is to get everyone on the bus to sing together…to be and live into a big bold love…that not only moves lives, but shifts systems. I knew from the moment I started spending time on Capitol Hill that I was different. With heart tattoos on each wrist, one facing me and the other facing out, I felt different. I dressed different. I smiled way too much and I laughed far too easily. I wore Red Boots, made eye contact and would somehow get even the most political of folks to eventually talk about where joy finds them. I was hopeful, optimistic and inspired by the energy in DC.

I was already warm when I walked in for our first meeting. Summer in DC is hot. Capitol Hill was, after all, built on a swamp. Scheduled to occur in the Congressional Member’s office, my colleague and I arrived early. We were totally stoked. The Congressional Member had agreed to come on board a new program I was founding, that would engage our elected officials in heart driven/compassionate dialogue AND activity with children. We were thrilled to be going over details with his staff in preparation for our “kick off” scheduled for September.

When we arrived, three staffers suggested we move on over to the Capitol cafeteria. The walk over was several minutes and I tried to engage in dialogue with the member’s staff, but it just wasn’t happening. My gut started to fill me in that something wasn’t going quite as we had hoped.

We finally arrived at the cafeteria, sat at a table, the three of them on their side of the table and myself and my colleague over “here.”

Before I could even utter a thank you so much for agreeing to participate or thank you so much for meeting with us, the team leader began. “I don’t know what you think you are doing, but what you provided for us in your last document exchange and what we originally signed up for appear to me to be two completely different programs.”

I’m blindsided…trying to grasp what’s suddenly going on. The words coming out of his mouth are so foreign to what I expected that I’m now relying on other indicators to intuit what’s actually happening. I notice that the veins on his neck are beginning to really bulge and I think I see sweat rolling down the sides of his face. His fists appear clenched and his face is very, very tight. His press secretary is uncomfortably texting or checking email and the other person, is opening a notebook, flipping pages and looking for a pen.

The whole situation was feeling a lot like that yucky weird taste you get in your mouth when you take a big ole’ swig of what you think is milk and it turns out to be orange juice.

“If my boss signs up for this, he will be literally laughed out of the next election.” His tone is, as I’m perceiving it, now moving into that panicked pitch that would suggest an internal meltdown of some sort. “We thought this was going to be some kind of simple little running program where my boss would run through the neighborhood with a group of kids. All this other stuff about bringing people together around a common goal, heart-driven and compassionate leadership…isn’t what we signed up for.”

And this is where my world shifted several degrees on its axis. I stopped hearing him. I knew, in theory, this project was going up against the political status quo, but now I was experiencing it firsthand. I wasn’t sure I was equipped to handle this. This is too scary and not the empowered moment I had pictured.

I literally went into the fight or flight response mechanism our bodies are so beautifully equipped to engage when we are faced with danger…I wasn’t sure whether I was seriously going to lose control of all my bodily functions, vomit, faint or have a heart attack. I don’t think I had ever been in a meeting such as this.

Once I had regained control of my body and decided not to fight I then interestingly made a very conscious decision to flee. Now this isn’t as it would appear. I didn’t get up from the table and run away. I , instead, decided that cuddling up in a hammock with George Clooney, in a small bungalow on the coast of Costa Rica was a far better location than where I was…so…I went there for a few minutes. You think I’m kidding, but I’m not. I think at some point, a small smile may have crossed these lips o’ mine.

Occasionally small snippets of what the staffer was sharing with me would come floating in…like small wisps of tropical breeze…stuff like “kum-ba-yah”, “can’t build Rome in a day”, “did you really think this would work?”…you know, stuff like that.

Eventually he finished. I honestly cannot tell you whether it was three minutes, five minutes or ten, but when he was done, he was done.

I returned from that glorious vacation in Costa Rica and did what any rested, relaxed person would do. I started to breathe. Now I want you guys to realize that breathing in DC doesn’t happen very often. I think people in DC pant, hold their breath and or talk, but it isn’t often that they really breathe.

And after two to three breaths and the blood had redistributed itself evenly throughout my body again and fainting or throwing up was no longer an option, I actually spoke.

“Wow. I am so surprised by this, that I literally do not have a response [or at least one that doesn't throw me into the same fearful arena he and every other DC politician frustratingly find themselves in, I'm thinking.] I’m not sure what to say or whether I am even present, so if you will allow me a moment or two, I’m going to take some deep breaths.”

As I reflect on this whole exchange, it is at this point where I find myself almost hysterically laughing. I began what yogi’s call their Ujjayi Breath.

(To totally complete your visual of this whole thing check out the Ujjayi Tutorial on the internet. )

(I think at some point the staffer attempted to speak and I think I gently reminded him that I was breathing and needed a few more seconds. And if I’m totally honest, I’m not sure that everything I’m reporting is completely factual. I was in a state of trying to interpret incoming foreign data and so much of what was coming in is my perception rather than absolute truth…ironically we often confuse our perception with our truth. Anyway, I digress.)

