Monday, June 27, 2011

Happy Pride!

Perched on the back of a hot convertible with her partner by her side, she was ready for the parade. I took a moment to remind her how far she'd come -- from bible school to business school, from wide-eyed to savvy, from uninformed to advocate and organizer. She smiled and said something I would hear her repeat several times during the evening, "Amazing. Simply amazing."

As the Female Grand Marshall of Houston's Pride Parade, Tammi had a fairly good perspective on the evening. As her "wheel guard" during the walk/ride along Westheimer in Montrose, the area of the city known for its nurturing of life's alternatives to what some would deem the "norm", I had a chance to reflect as well. I marveled at the crowd of surely more than 100,000, at how the parade has grown in just the five years I've been participant rather than observer, and in many ways, how it had matured.

I still remember my first Pride Parade. Sitting on the curb at one of the less populated points at the beginning of the path, somewhat startled at how "typical" the entries were -- businesses, church groups, families, friends -- all supporting the LGBT community. I cried when PFLAG came by. To see older Mothers and Fathers loving their adult children by supporting them publicly moved me. I wanted to hold the friends that surrounded me closer in that moment, and assure them they, too, had a support system near.

My volunteer and political work has offered me the chance to drive the parade route, walk and cheer along it and with this last parade, get through early enough to come back and sit in the VIP section.

With risers constructed several feet above the route, I had a great view of the rainbow colors and could hear the musical entries as they paused for a moment for the announcers' introductions. I had to smile when I thought of what they'd had to say as Tammi came by. They noted her political activities, her advocacy, her family's support. But they didn't point out one of the most amazing things about her entry because they didn't know. She didn't either until we were all gathered at the starting point. That's when she began to take it all in -- two young family members were holding the banner, another woman and I who had worked with her on campaigns stood by the front wheels, and two college students and one-time interns covered the back. The reality hit and she smiled.

"Oh my!" pausing, she looked at me. "You know what I'm about to say, don't you, Karen?"

The others were waiting and checking us both. And it was her partner who prodded us to share.

"Everyone of Tammi's crew is straight," we replied. Had she intended to do it, surrounding herself with allies would have been noteworthy but the fact that she had simply reached out to representatives/relationships from various aspects of her life and come up with six who supported but had no letter designation in the LGBT acronym was somehow even better. At that moment, my Pride Parade truly began.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

A Life Well-Lived

We looked at the bag. Carolyn was so petite, the contents looked more massive than I assumed it would be. We then looked for a way to spread the ashes. Some clam shells she had collected and spread near the flower garden would do. Soon we were digging in and spreading her ashes on the very flowers she had planted and tended over a year ago.

To be a part of the last memorial for a life well-lived was an honor. Her husband, best friend and I ensured that what remained of her physically would continue to nurture that which she loved.

"Would you mind if I prayed?" I asked my two companions.

"We'd love it," they responded.

I then asked the Creator to help us remember, to laugh, to embrace all that would make Carolyn smile. We hugged and our memorial was complete.

She lived more than 7 decades and after helping hundreds of school kids know what it means to live in good health, she pursued a balance between emotional, spiritual, and physical well-being.

Carolyn was my friend. Carolyn was a do-gooder. Carolyn was a teacher. And now Carolyn's ashes nurture and encourage growth. Seems reasonable to me!

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Stories That Don't Come Easy

We can't help ourselves. We humans love our heroes and happy endings. Dramatic tension is fine when it's limited and measured, but soon enough we're jumping ahead, desperate for the tidy feel-good moment of knowing all is well in storyland.

Years ago, when the news became "infotainment," we bore witness to the struggle. "Law and Order" can investigate and resolve a case in one hour. So why do we wait weeks, even months (and some would say we're still waiting) for justice to be leveled on O.J.? We saw the chase! Now tell us the bad guy gets what he deserves! Right?!

