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Peter Benson on Valuing Young People

October 29th, 2014

“Every kid deserves to be seen, heard, valued, included and loved by many adults in her/his neighborhoods, families, schools, programs and communities”

–Peter Benson, youth development expert

Youth Heroes & Trick or Treating

October 22nd, 2014

“In Houston, Texas we wanted to teach our kids the value of serving others and not just receiving,” explained Julie Stevens, a children’s pastor who has been in youth ministry with children, pre-teens, teens and college students for almost fifteen years and who has worked in various congregations and settings in California, Texas, Ohio and Tennessee.

 

“We started doing ‘Trick or treat so others can eat.’ We would go to retirement centers to love on senior adults and collect canned goods for others. We trained our group before we went to the retirement center on what to do and not do and let the retirement center know that we were coming and what to do.

 

“Many of the seniors would sit outside their doors waiting for us to come. If they didn’t want us to disturb them, they left the food outside their doors. The kids would put thank you notes outside their doors. If they were there, our kids would hug on them and spend time with them. We didn’t invade their space or homes but just interacted in loving ways where invited. We collected a pile of food for good causes and gave the food to food banks.

 

“At a time (Halloween) when kids are so used to getting for themselves, they’re able to do something for someone else, love on seniors and see that they can do for others and see that they can have fun doing it.”

 

“We took advantage of other holidays as well. Our bell choir would perform in nursing homes, and we would do Christmas caroling. We’d meet in a recreation room and play the bells for them. The bell choir is an easy way to involve younger children in ministry to others.”

Reprinted with permission from our book Ready to Go Service Projects: 140 Ways for Youth Groups to Lend a Hand. Find more ways to help youth engage their skills, talents and passions in serving the community by picking up your own book at your favorite online bookseller OR bring us to your school, church or community organization to lead service-learning workshop!

Quotable on Real Riches

October 22nd, 2014

“We all have riches. Some have them in money . . . but most have riches in talent, ideas, creativity, loving, caring, wisdom, or beauty.”

–Sara Teasdale, poet

Summer Days 12

October 20th, 2014

Summer Days are a 12-part blog series focused on lessons of gratitude passed on from dog to human. This human is still trying to embrace daily the lessons of gratitude, so much so that gratitude gets an entire chapter in the book I wrote with Ann Saylor for educators, youth leaders, and parents called Groups, Troops, Clubs & Classrooms: The Essential Handbook for Working With Youth. In there, lessons of gratitude are shared as a tool for maintaining personal power and strength . . . and teaching youth to do the same.

Summer, our tail wagging, body wiggling, four-pawed bundle of pure joy, showed up in our lives, in our opinion, to share with us how to live from a deeper place of gratitude and to enjoy life’s moments happily.

Summer, a beautiful black and white border collie/lab, has been THE Gratitude Coach for 12 ½ years of our lives who was sent to teach us personally. When you are daily confronted with unconditional love, acceptance and enthusiastic eagerness just because you exist, you tend to pay attention to what that person – or dog – has to communicate.

To date, Summer’s time with us has passed on these lessons:

  1. Show love first thing each morning.
  2. Be joyfully exuberant when doing what you love.
  3. Delight in the now.
  4. Always show appreciation to others.
  5. Work and contribute.
  6. Presume friendship.
  7. Just be.IMG_3955
  8. Sleep and eat regularly.
  9. Offer presence.
  10. Be patient.
  11. Play. Always play.

And it was only in a traumatic, life-changing event that Pete and I were able to articulate a final parting lesson from Summer . . .

Lesson #12: Enjoy everything, no matter what.

It was on a Tuesday, after a long weekend of Summer being sick (unusual for her because she always bounced back after a max of two days), that we went into the vet and were shocked with the news that no dog owners want to hear: our sweet dog was terminally ill and the kindest thing we could do was let her go. I won’t belabor the particulars, only enough to make her lesson point. Summer gave no indication that she was doing poorly over the weeks or months leading to her passing. She followed all the rules of the lessons she had taught us, although some days might have been slightly slower and she did sleep a little bit more (both of which we chalked up to the nearing of her thirteenth birthday). Regardless, she religiously continued to show enthusiasm for each moment and to live each moment to the fullest that she was capable of doing.