Once I finished up my ten deep breaths, from that point on, there was a softening in our exchange…and while I can’t recall word for word what he shared I can recall that at some point he said, “You just don’t know what it’s like.”

And I remember feeling almost sorry for this man…wondering who he could talk to about feeling, as I had in our encounter, compromised, unheard and frightened. And so I said, “You are right. I don’t know what it’s like. Help me understand.”

The real conversation began…heartful, as open as it could be and eventually genuine.

I share all of this for a couple of reasons.

First, it’s just downright funny. As my good friend and Red Booter Trish Rohr shared, “It could be a freakin’ Saturday Night Live Skit.” I think she is right.

But secondly, and I think more importantly, what I learned is that we are all, at some point in our lives, confronted with our own humanity…those precious and private moments… when we can choose to complain, judge and blame or choose to take action… dig deep, do what is right and what is good and what is love. It is in those moments when the leader in all of us lives.

Yes, it is in the tiny sliver of a second where change begins, dreams manifest and movements become.

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Red Boot Revolution

About a year ago, I set out to engage Congress in a project that I hoped would open up a space in our political dialogue for compassion, understanding, love…the humanity of “us.”

This week, I pulled the plug on the project.

It was one of the most difficult decisions I’ve ever had to make. And like every “letting go” has painfully and joyfully opened up a space in my own life…an awareness frankly…that before all this started, I could theoretically talk about, but needed to experience…I guess.

I am a wildly compassionate person. Born a feeler, I love people, whether they want to be loved or not. I am fearless in my search for and desire to create spaces where heartful connection can thrive and unabashedly joyful even in the most cynical of circumstances. I crusade for no religion, race, country or party but instead create opportunities that invite those who feel voiceless, disenfranchised, lost and unloved…to let go of the constraints that bind them and rise up into their greatest human potential.

I am a very fortunate and grateful woman. I’ve, by the grace of so many and such wonder, been able to live a life that is bound by very little. I run when I want to, cry when I feel like it, and love just because. I can.

So…without dropping the details of how I was introduced to the Capitol Climate, I found myself hanging out with some of our nation’s (heck world’s) most celebrated and well-known collaborative leaders. Picture camp-counselor-yoga-practicing-red-boot-wearing girl sitting at big round (very impressive might I add) tables with people who had spent most of their lives serving our nation by serving in some of our nation’s highest elected positions. We talked a lot. I got to know them. We lost ourselves for hours in closed rooms trying to get down into the “what’s underneath all this political anger and polarization.”

Interestingly, after hours of debate (heated at times I might add) we basically landed on two different causes. Those that are visible to the human eye and those that are not. In the first category, we find gerrymandering, primary election issues, the influence of money. The second is not so easy to articulate. It’s about ethos, culture, connection (or lack of). It’s the stuff that keeps us from looking each other in the eye and honoring our humanness..

I would walk away, after each of our gatherings, increasingly frustrated. “Can’t you see? CAN’T YOU SEE?” That as long as the ethos lacks a willingness to talk about, honor and celebrate the humanity of “us” the systems we create, support, sustain will too.

So, I began work on a project I believed would open up a space for our elected leaders to look each other in the eye and experience what can happen when we understand, honor and celebrate the humanity of “us.” Run 2 Lead would pair our nation’s leaders with children. Need I say more?

I should have known I was up against something formidable when right off the bat I was told (with a lot of what looked like very angry gesturing) by a Congressional staffer, that using the word love and compassion in my literature would never get an elected leader to “sign up.” “We are in an election year. If my boss signs up for this, he will be primaried out. There are those who will use this against him.”

So, I took ten deep breaths, moved the presentation aside and asked this young staffer to “tell me more. Help me understand.”

So for an hour we talked about what it’s like to be on Capitol Hill. The pressure, the money, the fear.

By the end of the hour, we had compromised. I will use the word empathy and connection instead of love and compassion. This will more likely engage folks. It’s less intimidating.

I did not sleep that night and since that time, have not slept well.

I wrestled, nearly every waking moment, with why can’t we use the words love and compassion when it comes to political leadership? Who wrote THAT memo? I use love and compassion every day in my work, with my children, Gloria, my homeless friend, the children and volunteers I serve, my three dogs, the young staffer ranting at me about how love and compassion have no place on our political landscape.

And so, without seeing it, I was slowly but surely, lowered into that boiling pot of fear. I began to measure my words. Watch what I wrote and said. This red-boot-wearing, joyful, open-hearted and fearless lover of people began to shut down. My fearless and at times irrational pursuit of seeing the good, the positive, the potential in all people and circumstances began to disappear and be replaced instead by a kind of cynicism. One I hadn’t known, EVER.

I tried I really tried.

But put it this way. Suddenly, the words I loved to use, the joy I love to bring, the very essence of who I am as a person was, in an attempt to make this program work, compromising. I could convince myself (I’m very good at this) that this was the right and noble thing to do. After all, am I not asking these leaders to compromise? Surely I can for the cause of good, compromise a word or two here or there to make the initiative take flight?