Decades haven't pushed us much closer to coming to terms with our need for instant gratification on justice issues. I was reminded of that today when I read an update on Congresswoman Giffords' status after surviving a gunshot to the head months ago.

She's in rehab here in Houston so we hear tidbits now and then. And, of course, we all strained to see her as she traveled to see her husband Mark take off on his shuttle ride.

The deal is ... the news is good and it's not yet good enough.

From the story ... "Although Giffords continues to improve, Caursone said, 'She's alive. But if she were to plateau today, and this was as far as she gets, it would not be nearly the quality of life she had before. There's no comparison. All that we can hope for is that she won't plateau today and that she'll keep going and that when she does plateau, it will be at a place far away from here.'"

If you've ever dealt with someone who has experienced an injury to the brain -- stroke, accident, whatever -- the phrase "far away from here" carries the weight of the world.

I've seen it, felt it, and cringed at the realization of how superficial I can sometimes be.

Once, after heroic attempts to rally the troops and come to the aid of a colleague and friend who had a stroke when she was in her early 40s, I wanted to be more than I wound up being for her. But I didn't want it bad enough. The first days of her ordeal were triumphs for those of us coming to her aid, taking care of her family, reaping kudos from all who witnessed our all-night vigils and efforts to maneuver the medical system to ensure the best of care. Weeks later, she was in rehab, and some were there by her side. Without an immediate fire to put out, my attention waned. Months later, she became a visit I "should make this weekend" or a "call I've got to get to" but didn't.

A couple of years later, she was back at work. But if you're holding your breath for the happily-ever-after part, you better breathe. Because she wasn't back in her same leadership capacity. She was in a position that had been created for what her level of expertise now was. The stroke didn't just take away the full use of her arm and leg, it took the woman I had known. This new manifestation had similar memories and her desire to be all that she could be, but conversations weren't just slurred, they were missing the wit and wisdom that only totally firing synapses can bring.

At one point, in a workshop I was doing on change, I used a video of Tigger losing his stripes. Winnie the Pooh and the gang were doing all they could to give him a new identity since Tigger without his stripes just couldn't be Tigger. After several failed attempts, Eeyore finally points out that "just because you don't look like Tigger on the outside, doesn't mean you're not Tigger on the outside. It's all in the stuffin'." My friend approached me afterwards and haltingly reminded me that she was still the friend I'd cherished on the inside. I nodded in agreement and said, "I know."

But I didn't.

She simply wasn't my happy ending. She didn't turn out "all right in the end." She was alive, yes. She had new relationships, new dreams, new opportunities. But they weren't the ones I'd shared with her. And many emotional miles had been traveled in opposite directions for us to ever reclaim what had been.

I think about her when I see articles like the one I read today about Giffords. The media are clamoring for a that tidy end to the story. They thrust the mic at whoever is available and demand a date for when she'll be back on the House floor or racing down the campaign trail. In each line between the lines of today's piece, I heard a familiar tone, a resignation still tinged with hope but also a need to redirect expectations.

The staffer quoted is all too aware of the post-celebratory reality of most survival stories -- healing is not a return to what was. The characters have changed. The story is new.

May grace be given to all who have ears to hear.

Wednesday, June 08, 2011

Busy, Interesting, Challenging, Fun Days

As I typed the title of this post, my fingers got a bit carried away and "fun" became "fund." Interesting because the intent of this update is to chat about that very subject.

Raising funds can be fun. And not.

For the past four years, I've been looking for what would be my new career path. Politics didn't quite work out for me. Big nonprofits didn't want me. Emerging or smaller nonprofits did, but couldn't pay me.

That's when massage school seemed as reasonable an option as any other!

Last Friday, the state of Texas finally got around to sending me my license. So now, I'm officially an LMT. I'm also the "community manager" for a breast cancer organization, a strategist for a health and human services collaborative, a mentor for fashion social enterprise benefitting Uganda school children, a consultant for another fashion forward group benefitting vulnerable women and a storyteller for one of my former employers.

