What did you say?


I have been silent since last Thursday. Well, my voice can make a weird little hoarse scrape, but nothing resembling a human voice comes out of this throat just yet. I have found myself communicating through gesture, text, and handwritten notes. Because it’s such an effort to have a conversation, I find myself weighing my words, evaluating whether they really need to be said. Most of the time, they don’t!

It’s been an interesting journey this year, this inability to use my speaking voice to communicate. I have learned that words have power. I mean, I always knew that, but not until the faculty of speech was gone did I really comprehend how much impact a word can have.

I confess that I have, unfortunately, let my mouth get away from me, like a runaway train that I am seemingly powerless to stop. I know I have hurt my husband, kids, family, students. We all have done that, it’s part of being human, and it’s one of the things we hope to learn how to control as we walk our journey. Sometimes, I have just plain talked too much! When our voices become meaningless chatter that our listeners have to wade through to find the nugget of meaning, we dilute the power of our speech. My kids like to tease me that when I am telling them what to have for dinner, I will repeat that there is sandwich meat in the fridge and bread in the pantry at least three times. I want to be sure they hear me! I think that comes from teaching so many years, when you give the instructions three times and without fail a student will raise his hand and ask what he’s supposed to be doing.

Silence has just as much power. We’ve all known the parent, teacher, or coach who affected change not by screaming fits, but with a silent look of disappointment that cut to the quick. I am not good at the kind of silence that allows injustice to perpetuate. I am not good at ignoring problems or pretending that everything is okay. I will find a way to confront the problem. But what I am learning now is to choose my words carefully. A well chosen word can be like the lancet that breaks open the festering wound so that it can be cleansed and healed. A well chosen word can end a fight. It can heal.

I think the most powerful element of communication is the one that gets the least glory: Listening. I know that in this arena, my shortcoming is busy-ness. I just don’t stop moving and multi-tasking to listen to what is being said to me. I believe that real listening happens when I stop moving, look into the eyes of my conversation partner, and stop thinking of what my response is going to be before she even finishes what she is saying. I believe the greatest sign of respect we can give to another person is to listen to what that person has to say, without cutting them off, finishing their sentences, or giving a distracted “uh-huh” to indicate fake listening.

It is impossible to pass through this life in perfect control of our speech. We get tired, frustrated, distracted, and hurt. But I am convinced that as we get older and wiser, our speech must become more meaningful, our words must be chosen and wielded with conviction, and we must learn how to listen and use silence to build bridges.

Tomorrow, I will continue on this quiet path. Who knows, I may stay quiet for the rest of my days. I hope to keep learning how to say things right. I will say this: I want each word I send into the universe to have significance.

The price of bullying.


I think we have, as a society, become aware of what happens when adolescents and young adults use their words and influence to bully people who are different: whether it’s sexuality, weight, poverty, intelligence, or physical beauty. We have seen the vlogs of kids getting ready to kill themselves, stared in shock at the footage of shooting victims, we have heard the cries of the anorexics.

The “It Gets Better” campaign is a marvelous grassroots effort to assure those that are different that it will, in fact, improve. Each day is its own challenge, and each day is a fresh start. With adulthood comes the power to turn one’s back on the naysayers.

But you know what I don’t hear people talking about much? Parents who bully. Good, loving parents who browbeat the dreams right on out of their kids. I am not talking about parents who hit their kids, neglect their kids, or even verbally abuse their kids. I am talking about parents who are so ruled by fear of risk, by fear of the unknown, by fear of failure, that they attempt to micromanage every decision that their child makes.

In my profession I have the opportunity to encounter all sorts of kids and the parents who create them.

There are the helicopter parents who hover over every moment, the tiger parents who manage every choice, the absent parents who exert no influence whatsoever, the damaged parents who barely limp through their own pain and are not equipped to nurture their offspring, the healthy parents who support and guide their kids but let them make their own choices.

I had a mixture of parents: a mom who was mentally ill and drug addicted and could not be a mother and a dad who was lonely, damaged, and overworked (both have passed).