Two weeks ago, I started to feel sick. My stomach hurt. I was experiencing headaches. I couldn’t sleep, at all. I was crying a lot. My temper was short with my kids. I was getting angry more easily.

I’m on the elliptical at the gym, when for one fleeting moment, I remembered who I was before this all started. The Molly who smiles at people, confidently walks into a room, laughs freely and often, dances frequently and unabashedly with my teenage daughter through the aisles of the grocery store, wears her pajamas to the drug store when she is sick, loves to hug people and is driven not by money, economics, winning or politics, but by a big, bold, audacious love that invites others into its fierce and fiery warmth.

I cried right there on the treadmill at the Dowd YMCA.

I want HER back. THAT Molly.

And so, I talked to the people who knew me best. My sister, my children, my mentors and decided that it was time to surrender…give up and let it go.

It’s been only three days, but a three days of reflection and soul-searching.

And here I am now, writing you. Very aware and happy to share with you that something even more audacious, bold and fearless has taken root within this very soul of mine. A leader without bounds. A leader without fear. A leader who leads with kick ass compassion and like it or not love.

A leader I like. A leader who loves. A leader who will go to the ends of the earth to defend and stand up for love, compassion and the humanity of “us.”

So let me just state for the record and to all those hundreds of thousands of little girls who I’ve spent my entire life telling…that love matters, compassion works and being your authentic self is what the world wants, celebrates and honors…I’m going in, with my red boots on

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Nose Piercings, Leadership and Other Things that Don’t go Together

So…I will say at the outset of this post…that I am almost positive…you will have never read another post such as this in conjunction with “leadership.”

But here goes.

I am the mother to two kids. My oldest is 18, a young man, and my youngest is 15, a young woman. I’ve been a single mother since they were tiny.

I travel frequently. I am “on” with my work more often than I am not. I have, quite frankly, had a lot to juggle in raising them. My house hasn’t been the most organized, my yard is a mess. My cooking stinks. (Besides so much easier to load everybody up in the car after, a long day at work, and let someone ELSE cook and wait on us. Please note some sarcasm. :) )

They’ve lived and continue to live with a very non-traditional mother and in a very non-traditional household. This has become no more obvious to me than watching my eldest, my boy, move into the working world.

Hank is 18. He has not been an easy child to raise. Free-spirited and not one to follow the rules our society has suggested are right for a growing boy such as him, I’ve allowed myself to be pulled into fear, not just frequently, but SO OFTEN that I’ve been nearly paralyzed by it.

The irony here, is that both of my kids…and I mention Hank more frequently than my daughter simply because he is the oldest–the first—the one who is blazing the trail for his sister…are living the precise core values I have preached with Girls on the Run…lead with an open heart, be the boss of your own brain, don’t be satisfied with the status quo, think outside the box, learn from and own your mistakes, laugh a lot, cry completely and live fully as yourself…eeking out every opportunity to FEEL with intention.

As a leader (and a reluctant one I might add) and the single mom to two kids, I’ve often felt this kind of self-induced segregation between these two facets of myself. I’ve compartmentalized these two worlds. Torn between trying to model “leader behavior” in the public’s eye and nearly pulling my hair out as I try to juggle guiding (and leading) two highly spirited kids has often times left me feeling fragmented and torn apart from within.

So when the story I’m about to tell you happened, it was at first a bit shocking and perhaps embarrassing, but when all was said and done, completely liberating.

Several weeks ago I was in Columbus, Ohio serving as a commissioner on the Commission for Political Reform…a project of the Bipartisan Policy Center (www.bipartisanpolicy.org). I am one of 30 or so folks who meet several times a year to discuss how we can “up the ante” and encourage a more civil discourse at our highest levels of leadership so that effective, solution-driven, bipartisan dialogue can occur. We had rounded out a full day of debate, discussion and discourse and were, as a group, riding back to our hotel on a small shuttle-bus.

Commissioners

Crammed in like small sardines, I’m sitting next to one of my all time favorite people, Henry Bonilla, former Congressman from Texas. (I don’t know Henry’s politics, but I do know that he is one of the nicest guys you will ever want to meet.) The shuttle is full of well-known political dignitaries, former House and Senate Members, Governors, writers and community activists.

About half way through the journey back to our hotel, my phone indicates a Face Time call is coming in and it’s my son. I am overjoyed! It had been a week or so since I had seen him. He and I love sharing our lives with each other and do so frequently with the “Face Time” app that allows us to actually communicate with each other visually, face to face. I elbow Henry slightly and say, “Henry…this is awesome. You are going to get to meet my son. And how cool is this…I can share all of you (I gesture to my fellow-passengers on the bus) with him too.”