So, yes, I'm legal, but no, I'm not making a living as a massage therapist.

I have a few clients who check in with me every other month or so. I barter services with my hair stylist. And I still give birthday massages. That's about it. Frankly, that's about all I could do. (Please see previous list of other jobs for the reason why my massage is limited.)

However, the day I got that license, I had somewhat of an epiphany.

I've realized the dream of several months ago when I paid the downpayment on that class.

I'm doing a variety of things that I love to do, paying off a few debts I incurred as I took the risk, and beginning to breathe a bit easier when I want to purchase the "good" cheese in the market rather than the WIC approved label I had frugally been adding to my shopping basket.

Not quite as good as a massage but definitely an ahhhhhhhh moment.

My business card doesn't say all of the above on it. I simply state that I'm "helping caring people realize their passions." If you want to know more or keep up with the professional side of my life, check out

Local Artist Is "Big" Supporter (another interesting press release I was privileged to write)

OUSTON -- If it’s been “supersized,” chances are artist Kermit Eisenhut has painted it.
A decade ago, the Cow Parade benefitting Texas Children’s Hospital had Houstonians scouring the city for where the latest interpretation of bovine sculpture would appear. Eisenhut’s signature was on 14 of them. He completed one of 75 oversized Mickey Mouse sculptures for Disney -- also auctioned for charity.

Now he can add Pink Ribbons to his growing list of philanthropic props. As an advisory board member of Pink Ribbons Project, in motion for breast cancer, he was the natural choice to paint the first of the 7-ft. sculptures which will be part of the inaugural Pink Ribbon Parade this fall. The fundraiser and awareness builder benefits breast cancer nonprofits and the effort-organizer Breast Health Collaborative of Texas which includes more than 200 nonprofit, corporate and individual members.

Eisenhut is “big” on nonprofits. He has contributed auction items to a number of local charities including the March of Dimes, Bering Omega, Special Olympics, Vivo y Positivo, PAWS, SPCA, Houston Grand Opera, Montrose Clinic and SEARCH. He serves on the Honorary Board of SNAP, works with Big Brothers/Big Sisters and for more than 20 years has taught free art classes to people who were HIV positive, living with AIDS and, now, people touched by breast cancer.

"When people do art, they are able to forget their illness for a little while. They experience healing and increased self-esteem,” Eisenhut said. "The world enlarges for them. They are able to get out of themselves, to focus on something else.”

Eisenhut’s weekly Pink Paint classes at Pink Ribbons Project in Rice Village paved the way for his latest gift of talent and time. On June 7, he will take part in a jointly-sponsored endeavor to provide clients with appointments at The Rose Galleria, a nonprofit breast cancer organization, the opportunity to “Create While You Wait.”

Pink Days at The Rose Galleria will ensure that individuals with appointments on the first Tuesday of each month from June through November have a creative outlet. Eisenhut is the first of a number of artists who will offer instruction on subjects such as painting, needlework, card- and jewelry-making.

“Kermit’s work is incredible,” said Pink Ribbons Project Survivor Founder Susan Rafte of Eisenhut’s prolific contributions to charity auctions. “I would bid on them and I always got outbid. Now his art decorates the walls as he teaches painting to survivors, friends, family – anyone who has been touched by breast cancer.”

Rafte, a soon-to-be 17-year-survivor of breast cancer, attributes much of her recovery to the arts. Raised in a family that appreciated all forms of art, she and her sister Jane Weiner dance. Pink Ribbons Project first manifestation was as a dancer-organized fundraiser in New York where Weiner was living at the time of Rafte’s diagnosis and treatment. That effort netted FDA approval for the drug Rafte would soon need to help prepare her for a stem cell transplant. Ultimately, Weiner relocated to Houston to be closer to Rafte and to launch the organization in its Texas’ expression

“The ‘aha’ moment for me,” said Rafte, “was when we brought Pink Ribbons Project to Houston and produced the first show. I was one of the dancers. Jane had initially danced to save my life and now I was dancing to save others.”