It was on her last day – armed with the new knowledge that she had probably been sick for awhile – that we were struck at how she exemplified enjoy everything, no matter what. Never did she show pain in the time leading up to this Tuesday. And on this Tuesday, while lethargic in the morning and obviously not feeling well, she enthusiastically got into the car for every trip we made that day (four total including two to the vet – a lot of jumping in and out!).

Knowing it was her last day, we made sure we had one more play day together so that she could enjoy her favorite dogs, places and things to do. At the park, she explored and made her own path off the beaten trail. At our friends’ house, she exchanged sniffs and licks with her doggie friends and received head rubs from her human friends. Tired afterwards, she pulled away to herself to rest but allowed me to read to her and be near her while we waited for the time to go back to the vet. And going back to the vet? She eagerly looked out the windows and showed every sign of enjoying the ride and being with us. Even at the vet’s, she showed interest in other dogs and humans who were around.

And then she called it a day. But it was a great day. Despite feeling awful. Despite having given up eating a couple of days before. Despite the cancer eating away inside her which was causing her to waste away. Despite it all, Summer lived her life out to the fullest, and it was in this last day that we shook our heads with amazement at how long she had been showing us how to enjoy everything, no matter what.

No matter what physical pain may grab you; no matter what disease may try to ravish your body; no matter what age you may be; no matter what job you may have or not have; no matter what obstacles life may hand you . . . you can still enjoy the life you have. You can be in each moment and savor it or devour it or inhale it. You can choose. It’s your choice. It’s within you to do it.

And that may be the best example of grateful living in action that I’ve ever seen lived out. The challenge now is to follow that example. Evidently Summer thought we were ready. Are you?

Today, live in answer to her challenge. Follow her example.

Summer, July 9, 2002 – June 17, 2014

If you need a dog in your life or want to support abandoned dogs and cats, consider one of the agencies that help support strays and abandoned animals. We got Summer from Freedom Farms who set up at Pet Smart in Rivergate on Saturdays. Good people who are doing heroic work in caring for animals.

 

13 Ways to Enhance Your Brain

October 15th, 2014

Scientists have been doing such much work with the brain.  In our latest book,  Groups, Troops, Clubs and Classrooms: The Essential Handbook for Working with Youth, we combined the best of the best in research with our experience in classrooms, teams and youth organizations to create 13 ways to enhance the brain.

1. Get Moving

2. Include Novelty and Exploration

3. Challenge the Brain

4. Talk to One Another

5. Smile, Laugh, and Develop a Sense of Humor

6.  Incorporate Music

7.  Take Time for Meditation

8.  Make Time for Feedback and Reflection

9.  Reduce Stress

10. Drink Water and Lots of it!

11. Practice Focusing and Keeping Attention

12. Feed Short- and Long-Term Memory

13. Yawn and Yawn Often

In the book, we explain more about the science behind each brain enhancer and give you concrete strategies to integrate into your program/classroom/club to enhance youth brains.  Check it out!

Summer Days 11

October 13th, 2014

Summer Days are a 12-part blog series focused on lessons of gratitude passed on from dog to human. This human is still trying to embrace daily the lessons of gratitude, so much so that gratitude gets an entire chapter in the book I wrote with Ann Saylor for educators, youth leaders, and parents called Groups, Troops, Clubs & Classrooms: The Essential Handbook for Working With Youth. In there, lessons of gratitude are shared as a tool for maintaining personal power and strength . . . and teaching youth to do the same.

I read the other day in an article on play that dogs play their whole lives and never forget play in their routine. It’s simply part of who they are and what they do. My personal experience proves this to be true especially with my Summer Girl, my border collie/lab, who came into my husband’s and my life as one of our two canine kids.

