Full Plates Fortify Futures

It’s something about the twinkle in their smiles.  The way they can make a long, monotonous day into one of the best of your life with a simple stick figure drawing of the family that they enthusiastically request that you hang with all the others on the refrigerator.  Children.  They restore the gray areas of our once colorful imaginations and give us a reason to want to be the best versions of ourselves.  But, what happens when children dream in black and white?  What happens when the best they have to give is being a consistent classroom attendant but not an active participant?  What does it mean when the last bell of the day rings and a child goes home unsure whether there will be enough dinner to go around for the entire family?

In America, over 13 million children are lacking one of the basic necessities of life – food.  They walk along our sidewalks.  They swing on our playgrounds.  They sit in our classrooms.  They play with other children we know and love in our communities.  Some may have even sat at our tables.  In the most industrialized country in the world, one in five children are unable to access nutritious food on a regular basis.  While federal food assistance programs like the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), National School Lunch Program (NSLP), and the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) have attempted to close the gap, there remains an ongoing need for food assistance in this country.  Poverty plays a significant role in food insecurity and continues to perpetuate a cycle of inadequate access to food and other resources.  I encourage you to read this article about the way the U.S. Census Bureau measures the poverty rate and this one about the reasons it hasn’t really changed.

We know that in order to strengthen bodies and develop our minds, we need nutrients, particularly in the early stages of life.  I don’t think I need to present any scientific or psychological findings to convey the fact that when you’re hungry, you’re not focused or productive and in many ways you’re disengaged.  Raise your hand if you’ve ever been “hangry!” This is reality for millions of children who without food assistance programs and other community initiatives to combat hunger, they would not be able to sustain much less excel in their learning.  I wonder how many times a child has been labeled a “problem” at school for performance or behavioral issues, when the root of the problem was a growling tummy.  Things that make you go hmm…

LKO - Snack Packs

LKO Social Action Committee & Volunteers

Fortunately, there are organizations that have made it their business to address childhood hunger.  You may be familiar with several national organizations and initiatives, including Feeding America, No Kid Hungry, and Childhood Hunger Ends Here.  Often times in your community, there are opportunities to get involved and support local efforts.  My chapter of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc., Lambda Kappa Omega, is one of many service organizations in the D.C. Metro area that partners with local agencies, food banks, and pantries to increase access to nutritious food.  I have personally had the privilege of donating my time and money to assemble after school snack packs for elementary school children.  These snack packs become critical when a child might not receive another complete meal until breakfast the next morning at school.

We’re all here to help shape the future of the children who will become the next leaders in technology, education, business, medicine, music, sports, arts, politics, and beyond.  After all, we’ve only come this far because others have assumed responsibility for our growth and success.  So, on this National Childhood Hunger Day, I encourage you to share your heart, lend a hand, and take a stand by donating food, money, or time to initiatives in your community that ensure our children grow up with full plates that will help feed their imaginations and empower them to be extraordinary.

Snack packs for the children of Fairfax County

I Choose My Peace

garden of peaceIf I had a choice between $1 million and my peace, I’d choose my peace.  First off, $1 million isn’t a lot of money once Uncle Sam gets his cut.  Secondly, peace can stay with me for the duration of my life; if you don’t make money work for you, then eventually it runs out.  I don’t ever want to be in a place where I no longer have my peace.  That tranquility.  That stillness.  That unshakable love for who I am and where I am (and even where I’m not).  Those are all things that money can’t buy, keep you happy, or plugged into the miracles of life.  I look for peace in everything.  And with age I’ve learned how critical it is to make a concerted effort to be peace, give peace, and accept that peace isn’t always going to look like you have the upper hand.

To be peace means that you choose to approach each day with gratefulness and an expectant heart for that which is good.  Every minute of every hour is not going to be something to write home about.  The volatile details that make up our lives can be challenging, annoying, and unnerving.  But, allowing those things to alter your attitude and drain the delight from your character will not change the story.  You have to be intentional about maintaining the energy that makes you bright, bold, and bountiful in your love for the delicate tapestry of your being.