Well, just as I hit the “accept” button on my phone, the shuttle noise (conversation and engine noise) drops to a nearly dead silence. I don’t know why except that I’ve noticed these kinds of silences…a kind of unified lull in dialogue–tend to occur naturally every one in a while. So, I hit accept and up pops my son’s beautiful face on my iPhone and out he shouts with no hesitation and as much joy as any boy/man could shout “Look Mom. I got my nose pierced. The girls are gonna LOVE it!”

This is sooooo, my Hank. He is fast becoming a fashion icon in his circle of peers. He is following his love for fashion to New York City, Los Angeles, Houston and DC. He has traveled more in the last month than I have in nearly six. He has met more fashion influencers in his genre of fashion than I have met political leaders. The kid is on a roll and so when his new “fashion” statement came hurling across my phone screen there juxtaposed with all those political dignitaries and leaders, I could do nothing more than shout out, still in all that silence, “Hank…THAT IS JUST SO COOL It’s beautiful!!!!!”

I felt like every eye on that shuttle either turned to me or made every effort NOT to. I heard one staffer from the Bipartisan Policy Center, begin a slow roll of laughter…not at Hank….but just the humor, the beauty, the joy, the experience that this moment offered up of parent/leader/real life all at once. It took only seconds for a large number of others to join in.

The next day, so many of my political comrades on board that shuttle walked over to me and shared how rich it had been for them, to hear my encouraging and enthusiastic response to my son’s joy…we talked candidly about the challenges of being leaders, often times in the public eye, and trying to preserve the sanctity of our family lives, but also be honest about how downright difficult it is to live in both.

I love my kids…and wonder everyday…just who is teaching whom…who is GUIDING whom.

Leadership requires collaboration, compromise, empathy and understanding and being a parent has been the perfect…yes I said PERFECT…training ground for putting these into action.

Leadership comes in all forms and in all places…and as I humorously and humbly learned on this shuttle ride, at all times.

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A Different Kind of American Patriot

I’ve got to come clean with you.

I’m becoming increasingly patriotic.

I really don’t want to be. I kind of liked things the way they were before this “call to care about my country” started to bubble up within my life.

Yep…I will admit it. Back then I didn’t vote. I didn’t care. I didn’t want
to know. I was too busy raising my kids, making ends meet, changing the world through the work that I do.

Not caring was easy.

Besides I had enough on my plate. Raising two extremely creative kids was a creative and stressful process all to itself. Why would I enter the political ring when at times it felt like I was having to referee “the ring” within my own home?

But in the last several years, a kind of soulful appreciation for my country has begun to wreak havoc with all this apathy. When it started I can’t be exactly sure, but it, like everything else that has ever mattered to me started as a whisper in my heart, gently worked its way into my thoughts and has now somehow powerfully called out to this soul of mine, in spite of my best attempts to keep it at bay, to speak up.

And so here I am. I am an American Patriot. I love my country.

With all the distress, unease, downright violence in the world, I can’t help but be overcome with gratitude each morning…for the simple things of my life…a roof over my head, food in my belly and my health.. Now don’t get me wrong. I know how good I’ve got it. I know that these simple things to which I refer, are longed-for-necessities for many of my American brothers and sisters. Having, myself, known rock-bottom, I do not take these things for granted. But I can unabashedly speak my truth and for this woman, this American, that means waking up, overcome with gratitude for the life I’ve been able to create in these United States of America.

Now don’t go all red or blue on me. This isn’t about politics. This is about a new voice. One that isn’t caught up in winning or losing, but more focused on how we play the game. I don’t want to talk to you about gun control, women’s rights or economics. I don’t want to talk to you about gay rights, religious freedom or immigration policy.

I want to clear the table and talk to you about what you believe, think and feel…and relish the fact that we can.

I want to get down underneath the issues and remember that without the freedom to have issues in the first place, the rest is a moot point. Look at it this way…if we all agreed on the hot topics we read about in the paper each morning, something would be wrong…very wrong and VERY scary.

I’ve been spending a lot of time thinking, feeling, DREAMING about my America and what I so desperately wish for her….and I keep coming back to one very simple idea.

Freedom. Freedom to be imperfect. Freedom to be angry. Freedom to be joyful. Freedom to express our opinions. Freedom to be our full and robust human selves, complete with imperfections, emotions and opinions. Freedom to forgive and be forgiven. Freedom to argue, to love, to cry, to shout, to pray, to sing, to learn, to live.

What my beautiful and precious America yearns for, dreams of, desperately cries out to me (and all of us) to do is to shift our vision to what lies beneath all the partisan politics…anger and political posturing…to see, touch and experience both in our daily lives and on the largest of political stages, our American government, a gentle reminder that what makes us great…I mean really great…is indeed (and somewhat ironically) the fact that we are, thanks to the innovative and out-of-the-box thinking of our founding fathers and mothers, free to disagree vehemently and passionately with each other. How beautiful is that really?