In Summer Days 3, as we talked about delighting in the now, we mentioned that Summer often created her own form of “play”:  stalking the edge of the forest to look for stray crickets to chase as we walked, or hunting for bunnies and nosing frogs in water holes. In addition to these acts, Summer has been known to play with her food (bringing it from the bowl into the living room, dropping food on the carpet to get one kernel at a time). She has been known to dive into her bed and attack it; play with chew toys or rawhides (of course!); or play with Lacey and us. We have chased each other in circles around the house. But our favorite game involved guard duty.  We could literally look outside, WHISPER the signal “Lacey, Summer – squirrel” or sometimes simply “squirrel” and the two dogs would tear off to go outside and chase the offending squirrel or squirrels out of the backyard (usually across the top of the fence around the yard to a particular tree).

Did you notice I said, whisper?  How in-tuned to the idea of play is that? A mere whisper could bring it out of her!

Obvious to anyone who owns or owned a dog is his or her inborn ability to play and thus we have:

Lesson #11: Play. Always Play.  IMG_3973

We had to name it, even if it’s an obvious lesson because it’s still a valuable lesson. There are high connections between play and gratitude. When we play, we are less stressed, more present, more alive and more in the moment. Those playful moments bring about gratitude as a natural response. And yet we often neglect to play as we get older in order to work. (And if you want ideas on how to play, check out our books, Great Group Games, Great Group Games for Kids and Great Group Games on the Go.)

IMG_2245How do you like to play? How do you define it? What does it look like for you? Reading a book? Watching a movie? Playing board games or cards? Being silly with a friend? Taking a moment to run backwards in your workout? Having the windows down and the wind whipping your face? Today as you go about your normal routine, don’t forget to take a moment to play – whatever that looks like for you. You know what play is. It makes you smile, lightens your heart and makes you feel free and young. Put it on your list of “must do” today: go play.

You can read all the gratitude lessons we’ve learned from our four-legged Gratitude Guru and learn for yourself how to: show love first thing each morning; be joyfully exuberant when doing what you love; delight in the now; always show appreciation to others; work and contribute; presume friendship; just be; sleep and eat regularly; offer presence; be patient; and play.

3 Strategies for Expanding Power

October 8th, 2014
excerpted from Groups Troops, Clubs and Classrooms by Ragsdale and Saylor

To expand power effectively, you need to develop leadership in youth, and this requires some strategy. Having a concrete plan may help you “let go” of your old idea of power more easily as you begin to share and expand power with youth.

Start small. Begin to notice the everyday moments when youth defer power to you when they could easily hold onto it themselves and change the power flow. For example, if a young person comes to you and asks for a definition of a word, hold back and refrain from giving him the answer. Ask him where he could find the answer for himself. In this simple moment, you have asked him to think, recognize he has the power to find the answer, and realize his own sufficiency. He can claim, in a small way, his own power. And, for you, it begins to generate a discipline of sharing power, giving back to your youth what they can do for themselves.

            Think through the little tasks and what youth can already do. What do they already have the skills, know-how, and resources to pull off? What goes into making your classroom or program work? Do you have snacks? Play music? Icebreakers? If your youth can research a subject online, order snacks, kick off meetings, or lead icebreakers, then why are you doing it? Surely, children can help choose music or lay out snacks. Surely, teens can lead icebreakers. As they assume these responsibilities, you can do something else. As youth get more experience, they gain a stronger sense of ownership and skills, and you will be able to do more as a group. When you successfully share power, you can do more with your time (personally and as a group) and you expand the power. You create a space of shared interests and tip the cultural idea of claiming and deferring power to one that says, “You’re more powerful now and so am I.”

Identify where young people need training and then train them. As an adult, you are accountable for the processes in your programs and for what you teach. If an opportunity comes up for a young person to speak before a business group, you can’t just say “go for it” and expect great results. Instead, you help that young person prepare for public speaking. Likewise, you can help a child find an icebreaker or prepare to lead a discussion. You will also need to guide the young person in accepting the accountability side of sharing and expanding power. Part of sharing power is preparing young people to be ready to take on their newfound power. Some tasks or jobs simply require training, and it’s up to you to provide it.

