This is the title of one of my favorite songs from the Rogers and Hammerstein Broadway musical Cinderella. In this song, Cinderella muses that she can “be whatever she wants to be.” This fairytale message was one that I loved as a girl, but one that has lost a bit of its promise since I became a grown-up. I am no longer just responsible for myself, but for my family and everything that goes along with helping them “be whatever they want to be.” I’ll be completely honest: there are some days that I wake up and am more than a little overwhelmed that my family’s success rests squarely on my shoulders.
In discussing this month’s tenet, We Believe in the Model of Powerful Impact, I am reminded of a quote by Edward Everett Hale:
“I am only one, but still I am one,
I cannot do everything, but still I can do something;
And because I cannot do everything,
I will not refuse to do something that I can do.”
In life, many times we find ourselves walking down paths we had not intended or imagined. The goals we set for ourselves when young become overrun by real life and are affected by the decisions we make or the decisions of others. This is the case for a dear friend of mine, Alison. She moved into my neighborhood about ten years ago with her husband and three kids, shortly thereafter to be four. She was a preschool teacher and was amazing with little kids. She taught my son in his church class. After a couple of years in the neighborhood, both of us had our last babies and that’s when everything started to change.
Because of some very poor decisions he made, Alison’s husband found himself arrested and being prosecuted for a variety of crimes. He couldn’t be at home with their family anymore, she couldn’t teach preschool out of her home anymore, and she had to find a full-time teaching position to take care of her small children within days of giving birth to her last child. Not an easy task. Fortunately for Alison, she had some great people in her life: supportive family, friends and neighbors, to name a few. I won’t pretend to know what she was going through. I have seen the depths of her despair up close and personal for the last six years, and I can only imagine what it must have been like in the early days.
However, Alison has this crazy amount of strength and personal fortitude. She is stubborn and steadfast and, it should be noted, half-Scottish and a redhead, so she is a very take-charge kind of girl. Through the hardest of times, she kept her kids’ needs foremost in her mind and did whatever she could and should to help them feel loved and cared for. Not only that, most of the kids in the neighborhood wouldn’t know anything was different about their family … and that is exactly what she wanted.
The Model of Powerful Impact says that “we focus on making thoughtful and intentional decisions everyday” within the spheres of self, families, communities, and world. Perhaps it is because she is a kindergarten teacher and she works all day with small children who make great strides in small steps, but Alison is tenacious when it comes to inching along her life’s path and working toward a goal. I have seen her work with each of her children repeatedly, on microlevels, to get through their hardest times: their feelings of grief, anger, and abandonment. I have watched her sacrifice herself and her feelings for their sakes. I have seen love and compassion in her words and her deeds toward her situation when it would be so easy to be bitter and angry.
Alison draws strength from her Infinite Source, from God. She has been an example to me in how to teach your children to create, cultivate and rely on that relationship. It is so easy to take it for granted when we don’t NEED it constantly.
I came to know Alison when I volunteered to watch her youngest daughter during the years she was in preschool–she was friends with my youngest son. She was very appreciative of the help it gave her, but little did either of us know that our relationship would end up becoming one of the most symbiotic ones I have ever experienced. We have helped each other through so much, and it’s a safe bet to say I wouldn’t have survived my daughters’ high school years without Alison’s love, encouragement, or advice. In turn, since she has one son and three daughters, we have been happy on more than one occasion to throw her son in with our two for father and son activities he might otherwise have missed out on.
She is a fun mom; she loves to hike, camp, and canoe. She is one who loves to cook for her kids when she gets a chance and takes them to do things like ice-blocking and star gazing at midnight … because she can. All of our children feel her love, because she is free in giving it and good at teaching them how to show it.
She has taught me that acts of love and service do not always have to be grand, sweeping gestures. Many times, the care we show for others is manifest in a text, a phone call, or even a smile. She models for her family and her community a desire to be helpful. Whenever there is service to be done in our neighborhood, Alison is there with ALL of her kids. She often needed babysitting help with her kids in the early days of her divorce journey. Now she and her girls are the first ones to step forward and help other families when they need care. She sees a need and she fills the need.
I admire Alison because I know how hard some of her trials have been. I know that at no point has she walked alone, but I know that she has felt lonely. I am grateful for her willingness to always try to look for the good – in people and in life. I am constantly amazed at her resilience and her desire to improve her life and the lives of those around her; without her example, my life would be less meaningful.
The Model of Powerful Impact highlights the development of power, love, energy, creativity, forgiveness and resilience. During these uncertain times, these traits are ones that will always be a blessing in our lives and I am grateful that Alison has shown me how to recognize and show gratitude for these blessings.