My husband had the kind who could not bear to let their son be who he was. They love him, I know they do. But his memories are filled with being told what extracurricular activities to participate in, what college to choose, and what major to undertake. The Arts were his true passion and calling. Anyone who has been around him in the last fifteen years knows I am speaking truth. He was good enough to be a professional actor. With the right training, he might have spent a life acting, directing, coaching, or casting. He most certainly could have paid the rent. Browbeaten into submission, he tried the safe route. It has been a difficult path. I have watched him fight depression, addiction, weight, and despair. He has spent his entire life trying to please the two people who should have been cheering him on from the beginning, and I have spent our married life picking up the pieces.

Now we are fighting the same battle on behalf of our children.

I have ever, as a mom, believed that it was my role to help my kids discover who they were created to be, equip them for it, then get out of their way when it was time to stumble on those first uneasy steps to self discovery and adult fulfillment. Rather than watching my children despair as they tried to fit into a mold of someone else’s design, crafted of someone else’s values, I believed they needed the freedom to try new things until they discovered their passions and aptitudes. My task has become to listen to their hearts, teach them to do the same, and show them that fear and failure are inevitable.

Hilary has chosen to get a BFA in Acting and Directing. She’s really good at what she does. She has three nominations, some great roles, and Dean’s List certificates to prove it. I am amazed by her. Will she be an A-List celebrity? Who knows. Probably not. But I do know that she can make a living doing what she loves. Take a look at these statistics from a recent study on the impact of Arts employment in Houston:

“According to the report, 146,625 individuals in the Houston metropolitan statistical area had creative jobs in a creative or non-creative industry, or non-creative jobs in a creative industry, in 2011. That’s more than are employed in the city’s finance and real estate sector, more even than the Texas Medical Center employs…Plus, the median earnings per creative worker are higher in Houston than anywhere else, at $21.58 per hour, which — coupled with great demand (only about half of the $21.93 billion spent on creative goods and services in 2011 was produced and sold locally) — renders the city an ideal spot for creatives.” (Taken from the Houston Arts Alliance, by Whitney Radley)

My daughter is bright and capable. More than that, she is brave. She is brave enough to go to auditions and be told no, then do it again and again. She is hardworking enough to bring people food and drink so she can pay her bills while she starts her career. Most importantly, she knows that if she fails, she will have the utter satisfaction of knowing she tried. She will not spend her entire adulthood grieving over chances never taken. She has parents, a love, and friends who will cheer her on for as long as she needs us.

I think the other ones will be artists as well. We have always known Travis Austin would not follow the typical path of college and 9-5 job. Libby, a member of the All State Theatre cast, is clearly as talented as her sister. She radiates on stage. When she is dancing, it is as though she is transported.

I know Trav and I will hold them when they cry at failure. But we would rather comfort them in failure than watch them chafe at safety.

I just wish their grandparents felt the same, for my kids’ sake, and their dad’s.



Yesterday, a man opened fire on a Sikh temple in Wisconsin. I am not sure why. I believe it may be because he was afraid. Afraid of something he didn’t understand and couldn’t control. Fear is a powerful and destructive emotion.

As I dig more deeply into my own psyche, endeavoring to learn what makes me tick and what I might need to change moving forward, I am discovering that I am plagued by fear.

Fear of the produce department at HEB Market Street.

Fear of enormous roaches.

Fear of obesity.

Fear of crowds.

Fear of failure.

Fear of betrayal.

I used to be afraid of being alone at home. When we were younger, I remember sometimes crawling around the house checking windows and doors in the dark, thinking I had heard someone trying to break in. One time when we were first married I ran pellmell out the back door of our apartment, fleeing from what I was sure was an intruder coming in the front door. I drove to the restaurant where Trav worked and sat for hours, terrified to go home until he could come with me. I finally stopped circling the house in the dark about five years ago. I am not sure what changed, maybe I just decided I am too old to be of any allure to a rapist and I don’t have any possessions worth stealing.