I honestly believe…I can actually see with my mind’s eye…that once we shift our focus from the fear and anger so many of us attribute to the current state of what appears to be an extremely polarized nation and instead, choose to remember, honor and express gratitude for the democratic process our founding fathers and mothers created that cultivates and actually calls for a difference in opinions, we can re-claim and re-member a real and doable American vision.

So…I invite you to go with me on this…the next time I am on this side of a hot political debate with someone…I think rather than shying away from expressing my opinion, I’m going to go for it, full steam ahead…listen with every ounce of my being, unabashedly (and if necessary dramatically) share my views; and then when it’s all said and done and we are exhausted from the effort passionate debate so often brings, shake hands and invite all involved in that fiery debate, to celebrate and honor each other for living fully into the freedoms our beautiful and great nation gives us with her tender and forgiving democracy.

“It behooves every man who values liberty of conscience for himself, to resist invasions of it in the case of others: or their case may, by change of circumstances, become his own.” Thomas Jefferson

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The Seen and the Unseen

connect the dots

There is this awesome “thing” that happens as we age and it’s called gaining perspective. I liken it to one of those connect-the-numbers drawings. You don’t know what you have when you start, but as you move from each dot to the next, it becomes very clear what the final outcome is. Somewhere, for me it’s always about 3/4 of the way through the connect the dots game, this kind of delicious joy settles in. There is a sense of knowing. I can begin to predict where the next line will go based on the overall picture. I can still be thrown for a loop, but the feeling I have is one of more certainty and a kind of overarching understanding, that while I may not know the exact right next move, I’m at least headed in a direction that makes sense…has meaning…that I understand.

I am 53 years old and am at least 3/4 of the way through the picture. Here’s what I’ve figured out so far.

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On Just This Side of Things

CPR

I’ve been more immersed in politics, then I ever have in my entire life.

Last September, I was invited to serve on the Bipartisan Policy Center’s Commission for Political Reform (a.k.a CPR) and quite frankly, walked into the conversation with a great deal of naiveté about politics. 

 

Yet, I realize that it is this naiveté that can really serve to open up conversations that can get stuck in the small stuff. 

For about six months prior to the phone call from the Bipartisan Policy Center, asking me to serve on the commission, I had been working on an idea designed to unlock what is possible when political leadership includes compromise, understanding, deep listening and communication…all elements richly woven into the fabric of Girls on the Run…not only in the curriculum we deliver to the girls in the program, but within how we RUN the organization. 

I’ve been deeply immersed in the political climate in DC for the last several months and I gotta tell you…that even the most honorable and focused folks (and I’m including myself here) can be pulled into the negativity, blaming and mudslinging.  It’s kind of like walking onto a playground, where the only way to survive is to play the game that is already there.

In a few days (determining just when becomes challenging in the current ever-changing climate in DC) I, with the help of an amazing team of passionate leaders, will be sharing this BIG idea with you…and so here I am on “just this side of things” pondering how (because I am certain it will be) my life will be different.

I’m reminded of when I started Girls on the Run.  I knew I was onto something that would certainly push some social norms but at the same time, I knew that the energy of the program was driven by an invitation to others to join, rather than a “have-to” kind of claim.  I felt an interesting mix of joy and anxiety, both within the same moment.

And so…here I am again…on this side of things…keenly aware of how things seem to be lining up in favor of what this new program/innovation will bring to the world…with that odd and wonderful mix of joy and anxiety pulsing through every cell of my body.  As my son shared with me…this is when we know we are onto something…when we feel fully and wholly ALIVE!

So…here I am in the quiet space of THIS morning…feeling deep within my soul…a change a’ comin’. 

 

 

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The Bubble and Miley

So…I have two teenagers…with whom I am extremely close.

I have a very non-traditional home. I’m a single mom, entrepreneur and as pretty wide-open as a person can be. My kids know my story. And it “ain’t pretty.”

The short version of it looks like this: At age fifteen, I started drinking. I also started running competitively. Sixteen years later, after three International Ironman Championships, a Chemistry and Social Work Degree from UNC-Chapel Hill, a marriage and a divorce, multiple jobs and a lot of heartache, I hit bottom. On July 7th, 1993, I set out on a five mile run that changed my life. Three years later I started Girls on the Run and the rest is awesomeness incarnate.

I am about as curious a person as you’ll ever find and I’m not usually afraid to ask questions that to some, may be a bit over-the-top. But those who know me, know that my curiosity comes from a place of constant self-analysis and a desire…truly…to expand my horizons…lean into something new so that my truth becomes fuller, richer and more expansive.

And so…this is why “the bubble” broadsided me a couple of weeks ago.

My home is a very creative one. Music, a writing wall, frequent dancing breaks, skateboarding in the playroom, three dogs, two cats and a kitchen that is, how shall I put it, creatively stocked. I have no awareness, truthfully of designer anything and the Martha Stewart gene, clearly passed me and landed with my sisters. Honestly? I think my home and lifestyle can be a bit overwhelming for some folks.