Training can be time consuming, and how a young person completes a task will not look like how you do it. That’s okay. But over time, your efforts will be multiplied because of your team leadership approach. You will get more done, and you will have a bigger impact on the youth than if you maintained the cultural norm to claim and keep all power for yourself.

Want more strategies for giving youth power and helping youth lead?  Check out more from our new book, Groups, Troops, Clubs and Classrooms: The Essential Handbook for Working with Youth.  It is full of strategies to help educators, coaches and youth workers bring out the best in young people!  Check it out and share it with someone else that loves young people!

 

Summer Days 10

October 6th, 2014

Summer Days are a 12-part blog series focused on lessons of gratitude passed on from dog to human. This human is still trying to embrace daily the lessons of gratitude, so much so that gratitude gets an entire chapter in the book I wrote with Ann Saylor for educators, youth leaders, and parents called Groups, Troops, Clubs & Classrooms: The Essential Handbook for Working With Youth. In there, lessons of gratitude are shared as a tool for maintaining personal power and strength . . . and teaching youth to do the same.

My Gratitude Guru, Summer, has one particular trait she has exemplified over and over throughout her doggy days. My husband was the first to name this particular lesson that she has been trying to teach us:

IMG_3972Lesson #10: Be patient. Our border collie/lab is the very essence of patience. When it’s time to eat, Summer has always let Lacey, our rat terrier, eat first while she patiently sat to the side waiting her turn (no need to fight over food – there’s enough for everyone). She would patiently sit and stare at Pete every evening starting at 7:00 p.m. waiting for him to give her evening treat at 8:00. On walks, as we ran into neighbors who want to chat, she would gently lie down and wait for us to finish our conversation.

These are just a few of the daily examples of the lesson she has tried to convey to us to teach us to be happier and more content in our lives. In her early days, she tested our patience as we got used to her. As a pup, she was a very nervous, insecure puppy that had been abandoned (and rescued by Freedom Farm) and needed to know she was safe and secure. In fact, it took two years before we thought of her as more than “Lacey’s friend.” It was two years before she began to warm to us and truly became part of the pack. In those formative years, we learned we couldn’t yell at her to not do something. Yelling resulted in an immediate squat and pee.

Summer taught us to be gentle with her and to have patience as she grew and overcame her fears. Once she knew she was safe and loved, she bloomed and emerged as the Gratitude Guru who then outdistanced us and returned the favor (of offering safe, loving support and friendship) by beginning to teach us to become more of who we are. And patience is one of the keys to a happy life: patience with self, with family, with quirks, with timing . . .

Where are you most impatient? Why? Where do you need to breathe deeply and show patience? What might happen if you let go of control or expectations and simply offer patience and let things unfold as they will?

Today, be grateful for the trying moments that try your patience and recognize that within that moment is a lesson just for you waiting to teach you what you need to learn. Maybe it’s to be gentler with yourself or others. Maybe it’s to accept differences. Look deep into that challenging moment that stirs you and wonder what in you is begging to change. And give thanks for the moment and the opportunity to behave differently.

Summer has taught us many lessons as our Gratitude Guru. Read all the blogs to learn how to: show love first thing each morning; be joyfully exuberant when doing what you love; delight in the now; always show appreciation to others; work and contribute; presume friendship; just be; sleep and eat regularly; and, offer presence.

Core Beliefs about the Rights of Young People

October 1st, 2014
  • Every young person, despite deficits or challenges, has strengths, resources, and gifts, even if obscured. They have the right to discover those strengths and who they are.
  • Youth are capable and competent. They have the responsibility and the right to give of themselves to others and to make a difference.
  • Youth need the transformational power of hope. When youth believe there is hope for a better future, they are able to envision, face, and strive for that future. They have the right to dream big, aspire to greatness, and have meaningful opportunities.
  • Youth need safe places to grow and explore. They have the right to be safe.
  • Every youth needs caring adults to surround them with support and opportunities to encourage their growth. They have the right to have adults who believe in them and tell them so. Repeatedly.