I guess my fear is a natural result of living in a precarious house. Sexually abused by a neighbor and shunned by all the children and parents in my neighborhood at the age of six. A mom who hit my dad, burned his face with cigarettes, cut her own wrists, and had to be lifted back onto the couch, passed out cold from overdose by me, her twelve year old daughter. A father made powerless by the weight of his wife and family. Teased by classmates for being filthy and wearing the same clothes day after day as a child. Hidden from my violent mother by friends, employers, and police. Shamefully dirty bug-infested homes. When this is how your childhood is, it’s hard to grow up confident. It’s hard to be brave because there is really no safety net.

As an adult, I have worked to create that safety net for my husband and kids. My greatest dream was not fame nor wealth, it was a great do-over. I wanted to erase the painful memories of my own childhood and replace them with sunny memories of a husband who adored me and children who were joyously secure in the nurture of their family. Guess what? I think I did it. I have done about two hundred scrap book pages this summer, and I have dug through twenty five years of photos and mementos. The five of us: Travis, Kim, Hilary, Travis Austin, and Libby have had some super times! Baseball games, dance recitals, birthday parties, play time, trips, faire, church, shows, and so much more have woven a tapestry of indestructible love.

I didn’t do it alone, that is absolutely certain. There have been extended family members, beloved friends, coaches, directors, and teachers who have shared in creating this family, this refuge.

But, there is an unexpected wrinkle, one I could not possibly have foreseen: the kids are grown. That security blanket, the one that I wrapped myself in every time I cuddled with my babies at bedtime, is gone. They are, as they should be, becoming independent. And Trav cannot and should not be that security. It’s not fair to him. No, it’s time to face my fears.

What tools do I have?

1. God. Now, don’t start jumping up and down, Dorothy and Celeste. I am still not ready for church. Probably not even the Bible. But I think it’s time to start conversing with the Divine again.

2. Exercise. It’s the best stress relief I know, and it keeps me from becoming overweight. I remember the self hate my mom had when she was heavy. Not going there, no sir.

3. Yoga. I don’t count this one as exercise. When it comes to yoga, it’s all about the mental benefits for me. The physical are a sideline.

4. Games. I have to find the path back to joy in my career. Though it seems counterintuitive, I need to spend less time creating the competitive actors and techies and more time encouraging the creative spirits and friendships in my students.

5. Sleep. I know that I need to be rested to keep that demon of fear at bay. That means adequate exercise, medicine, and a glass of wine each evening. It may also mean meditation.

I can have an exterminator help keep the house bug free, and I avoid HEB at almost all costs (much to Travis’ chagrin). Trav has learned to let me hold his hand in a crowd, and when that’s not possible I have learned to use my yoga breathing.

I vow to face my fears. To learn that failure is part of the bargain of risk-taking, but that it is well worth it. That betrayal and disappointment are part of the bargain of loving, but that life without love is useless.

Blessings on those who lost loved ones yesterday in yet another horrific shooting.

Girl Power!

“I’d rather be thought of as smart, capable, strong, and compassionate than beautiful. Those things all persist long after beauty fades.”
Cassandra Duffy

I have two beautiful daughters. They are strong independent young women. Like most women, they struggle some with body image issues and the female version of bullying that is so rampant in our internet/text society. But they are no wilting flowers. They will speak and think and stand up for themselves. I think it is partly because when I came into my own (around the age of 35), I decided to do the same thing. Tired of trying to please everyone, tired of trying to be the dutiful submissive woman, I found my voice.

I have two stories about discrimination against my girls when they were children. One story happened in church, the other in Little League.

When Hilary was in fifth grade, she went to the Kids for Christ competition held in Houston every Easter weekend. Though she did enter traditional girl events, she also wanted to enter in the public speaking event. She was allowed to, and won a gold medal. We were so proud! She had written her own speech and presented it beautifully. The following week at the Sunday evening church service,all the kids who had gotten medals in various events, including public speaking, were asked to present their speeches to the congregation. Well, all except Hilary. Because she was a female, she had to present her speech in the gym while everyone was in line getting their supper at the fellowship dinner. Her father and I were the only ones who stood and listened to her. Everyone was visiting, filling their tea glasses, and situating their kids. The boys had gotten full and undivided attention in the sanctuary. My daughter was banished to a noisy gym.