So when my daughter showed up for driver’s ed a couple of weeks ago, I got a humbling and hilarious look at how even a home such as mine, becomes a bubble.

Let me explain.

Helen is a free spirit. Always has been. When she was three, she went several weeks wearing Dorothy Red Glitter shoes and a bike helmet. Everywhere, she went, the helmet and those shoes followed her. There she was perched in her carseat, up high for all to see…that white helmet with stickers gone wild and those red shoes kicking the passenger seat in front of her. I think about it now and I laugh…out loud.

Helen was never afraid to speak up.

I remember once when we were in a Starbucks, the girl was learning all about rhyming words. She looked at the nice young man in line behind us and began the rhyming game.

“So,” she said, “What rhymes with House?”
“Mouse,” he kindly responded.
“What rhymes with cat?” she queried.
“Hat.” He is tickled now. Helen’s charm is full-on.
A pause and a smile on her face and then this…”What rhymes with bagina?”

I don’t remember if the nice young man responded, I just remember loving my girl with all my heart.

Helen is a rising tenth grader, plays the electric guitar and loves AC/DC, Def Leppard and 1975 (a band you have more than likely never heard of…and this is precisely why she likes them.) She wears a lot of black, black t-shirts, black jeans, black boots and even chose her guitar based on its fabulous black sheen. (The fruit doesn’t fall too far from the tree. I’ve worn black for most of my professional life, but for me it’s not because it’s cool, but because it’s easy. Remember that Martha Stewart gene? I didn’t get the fashion gene either!) I’ve homeschooled her for two years through a program offered by George Washington University and she has a group of besties that include three of the coolest human beings, I’ve had the pleasure to ever know.

So, when we pulled up to driver’s ed, a couple of weeks ago, we were humbly reminded of how unexposed our overly exposed and open household really is. Many of the kids lining up to sign in were from Charlotte’s private schools and were, not-so-shockingly, not dressed like Helen. Nike shorts, pony tails and t-shirts, or floral prints, braided hair and short shorts.

To be clear, I’m not suggesting one style of dress or one way to APPEAR is better than another, I am just suggesting they are different and for my daughter Helen there was an immediate “I stick out like a sore thumb” reaction. Now…let’s not forget that this was the same girl who wore a bike helmet and Dorothy red slippers for two months when she was little, so sticking out like a sore thumb is, basically her modus operandi…and just like the kid clomping through a restaurant at age three with those accoutrements proudly adorning her head and feet, she did the same walking into her driver’s ed class.

(I am reminded here of the Breakfast Club. (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dkX8J-FKndE)

But suffice it to say, it provided for the two of us an incredible opportunity to talk about our lifestyle and the choices we have made…and how much easier and often times not-thought-out-our-choices-become when we are insulated or not exposed to those with very different and very un-like-our-lifestyle lives.

Let’s put it this way. When you’ve grown up in a household where a family dance break is one of the multiple choice options to use when things are just too tense or hot-tempered, or one full wall in your den is covered in chalk board so that pretty much anything can be expressed on it, then a lot of things that seem normal in this household might not be all that normal in another one.

So…why then, you ask, what does this have to do with Miley Cyrus?

Well, I thought about it and I think it comes down to the Bubble. Miley Cyrus lives in a world I do now know, understand, touch, come in contact with, experience or see EVER. Just take a look at the front row of the VMA’s and you get a small understanding of the world and bubble the girl circulates in everyday. The clothing, the push to stand out, the large sums of money, the idolization…her world seems so unreal to me and yet I’m quite sure if she were to show up in mine it might actually be a bit scary or off or boring or just not-normal.

My guess is (and I’m only able to guess because I DON’T live in her world) her performance on stage the other night was, simply a part of her normal…securing the media attention that these actions have so successfully accomplished, scheming, dreaming and strategically positioning her as the next big “push the envelope” performer is, I’m assuming, part of her life and the music and entertainment industry bubble.

There has been much condemnation of Miley over the last few days and as the mother to a teen who is trying to help her find HER way without harshly judging, shaming, ridiculing or bullying others, something about all of this attention has me unsettled.

I guess it’s all just a balancing act.

But somewhere in all that balancing, I realize that down deep, there is a teachable moment, that for me and my daughter goes way beneath the obvious. I’m not sure yet what it is, I just know that it’s in there and will surely reveal itself as she and I find our way.

I do know that it got the two of us talking…and when your daughter is fifteen…this is a very, very good thing.

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What do Orrin Hatch, Nancy Pelosi and a Room Full of “Us” Have in Common?

Yesterday, I had the privilege of representing Girls on the Run as a winner of the 4999th (!) Point of Light, given by the Points of Light Foundation and honored, along with other Point of Light winners, at a ceremony at the White House. President Barack Obama, the First Lady, President George H.W. Bush and First Lady Barbara Bush were in attendance as were a room full of Bush Family Members, Congressional Members and Points of Light staff and board members.

