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When The Light Gets In, You Know Who You Are

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Our rescue dog Allie’s middle name is Grace. Hers is a story of where the light gets in. But it wouldn’t be a story about where the light gets in if we didn’t talk about what almost got in the way.

Allie came to our family this summer at 14 months old with a tail that had been broken and scars on her face. Whoever broke her tail surely broke her heart, too. That person had told Allie that her life doesn’t matter, and even in agreeing that we would love, care, and provide for her, we knew we didn’t deserve her forgiveness.

But Allie gave humans another chance. She rose from the ashes of her old life to become our beloved companion. Allie is the name they gave her at the shelter, but I think Phoenix would be fitting.

We are, all of us, Phoenixes in some way. We overcome obstacles in our lives and rise from the ashes. These stories of rising are the ones we should be telling: it’s not about quick fixes to happiness, it’s about the work that gets us there—to the rising. Brené Brown says in The Gifts of Imperfection, “If we want to live a joyful, connected, and meaningful life, we must talk about the things that get in the way.”

And with that in mind, let’s return to the dog park for a look at the relationship between grace and growth. Some may call it mindfulness and self-compassion, even growth mindset in my education-minded world; I call it grace. Because grace is freely given though undeserved, and it’s there for all of us, a gift for the taking.

After Allie’s grumpy day incident two weeks ago and given my perfectionist tendencies, I’ve still been a bit nervous each time we return to the dog park. I say this to illustrate the fact that we can be at peace with a situation and still be anxious about its unknowns. It’s a normal knee-jerk reaction—like when you have a bad fall on the ice and your body stiffens the next time you spot shiny patch on the sidewalk. This is our universal reaction to protect.  Now that I understand what my brain and body are doing, I don’t spin out of control with anxiety. I don’t isolate myself, thinking, “I’m the only one.” I can walk through the feelings, carefully. I can say who I am and seek connection. What a gift: grace and growth.

As an ACT Test Prep Coach, I can’t waste an opportunity to offer up a grace and growth equation: More grace = more growth; less grace = less growth. It really is that simple.

Allie’s grace? She rolled onto her back, belly-up, and gave us a chance to scratch it. We did. And the more she rolled, the more we scratched. She gave up self-protection and isolation, and that courage has won her a lifetime of belonging, affection, and security within our family.

Because the dog park is an activity that Allie and I do frequently and just the two of us, I have time to think there. I’m the only human demanding of my thoughts, time, and conversation (rare in my household) so I’m more aware of my own thoughts and feelings at the dog park than in other settings. And I can see the pattern of where grace for myself as a human (I’m not perfect nor will I ever be, thanks Lord for this truth) has allowed me to see my mistakes or mishaps and allowed the light of truth to seep into the cracks of my brokenness and illuminate—from the inside out—who I am.

Truth and grace say there are no good guys and bad guys. We’re all connected, in this together.  In the presence of grace,  I can own my part of the dog park scuffle and rise to make it better next time. Rather than protecting, dwelling, blaming and shaming, and riding the horse of self-righteousness, I tried thinking, “It didn’t go the way I wanted it to, but I can learn and grow from this.” Like Allie, I gave up protecting to gain something more valuable.

And what does this continued growth look like at the dog park for Allie and me? Connection. This weekend, we hopped into the gate in the middle of a pile of dogs, (yikes!) but I hurried us through and she bounded off into the snow. Whew! We did a couple of one-mile laps around, meeting and greeting the dogs we’d scampered past, now at a more relaxed pace.

About 2.5 loops in, we met a dog named Onyx and her kind owner. By “met,” I mean that Allie went missing for 5 seconds (sending off sirens in my brain) and came romping back with a large, fluffy buddy. The two frolicked in the snow and I said to Onyx’s owner, “Allie likes to play rough, and I’m OK with it if you’re OK.” And he replied. “Absolutely. I know some dog owners worry when they see teeth, but it’s how they play.” We were on the same page! I was open and direct about my needs and Allie’s, which let us connect with some new pals. When it was time to go we waved goodbye with a hop-skip-and a slide, and Onyx’s owner said, “Hope to see you again!” We folded into our car seats, noses and heat running, hearts happy. Grace lived out.

Just yesterday, a lovely woman said, “Allie is just so striking and beautiful.” It was as if she not only looked at Allie’s gorgeous coat and golden eyes but also into her forgiving and brave soul. “Isn’t she?” I answered, “Thank you.”

And so I lead, Allie listens, and we rise. This is the story we tell and we’ve grown to triumph in this truth: We are good and worthy and loved. THIS is true belonging. THIS is connectedness that feeds the soul. When the light gets in, you know who you are. And you find those who know you, too. I want that for every single one of us. To find our people (and dogs). It’s what we’re made to do.

And folks, this is the gift that true personalized learning gives our kids, (and their parents and their teachers) this gift of grace and growth.

We can live out the truth of who we are in grace, with our people encouraging us along the way. No good guys and bad guys—only connectedness. We can be seen. We can be known. We can be loved. We can belong. I have this vision. And I so very much would love to help you live it.

-Cara

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Sunday, 21 July 2019