Following in parental footsteps

I grew up in a small town where the major employers were a state college and a state prison. Most female students majored in teacher education or home economics but were actually working on their MRS. hoping to marry a business  or agriculture major.

The inmates on the prison farms outside of town worked in the fields tending crops or in warehouses manufacturing the goods the state prison system needed to be self-sufficient. Oh, and the penitentiary housed “Old Sparky,” the electric chair that took the lives of the most dangerous and least rehabilitative criminals until 1964 (the year I graduated from high school) when death by electrocution was struck down by the Supreme Court. Most of the convicts on death row were murderers or rapists, but none were women. Karla Faye Tucker was the first woman put to death in Texas by lethal injection in 1998. She found Jesus in prison and became born again, but then Governor George Bush chose to deny her clemancy. Texas today ranks third for giving death sentences to female offenders, and more white women are sentenced to death than women of color–which, by the way, is the opposite for male felons.

My father taught teacher education at the college. Sam Houston State Teachers College was the name of the institution when he started his career there. The name changed to Sam Houston State College in 1965 (and has since become a univesity rather than a college). If you were a teacher or principal in a Houston school or anywhere in East Texas, chances were excellent that Professor Thomas Murray taught you educational psychology or supervised your student teaching.

Education continues to be the most popular major among students today, and the university also boasts of its nationally acclaimed criminal justice program, which in 1970 became one of the first to offer a Ph.D. in criminal justice. My mother, who became the first superintendent of schools within Texas Department of Corrections in 1968, served as an interim professsor of criminal justice at Sam. For the record, my mother built a school system known for reducing recidivism through education and the Dr. Lane Murray Unit outside Gatesville, TX, is named in her honor.

Is it any wonder that my older brother and I went to college in our hometown? Stone worked as a guard at the prison while going to school and eventually became a parole officer in Dallas County. While in college, he dated home economics and elementary education majors, but found his wife in far-off Virginia. I became a teacher in Spring Branch ISD and then a college professor for several colleges in Harris County, the last being Lone Star College.

My younger brother Mark broke the pattern, went to the University of Texas and became a lawyer. Mother always said he was the smartest kid in the family. For sure he landed the most lucrative career, but I’m not convinced it is the most satisfying.

What were the main industries in your hometown? How did your parents’ careers influence your choices?

Looking for purpose in life

Human beings are storytellers. We’ve been passing on our histories since our ancestors scratched the original picture books on cave walls. As a species we want to leave our mark, to let future generations know we were here. That is the power of story.

The two most important days in your life:

  • The day you were born
  •  The day you find out why

Usually the day you were born is recorded in a family bible and in county records, but recording why you were born is up to you. Genealogy will trace your ancestry, but genealogy only shows the lineage. Your story gives texture and depth. As you write stories from your memories, more will come and soon your story plot (your reason for being here) will reveal itself. You will understand the purpose of your life, and you can pass on those contributions, values and lessons to the others who follow in your line.

We are living longer and longer. “Retirement” is more than playing bridge, starting up a small business or going fishing. The fourth chapter of our lives is meant to be savored through reflection and consideration. We have the opportunity to understand the meaning of life and our place in it.

An unexamined life is inexcusable. In fact, according to Socrates, “An unexamined life is not worth living.” However, when we reflect on our lives, we can see the personal and spiritual growth that fuels our joie de vivre. Take some time to review your life so that rather than stumbling through life, you live with purpose.

Look at where you are in life, whether in your second, third or fourth act, and answer this: What would you do if you knew nothing could stop you? I have asked myself that question and I’m living my answer. I plan to finish strong.

What about you?

Don’t worry, be happy

Deb Nance, a librarian friend of mine in Alvin, TX, has a great blog you guys should follow (in addition to mine, of course). The blog address is Readerbuss.blogspot.com and you guessed it, the blog is about good books, ones that feed your intellect and your imagination and satisfy your hunger for other voices. Today, she offered a recommendation for the Instant Happy Journal: 365 Days of Inspiration, Gratitude and Joy by Karen Salmansohn.

Deb says the author reveals the tricks that cheerful folks use to “keep their happy on.” You know, those people who always have a smile on their face and a spring in their step? It’s not just in their DNA—they have ways to adjust their attitudes and behaviors that keep them in the optimistic zone. But here’s the best part: (in Deb’s words): “She [the author] not only shares the tricks-to-be-happy but she gives you time and space to practice them in this little journal book.”

Okay, I am convinced. I’m ordering several copies at Amazon.com, your favorite bookstore when you live in small town Navasota, and I’m going to share them with a couple of “unhappy” friends. Deb says she’s been practicing for only twelve days and she’s already 117% happier. That blows my mind because Deb was one happy women already. (How did she get the percentage change? With some complicated mathematical formula that is ‘way over my head, so I’m just trusting her.)
I believe that for most of us, happiness is a choice. Personally, I’ve discovered on most days when I feel negative and critical, it’s because my attitude has taken a nose dive. There’s lots of research to support this idea that has been published in The New York Times, USA Today, Psychology Today, and many, many scholarly journals. Here is what one expert, Remez Sasson, the founder of Success Consciousness, writes:

“A positive attitude helps you cope more easily with the daily affairs of life. It brings optimism into your life, and makes it easier to avoid worries and negative thinking. If you adopt it as a way of life, it would bring constructive changes into your life, and makes them happier, brighter and more successful.”

And just to be clear, a positive attitude expresses itself in an attitude of happiness.

One of the “tricks” I’m certain is in the Instant Happy Journal will be getting out in the sunshine and enjoying the beauty of the day. It’s 55 degrees and sunny in Navasota today—I’m grabbing my sweetie and going outdoors. To be honest, I woke up happy, but if a little happy is good, why not reach for 117% more?

Bucket List

It’s the first week of 2016 and I’m filled with excitement. I have a shiny new bucket list:

  • Design, develop and deliver courses, workshops and retreats that help people make sense of their lives.
  • Practice what I preach by reflecting on my own life journey, releasing what no longer serves me and unleashing my passions at full throttle.
  • Explore the simplicity and complexity of the craft of writing to find my sweet spot – that creative, blissful place where I can let the words flow. Sometimes effortlessly, sometimes not.
  • Reacquaint my body to mindful movement by exploring the residential streets of my small town neighborhood.
  • Cook on a daily basis, creating meals that feed my soul and nourish my body.
  • Love Ronnie and Matthew with the fullness and tenderness of my heart.
  • Enjoy the company of my women friends, feeling their support and giving them  mine.
I will live 2016 with intention and not be caught up in the mindless, objectifying prejudice flooding our communities. I will take care of my place in the world by turning away from the vicous hate being spewed by toxic tongues and practicing the gentleness of human kindness.
 
What’s on your 2016 bucket list?