I’ve been chronicling much of this journey on my Facebook page. https://www.facebook.com/mollyontherun Today, I’m on the train home. I’ve discovered that the train provides a kind of softer reentry into my real-person life…and when needed…a kind of forced time with my computer, emails that need returning and work that must be done.

Today, while on the ride home, I posted on my Facebook page(s), a few short conversations and small but relevant observations I had yesterday. I thought it might be kinda cool to compile them all here.

Post One:

Alright…another stellar run on the National Mall, but THIS time in preparation for returning to earth…motherhood, bills, trains, grocery shopping and business as usual. I don’t know about you…but this whole Facebook/Twitter thing…while I know it has its challenges…I do feel and have become beautifully aware…of what connection is possible in that technological space. I am truly humbled by the immense amount of support and love I have personally felt over the last few days, but am well aware that this is the direct result of the incredible work of our volunteers, staff and girls around North America. It will be fun to see what doors will open because of this entire experience.

Post Two:

I’m on the train home and if you don’t mind, I want to share a couple of passing conversations and observations from yesterday while I make the journey home: The first for the day goes like this.

Molly: So Neil (that would be Neil Bush, the fourth of sixth children to George H.W. and Barbara Bush.) That must be weird being you. I can’t imagine what it would be like to have your DAD as the President of the United States.

Neil: You know, I can see how you would say that. But it’s what we grew up with…his political life was just part of our childhood experience: but if you want to know what’s really weird…it’s having your BROTHER be President of the United States.
Molly: You know? I never thought of it quite like that.

We laughed, pretty hard actually.

neil bush

(That’s Neil Bush on the left and Kathy Hamilton and Floyd Hamer, Winners of the 5000th Point of Light)

Post Three:

Observation Number Two: President Bush’s socks and Barbara Bush’s eyes. Both were bright! Both were intense! Both brought a lot of light to the day! As President Bush took the stage, in a wheelchair (he is recovering from an extremely tough bout with pneumonia), I was struck with how intensely Barbara Bush sent support and strength to him through her eyes. She did not take her eyes off of him, the entire time…It was very clear to me that she is a force to be reckoned with.

President Bush

Post Four:

Okay, so observation #3. Washington needs more balance. Capitol Hill needs more people who, like the Daily Point of Light Winners I met. are hopeful dreamers with an entrepreneurial, enthusiastic, let’s-do-this and optimistic spirit. I have to believe this spirit was what drove our nation’s founding mothers and fathers to actually create a government. Think about it! These guys (admittedly, there weren’t many women, if any) got together, reviewed what existed, what worked, what didn’t and basically founded a start-up government. I LOVED watching the more traditional members of the “system” interact and be engaged with the “Points of Light.” There was something magical about that engagement, poignant and moving really.

Jude Quinn

(That’s Jude Quinn. He is another Point of Light winner who started SilverbackKS.)

Post Five:

Okay…so conversation #4. At the luncheon prior to the 5000th point ceremony, I was chatting with Pierce Bush, the 27 year old son of Neil Bush. I asked him about what that must have been like…trying to be a teenager…and go through all that adolescent angst as a member of the Bush Family. He shared with me (as his father had done only moments earlier) that it was just part of their life…it was just his experience, being in that family. I mentioned, though, that pressures are probably even greater now that social media is so prevalent. He shared with me a story about how he was in college and with friends in Austin. There was a rather famous (and sadly homeless) transgender person, well known on the streets of Austin, who was somewhat of a legend there. She was “caught in a photograph” with him…and how the naysayers and “out to get” you kind of people had a hay day with it. I can’t imagine, frankly, how difficult it would be growing up in any kind of celebrity home. Navigating our way through the teenage years is hard enough…add the whole world watching…I have such compassion for those in the public eye.

Post Six:

So final observation from yesterday…Yesterday’s attendees and experience confirmed what I have experienced in my own life and what I believe rests within the spirit of Girls on the Run: What do Orrin Hatch, Nancy Pelosi, President George H.W. Bush, President Obama, Barbara Bush, Michelle Obama…Bush supporters and family…Obama supporters…Points of Light Winners…Democrats, Republicans, young, old, rich and not-so-rich…what do they all have in common? The capacity to give, the potential to connect, and most importantly the desire, when simply given the chance, even in the smallest sliver of an encounter or conversation, to be themselves.

Girls_on_the_Run_Image_4_1_

(I would kindly ask that if you are going to make a comment, it remain rooted in the same respect I hope was portrayed in this piece. Actually I expect nothing less, based on who visits here! :)

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I Carry You With Me…

Let me just preface this post with the energy behind it. Imagine being 8 years old (or if you are 8, just be you)! Remember how things just felt new and exciting and you were bubbling up with life? Some of it scary too!

That’s me right now. I’m on my way to Washington DC, for an event at the White House celebrating the fantastic work of the Points of Light Foundation. I, along with four other Points of Light winners are being honored tomorrow by President Barack Obama and the First Lady! Former President George H.W. Bush and First Lady, Barbara Bush, will be in attendance too.