When Libby was seven, she wanted to play ball. Not softball like the other little girls, she wanted to play Little League Baseball like her big brother. We signed her up. When the coaches drew kids’ names, the man who drew Libby was angry that he’d gotten a girl. A very nice man named Jim traded a boy to get her. When her team beat the discriminatory coach’s team in the league championship, her coach pulled her aside to give her the game ball and tell her the story of how the man they’d just defeated hadn’t wanted her, but he was so proud to have her. I have a photo of that exact moment. Libby’s face is priceless.

As a minister’s wife in the nineties, I found myself in a small church in Oklahoma, embroiled in a discussion of whether women should be allowed to help pass the communion plate (it’s ludicrous, but if you are C of C you get it). Somehow the standing up and passing out grape juice and crackers became a symbol of power (never mind that the way the memorial was done in New Testament times was completely opposite of how it is done in contemporary America). In public discourse I stayed pretty quiet. I didn’t want to get my husband fired. But in a parking lot outside the mall, where the church leadership and their wives had just eaten at Luby’s, I asked one of the elders why it would be such a scandal for me or any other woman to pass the plate. He told me all I wanted was visibility. I was willing to pass the plate, but was I willing to come early to prepare it? I told him of course I was. But on the way home and still all these years later, I have wished I had asked him- was he? Was he willing to give up the visible job of passing that plate for the invisible and thankless job of preparing it?

I find myself baffled that in this country, we still have so far to go. Every day in little ways, I see girls struggling to find their power, their voices. We battle over who controls our bodies, we fight for equal salary rights. Strong women who are not afraid to call the shots are called bitches. Girls clam up in classes, afraid to either show up the boys or make a mistake in front of them. In my school district, women cannot be hired as head principals above the elementary level. Girls who want to be baptized by their female spiritual mentors have to do it in secret moments when the church is virtually empty.

My girls stood up for themselves this summer. They said what needed to be said without being hateful. They are choosing to move forward surrounded by healthy relationships. They know they can be independent, that if they have a relationship with a man it is because they choose him, not because they need a man to make them complete. They are in control of their bodies, their minds, their thoughts. They run, they dance, they are healthy both physically and emotionally.

It’s a continuum, really. From my mother, who gave up college for marriage and spent a lifetime depressed and addicted; to me, needy and broken in my childhood, teens, and twenties but finally realizing my own worth in my thirties and standing as strong as I can moving through my forties. Now my girls. Dynamic. Capable. Confident.

The world is blessed to have my girls in it. The world is blessed by femininity. We women must continue to stand tall, to walk forward, to refuse to be crippled by the doubt of others or our own fears. We must learn to reach out to each other. In solidarity, there is strength.

Besides, no one wants to drink a Cosmo without a girlfriend by her side. Cheers.

And the winner is…

Astros ring

It’s baseball season! And since I live in Houston, the home of the current World Champ Astros, for whom I just bought a new team shirt and am anxiously awaiting the chance to go to a game at Minutemaid Park,  I find myself contemplating the concept of sport. Of Competition. I wonder how much we Americans are conditioned to Competitiveness and how much is innate. Clearly, some element of Competition has existed in humanity before there was even organized society. Cain Competed with Abel for Adam’s esteem, spilling blood to be the favorite. The Greeks held magnificent athletic and artistic Competitions in the original Olympic games. Who was Alexander but the most Competitive general to lead an army?

So I don’t really have a problem with Competition. It is a necessary force that pushes humanity to make new discoveries, chart new frontiers, and achieve excellence.

But sometimes I wonder why we have seemingly made everything here in America about being the best. We give trophies and tiaras to four year olds who prance and priss better than the other little girls. We pit students against each other in spelling bees in first grade so that the adept learners can lord it over the ones who are a little (or a lot) behind. We award trophies to kids for being on a sports team, making the trophy the desired end, rather than emphasizing the lessons learned about sportsmanship and personal physical fitness.