Adults who are able to say yes to these core beliefs exercise a final, unswerving commitment.  They never abandon a faith in the inner power, giftedness, and greatness of young people. They look for even the minutest indicator of greatness as confirmation. They listen to the dreams of youth, encourage them, expect greatness, believe in them, vocalize that belief, and continuously call forth the strengths youth have within themselves. They actively work to help youth realize their potential, recognize it, and live fully from it.

Wanna learn more about supporting young people?  Check out our new book, Groups, Troops, Clubs and Classrooms: The Essential Handbook for Working with Youth.  It is full of strategies to help educators, coaches and youth workers bring out the best in young people!  Check it out and share it with someone else that loves young people!

 

Summer Days 9

September 29th, 2014

Summer Days are a 12-part blog series focused on lessons of gratitude passed on from dog to human. This human is still trying to embrace daily the lessons of gratitude, so much so that gratitude gets an entire chapter in the book I wrote with Ann Saylor for educators, youth leaders, and parents called Groups, Troops, Clubs & Classrooms: The Essential Handbook for Working With Youth. In there, lessons of gratitude are shared as a tool for maintaining personal power and strength . . . and teaching youth to do the same.

There have been many joys in hosting a Happiness Teacher in my home for 12 ½ years. Short, adorable and easy to get along with, my border collie/lab, Summer who conveyed so much in the past decade has taught us much about making life worth living every day. The gift-wrapped lesson that has been the most significant on a daily basis to me has been:

IMG_4090Lesson #9: Offer presence. 

Every day whenever I’m around the home, she offers presence. If I’m in my office on the computer, she comes to lie down on the rug near me. If I do bills at the dining room table, she comes to lie down near my feet with her head touching my foot. If I’m working out in our workout room on the mat, she has been known to come and lick my head as I do sit-ups, walk through my legs as I stretch or be near by as my legs scissor across the top of her body. If I have been too long on the computer writing on my next book, she comes over, nuzzles my hand for “lubbing” (love + rubbings) and if possible to pull me away from work for a quick break. Sometimes I pet her and then absentmindedly tell her to go away. Sometimes I agree that I’ve been at it too long and take a few minutes to play or walk outside with her to get the mail. If I’m too busy or focused and can’t do much petting, then she “talks” to me to voice her complaint and then she will plop down at my feet.

Her lesson in presence has been a daily occurrence. “I’m here. I’m letting you know I’m here. I care.” Nothing beats that example of simple loving presence to let me know I’m loved.

In the “human” world, we often forget how valuable presence is. We feel like we have to have the right words, say the right thing, or do the right thing. Sometimes not having the right words or actions in mind will stop us from being with someone. And the truth is: simple presence is enough.

Where can you offer presence? Who shows you support that you take for granted? When is the last time you’ve told them how grateful you are that they are in your life?

Today, express gratitude to those who show you support. Tell them how much you appreciate their friendship and presence. Look for ways you can offer presence to others. Trust in the power of presence and don’t worry about having the right words or actions if it’s a tough situation. Simply sit or be with them. Let your presence speak for itself.

Practice all the lessons of Summer Days: show love first thing each morning; be joyfully exuberant when doing what you love; delight in the now; always show appreciation to others; work and contribute; presume friendship; just be; and, sleep and eat regularly.

Positive Youth Development Poem: Believe in Me

September 24th, 2014

Believe in Me

Believe in me.

Believe that I have promise for a positive future.

Believe in my strengths and help me grow stronger.

Believe that I can learn from my mistakes and overcome past failures.

Believe that I can make smart choices.

Believe that I can grow and change.

Believe that I can have strong character.

Believe that I can be responsible.

Believe that I can respect myself and others.

Believe that I can resolve conflicts peacefully.

Believe that I can stay away from negative situations.

Believe that I can learn skills for my future.