Noting that the arts encompass many different forms of creativity – dancing, writing, painting, cooking, etc. – Rafte underscores why Pink Ribbons Project continues to provide classes for experienced artists and those who “don’t yet know how to hold a brush.”

“When people understand art they can take it to the next level and see how art can help heal, help them work through things. Art separates us from where we are and allows us to open up and work through some of those really tough issues.”

Eisenhut can relate. His art career began after a back injury and classes at Houston Community College.

“My teacher encouraged me to get involved with the community,” said the now portrait artist, muralist, furniture artist, public art creator, philanthropist, teacher, and community leader. “I urge my students to do the same. Find something you’re passionate about and go for it!”

The Rose provides services at two centers and via mobile units for both the insured and the uninsured. The 25-year-old nonprofit relies on insured clients and fundraising to offset the costs of the screenings and diagnostic services for the uninsured. Pink Ribbons Project is covering the cost of any uninsured individual who visits The Rose Galleria on these Tuesdays. For those patients who must return for diagnostic services, Pink Ribbons Project will cover those costs as well.

For a complete list of Pink Days at The Rose Galleria activities, email To book an appointment during the Pink Days at The Rose Galleria program, call 281.484.4708.
For more information, visit,, and
The Rose Galleria is located at 5420 West Loop South, Suite 3300, Bellaire.

Thursday, June 02, 2011

Surfing the Edge ... Of a Tropical Storm-10 Years Later

"It's easier to think outside the box when the box just washed away." And with that the staff of Union Baptist Association launched a "hands-on learning experience" we could have never imagined months before when we were reading about chaos theory and its implications on organizations. We actually found copies of the book "Surfing the Edge of Chaos" in the mud and sludge that was all that was left of our offices. Five feet of water had rushed through our building as a result of Tropical Storm Allison.

Ten years later, I'm no longer at UBA, but the memories of those days is made fresh as story after story of tornadoes and floods offers familiar pictures of wading through the aftermath.

After a quick goodbye to the kinds of things you display in an office -- most significant for me was the embroidered piece I had brought back from my first international trip in 1989 -- we set out to check on the more than 600 churches that make up the association. One of our consultants, whose post-seminary library of hundreds of books had been housed at the office -- is a weekend warrior around the house so he was in charge of getting the info about potential structural damage. We soon learned that if the water mark was rising on the sheet rock, the walls would have to be opened up and lots of repairs would be needed.

Armed with a meter to measure moisture, we visited congregations. I remember distinctly when a pastor stood in a humble but well-kept sanctuary, describing how they had brought in fans, mops and towels to soak up the water and hesitantly but hopeful, showed me the water line. With one look, after having made the same assessment several times during the days after the flood, I explained that they would have to cut into the walls. He didn't want to hear it. The church's budget was already stretched. I wanted desperately to be wrong. But I knew officials would be advising him to do the very same thing. The potential for mold was too high for the children who gathered there for after-school programs.

Weeks later, after more and similar encounters, writing story after story of what churches were doing to help their congregants, matching those with resources to those with need, revamping a website to become a resource center that we would later utilize for the Katrina response, I shuddered when an acquaintance commented during dinner conversation, "I don't really believe all the hype about the storm. No way that much damage was done. I know my neighborhood was barely touched."

Let's just say when the Spirit moved me in that instance, it was to head out of the room in order not to hurt anyone!

UBA moved into temporary offices that we used for a couple of years before relocating across the very same bayou that had swelled to the point of swallowing us during the storm. We came back to the neighborhood with a keen sense of awareness that (as chaos theory will attest) "every change changes everything". Innovative approaches to consulting, training, starting new churches were now somehow easier. No "boxes" allowed.