It is a mentality that permeates every single aspect of American life. We rate our movies according to top box office gross every Monday morning. We look at the cars next to us at the red lights and either pat ourselves mentally or grit our teeth in envy. We slave endlessly (or pay yard workers to) so that we might put that “Yard of the Month” sign in our front yards. Most women eyeball each other in the mall, comparing rear ends, wrinkles, and wardrobes. We brag about our kids’ grades on bumper stickers. It’s in our schools, our churches, our businesses, our neighborhoods.


Even when the cause is worthwhile we compete. Weight loss competitions abound in businesses. Companies use competition as a marketing tool, cloaking it in contests for charity. For goodness’ sake our kids even compete for medals to see who can read the Bible best (how in the world we American Evangelicals could have imagined that children showing each other up is a Jesus thing is just incomprehensible to me)!

So no wonder we Americans believe we live in THE BEST COUNTRY IN THE WORLD! Most of us have never visited any other country, but our Competitive conditioning tell us it must be so. That ideology was a deciding factor in our most recent presidential election. Competition, not competence. Supremacy over alliance.


I don’t think I really am very Competitive by nature, though I think growing up in American culture can impart a pretty fierce dog-eat-dog mentality in all but the the most passive . I could never enjoy the fierce push to win at team sports, it seemed a silly waste of mental energy to me. When we had to shake hands and say “Good Game” I just wanted to make friends with everybody. I didn’t enjoy the All State Choir audition process in high school. I enjoyed the singing, but not watching some girls cry whose names were not called out. When our class elected its top ten most popular senior girls, I was #12. I watched as girls strategized and agonized about getting on that list, and I could not have cared less about that vote. I was surprised I got as close as I did. One of the top ten boys, Kevin R., told me in my yearbook that I could have been so popular if I had just tried a little harder. As a young adult I couldn’t have cared less about having better stuff than my peers. Still don’t.

As a theatre teacher, I found myself immersed in the arts, and Competition was probably one of my least favorite aspects of the job. Year after year I watched my students create beautiful work onstage and backstage. They were full of pride in their accomplishment. They gloried in the story they had told and they knew they had learned and grown in their craft as well as in their humanity. Then the trophies and medals got handed out and the kids without gold sparkly things suddenly doubted everything they thought about the art they had created. As a director, I had begun to start thinking cunningly, plotting for a win rather than for learning. Principals like it when you can set a trophy on their desks.

Irony of ironies, now that I am no longer a full time theatre educator, I serve as a judge at those very competitions. I go into those days with the goal of teaching and edifying the kids. Most of my judicial colleagues do, too.

I did discover that once the competitive element of trophies was introduced into my local community theatre stomping ground, much of my joy in that hobby was lost. I don’t get involved any more. I guess I have had one too many conversations with people who introduce themselves with their number or trophies, or who find ways to work their victories into conversation.

I am all for excellence. Anyone who knows me well knows I do not tolerate laziness or mediocrity. I used to lay that burden on others. I held everyone to my standards. Then I let go, and just held myself to a constant and unrelenting expectation of quality. That exhausted me. Through my practice of yoga, I have learned that winning has its place, but so does failure; that excellence is a worthy goal, but sometimes relenting and just being is just as worthwhile.


I envision a world where kids play on rotating sports teams, drawn by lotto. Everyone works out and plays together and switches teams to make new friends and team parties at the end of the season include the whole league in one great big bouncy castle. The top spellers help the ones who are having a hard time. The beautiful popular girls hang out with the regular girls doing stuff completely unrelated to fashion, makeup, and boys. Neighbors come together to help each other with their yards. Plays are not pitted against each other in UIL, so that students and directors can come together and share their work and inspire each other without worrying about medal count, and Americans take the time to learn about all the beautiful countries and societies that populate our planet, appreciating cultural and religious diversity without feeling somehow disloyal to the States.

I may not be the thinnest or most beautiful woman, most talented performer, best mom, winning cook, or most decorated high school director. Fortunately, I now know (at least 80% of the time) that it just doesn’t matter. What I am is a human being discovering her own path, knowing that her path is not a race track. There is no medal for winning at the end. There is only the love we leave behind as our legacy, and there’s no blue ribbon for that.