Believe that I can set and achieve goals.

Believe that I can do well at school.

Believe that I can influence others for good.

Believe that I have gifts to offer.

Believe that I can contribute to the community.

Believe that I can live a life of purpose.

Believe in me.

This is an excerpt from our new book, Groups, Troops, Clubs and Classrooms: The Essential Handbook for Working with Youth.  It is full of strategies to help educators, coaches and youth workers bring out the best in young people!  Check it out and share it with someone else that loves young people!

Summer Days 8

September 22nd, 2014

Summer Days are a 12-part blog series focused on lessons of gratitude passed on from dog to human. This human is still trying to embrace daily the lessons of gratitude, so much so that gratitude gets an entire chapter in the book I wrote with Ann Saylor for educators, youth leaders, and parents called Groups, Troops, Clubs & Classrooms: The Essential Handbook for Working With Youth. In there, lessons of gratitude are shared as a tool for maintaining personal power and strength . . . and teaching youth to do the same.

Lesson #8:  Sleep and eat regularly. This no-brainer lesson is one that many people often IMG_5797_2struggle with, but my border collie teacher on living well, Summer, has shown on a regular basis that along with play and work, one absolutely must get regular sleep and food. Food, for her, is simply nourishment.

Not all dogs are this way. Our other dog, our rat terrier, Lacey, is highly motivated by food and would rather have food than affection. She’s a little piggy. And, naturally, she’s also more of a couch potato who likes the idea of a walk better than the actual walk itself.

Summer, on the other hand, views food as the sustenance to fuel what’s really important – to do the things she wants to do each day. Food and sleep are staples for maintaining health, a positive outlook on life and having the energy need to do important or fun things like chasing squirrels, sprinting to beat her human in a two-legged versus four-legged race down the street, or jetting outside in a quick burst of energy to guard and check on a strange noise.

She really has exemplified balance and has set an example for minimizing an emotional attachment to food – a problem for many humans. She eats – enough, scattered throughout the day (and she has been known to eat from her doggie friends’ bowls when at their house), but her relationship with food isn’t her primary reason for existence. It doesn’t play substitute for something else. She doesn’t live to eat; she eats to live.

From her, I’ve learned the importance of balance and of caring for one’s body in order to do what counts. And as I’ve watched her in the evenings when she gets her rawhide treat, I’ve noticed that she savors it. She sits with it, waits, works on it, puts it down, rests, worries it again and so forth until done. She appreciates both regular meals and special treats.

What’s your relationship with food and rest? Do you get enough? Do you fuel up? Or is there an imbalance and you end up overdoing on either just to stay awake and keep going? And then, end up eating or drinking the wrong things (caffeine, too much sugar . . .) to get the extra jolt? What if you looked at food like you do the gas you put in your car – when you choose a particular octane to get premium performance? What if you ate that way and then slowly savored the one treat each day with gratitude and appreciation?

Today, observe what you eat. Notice how you feel when you eat, after you eat. Give thanks for the foods that nourish and aid you in being your healthiest so you can do the things you do each day. Honor your body and treat it well. You need it so be gentle with yourself.

Practice all the lessons of Summer Days: show love first thing each morning; be joyfully exuberant when doing what you love; delight in the now; always show appreciation to others; work and contribute; presume friendship; and, just be.

Quotable Words on Play from Counselor Jake Lawrence

September 17th, 2014

“Game time is important. We throw the football, talk about video games, or play games. Connect Four, Tumbling Towers, dominoes—I use these with all ages. It’s a great opportunity to transition from hanging out to talking about something important. “What does it take to win the game?” becomes “What does it take to win in life?” Games are like minilives—you just expand them.”