Honestly? I can’t even imagine what this will be like…feel like! I am representing Girls on the Run and the amazing movement “she” has become! I am here because of the love, passion and hours and hours of dedicated work YOU…our amazing coaches, board members, corporate and non-profit partners and Girls on the Run staff, have given to the world, our girls, the vision! This program would be nothing more than a curriculum, a book, resting on a shelf were it not for the hours and hours of your dedicated service, love, tenderness, strength, sharing-of-self.

I will be holding you in my heart as I wonder through this amazing experience.

To my kids…I carry your curiosity into the room…eyes wide open. I also carry with me the many, many sacrifices you have had to make, as a result of my being your Mom. The days I’ve traveled, the PTA meetings I missed, the birthday parties we had the day after your birthday! You have been so understanding. Hank, you were exactly 1 year old when I started Girls on the Run. You are 18 now. Grown up, moving out, headed to a life of your own. I see so much of myself in you…your questioning, seeking, gathering, warmth and willingness to be vulnerable. Helen, you are 15 (almost) years old, a free spirit, who so beautifully owns all of your actions, thoughts and beliefs. You possess a kind of power I didn’t know existed until I was much older. I wish you two could be here with me…but I promise, loves, to take lots of pictures and send them to you. Hank, I’m wearing the necklace you gave me for my birthday when I turned 50 and Helen…those boots…those red boots you gave me for my 50th birthday and inscribed with your little girl handwriting…I’m not yet sure whether they will be on my feet or in my heart…but the spirit of them will be with me, my girl.

bootcase

For the “village” who has supported me over the years. You know who you are. My neighbors who have put up with the dogs barking at a midnight moon, while I slept in that deep sleep of exhaustion from too much travel; my family who has let me cry, stomp and share my fears of self-doubt, I love you OH so much; my children’s friends and your parents, for letting my kids virtually move in with you during times of high stress or extensive travel. You have helped mold them into the people they are today. For Liz and the crew back at Girls on the Run International…you hold this fort together, not only with your wisdom and intellect, but hearts and spirits. This organization is what it is today, because of your guidance, sleepless nights and love.

For those of you in recovery, or pondering…I carry the spirit of what is possible when we surrender to what is good, what is possible, what is within us all now, but is dimmed by the demons of addiction. Twenty years ago, I was one week sober…raw…only a few days in. I promise you there is a way out…one step…one day at a time. Today is the first day of the rest of your life.

And to the girls…yes…the hundreds of thousands of you who have been a part of this program. I carry what you have taught me, given me, been to me…your strength, vulnerability, authenticity, curiosity, beauty, warmth and above all the love that is you…that is girl…that is divine! Yes, I am nervous and even a little bit afraid…but I have watched you…and seen what is possible when we just say it, be it, own whatever we are feeling, thinking…because it is in so doing, we connect, reveal, become what is beautiful.

profilephoto

I think this pretty much says what I’m feeling right now, as I journey on this train. Yep…

on this train

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The Road Ahead

So…I’m on an 8 hour train ride from Charlotte to Washington DC. I opted for the train, because I have so much “sitting down and focused” kind of work to do…and find that “sitting down and focusing” is very difficult for me, if I don’t intentionally build it into my life.

I’ve come to appreciate stillness. When I was in my teens and 20′s, I had no appreciation for it whatsoever. I spent most of my teens and 20′s doing. I was all about productivity…producing, achieving, setting goals and reaching them.

In my 30′s, I became wildly curious about spiritual things. I read everything I could get my hands on about various religions, spiritual growth and the underlying spiritual principles that guide so much of the world’s religions. I can remember, sharing with my sister, who is in many ways my spiritual guide, my fears about simply floating off into oblivion…about feeling so closely connected to my High Power that things of this earth would simply carry no more meaning…a kind of fear of becoming completely unattached from reality. (This never happened of course. I’ve got kids!)

But now…here I am just this side of 50. And am joyfully discovering that what seemed to be two opposing views of life, one rooted in “things” and the other raised up in “ethos” is now magically coming together! All the dots connect. Now I’m peacefully and restfully bringing together the stillness found in my spiritual wanderings with the productivity of my action-oriented doing. The human me and spiritual me that were often so engaged in what felt like opposing or polarized conversations are now coming together in a kind of integrative soulful dialogue.

As many of you know and some of you have figured out, I’m on the edge of launching something, that I believe, fully utilizes all of me…challenges me to bring it on…every single cell, thought, belief, action…will be required. I will be hanging on by the skin of my teeth…joyfully and wildly flying through the air!

Representatives Tom Cotton, Congressional Member from Arkansas and Tim Ryan, Congressional Member from Ohio were the first two Congressional Members to come on board this new initiative…more to follow. But in the meantime, I’ll just sit in the silence of this fabulous train ride and work on the project.

Some congressional fun

Running mates1

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