– Jake Lawrence, licensed professional counselor

Three Dynamite Ways to Power Up Your Work with Youth – Webinar Invitation

September 16th, 2014
 
 
Join us for a Webinar on September 24
 
 
Space is limited. Reserve your Webinar seat now at: https://www4.gotomeeting.com/register/758236447
 
Are you curious about what it means to truly share power with young people? Then join us for a free webinar presented by youth development experts Susan Ragsdale and Ann Saylor. This webinar will feature highlights from these bestselling authors’ new book, “Groups, Troops, Clubs, & Classrooms: The Essential Handbook for Working with Youth.” This webinar will discuss
• understanding what a strength-based approach means  • activating young people’s sense of power and putting their strengths into action • sustaining your own sense of power through self-care
Webinar participants will discover motivational activities that young people love and practices that can transform a program or classroom.
Title: Three Dynamite Ways to Power Up Your Work with Youth
Date: Wednesday, September 24, 2014
Time: 12:00 PM – 1:00 PM CDT
After registering you will receive a confirmation email containing information about joining the Webinar.
System Requirements         PC-based attendees         Required: Windows® 8, 7, Vista, XP or 2003 Server
 
Mac®-based attendees         Required: Mac OS® X 10.6 or newer
 
Mobile attendees         Required: iPhone®, iPad®, Android™ phone or Android tablet

Summer Days 7

September 15th, 2014

Summer has been the one teacher in my life journey who has taught me the most about valuing life’s moments, expressing gratitude and being happy. Of everyone I’ve encountered in my life, from strangers to those who know and love me, my 12 ½ year old black and white border collie/lab, girl’s best friend and canine constant companion, Summer, is the one who has taught me my most valuable learning in life.

Of all the lessons she has tried to convey in her special doggie way – show love first thing each morning; be joyfully exuberant when doing what you love; delight in the now; always show appreciation to others; work and contribute; and, presume friendshipit is lesson #7 that could just possibly be the most meaningful teaching of all; the one that may very well change my life.

For my life, “being” is not something I’m very good at. Staying busy? Yes. Doing? Achieving? You betcha. Doing for others? Absolutely. But “being”? Not so much. And “being Susan”? Whoa! Now you’re talking crazy. I can only do that with a few people!

The one constant that Summer has exhibited in attitude and actions over the years is that Susan is good enough just as she is. Summer has never expected me to keep her entertained for hours; she hasn’t looked for me to put into action a five-year business plan. I haven’t had to set, meet or exceed a goal; she’s never asked that I put on a smile or pretend interest for the sake of furthering a cause or making nice. I haven’t ever had to put on masks or be anything I’m not. I’ve always just been me.

For Summer, “me” is enough.  She is happy to simply be in the same room with me. She is content to be near me whether we’re interacting or not. With her simple presence, she has communicated:

Lesson #7: Just be yourself. 

IMG_6033As I’ve pondered this lesson over the past month, I’ve realized what a great truth Summer has tried to convey and demonstrate. I’ve repeated the words “Just be Susan” often in my head when faced with moments where I might want to act differently in order to please someone else or put their desires above mine. “Just be Susan”, I’ve come to realize, holds a key to tell me how to live freely. It begs me to be confident that who I am is a gift – as is. Summer has challenged me to trust “me,” to trust myself that I am good. I am enough.

And this unbelievably wise, four-legged, tail-wagging guru – who has the brain of a four-year-old, I might add – has passed on this most valuable, personal lesson by simply embracing and enjoying my presence without me having to do anything to earn her affections and friendship except being myself.

Today, be grateful for the gift you are. Journal about the things that make you uniquely you and that you appreciate and enjoy about yourself. Be proud of who you are. When challenging situations arise and you start to get anxious over how to respond, remind yourself to “Just be you” and then trust that you are enough. Then act from who you are and see what happens. You are good. You are enough.

Summer Days are a 12-part blog series focused on lessons of gratitude passed on from dog to human. This human is still trying to embrace daily the lessons of gratitude, so much so that gratitude gets an entire chapter in the book I wrote with Ann Saylor for educators, youth leaders, and parents called Groups, Troops, Clubs & Classrooms: The Essential Handbook for Working With Youth. In there, lessons of gratitude are shared as a tool for maintaining personal power and strength . . . and teaching youth to do the same.