To give peace means that you choose your battles.  I can think of more than a few things and offenses in my life that didn’t warrant a response or reaction, but I gave one.  And what exactly did that do besides cause a volcanic eruption of emotions between all parties involved?  I’d venture to say…nothing.  Sometimes it’s best to let things pass right on by.  And it’s not because you don’t have valid points, but because making those points is going to infringe on the harmony you need to be a better human.  In that moment, there’s so many more things of importance.

To accept that peace isn’t going to always look like the odds are in your favor means that you understand everyone you encounter is walking a path that you don’t know much if anything about.  Living ain’t easy, and all of us govern our lives according to our personal experiences.  The fact that we process and internalize differently can sometimes lead to rifts in relationships because we all want to be understood.  But, typically no one understands why we are who we are until the dust settles.  Frankly, some people have a little more living to do before they know what it means to give peace.  You have to be attuned to the concept of loving people where they are to tap into the peace of what it means to win the war instead of exhausting all of you on the battle.  A lot about life isn’t about you, and 99% of the time people know when they’re wrong.  So, when you have to be the mirror, be patient enough for people to see their reflection.  Accept that you haven’t lost anything or been forgotten.  You’re really a lifeline for someone who probably hasn’t had the courage to divulge and embrace they’re imperfections.

A life without peace is a life without joy.  And if you don’t have joy, then you simply don’t have life.  So, as long as I’m here, I choose peace because with that there are mountains I can climb, roads I can travel, seeds I can plant, and no limit to the skies that I can touch.

 

 

Grown Woman

Something happens when you hit 30.  It’s like you’ve spent the first two decades of your life with the lid on who you are because 1) you’re too busy trying to figure out exactly how to find yourself and 2) because planning your adventures with your friends seems more appealing than spending the night dissecting your psyche.  But, then 30 comes a’knockin’ and the lid is pulled back ever so slightly and suddenly you get a wift of wisdom and truth of where you are and who you’re shaping up to be.  Here’s what I know happens after the crossover…

You stop wasting time.  In your 20s, you think you have forever.  Why?  I can’t even begin to tell you.  Then, you realize that just like credit cards, there is a limit.  You start getting ish done so when you’re 40 you’ll look back and see your footprints.

You are okay with spending days (and nights too) alone doing absolutely nothing.  After you’ve exerted a considerable amount of energy trying to save corporate America or resolving vendor issues for your business, you really just want to sit on the couch with a glass of wine and a bowl of spaghetti (make that organic…perhaps spaghetti squash for the homemaker in you).

You tell people how you really feel, especially those you love, because your brain no longer has the space for sugar-coated and censored thoughts to reside.  IRAs, mortgages, gowns, and Gerber have now made a home there.

You stop putting up with the bull.  I think a large part of the reason why we choose to deal with drama is because we think it’s normal to take on someone else’s problems as our own.  It’s one thing to be there for someone, but it’s another thing to perpetuate lies, excuses, and immaturity because folks don’t want to deal with their stuff.  You are not a dump.  Stop taking trash.

You find out who your real friends are.  So many milestones can happen in your late 20s and early 30s, and everyone you thought would be there for the downs and even the ups will fade into black.  But, not to worry, you now know that one element to happiness is quality over quantity.  The smaller the circle, the easier it is to “live for the nights with the people you won’t forget!”  Shout out to Drizzy.

You learn how to enjoy yourself.  We are our own worst critics and rarely do we cut ourselves a break.  It’s okay to dance like no one is watching and do what YOU want to do!  You only get to do this life thing one time.  Eat the pizza.  Take the trip.  Tell him you love him.  Just be happy!

You discover your body’s fragility.  You understand that if you don’t take care of yourself physically and mentally, things will start to break and you’ll need more than an herbal detox and meditation to fix it.

You have now assessed the number of times you’ve been extended grace and you clearly see that all of life ain’t about you!  You’re the key to a blessing.  You’ve messed up (a lot!), but you’ve been cleaned up, packaged up, and set up for a larger path to greatness that others will travel.  At some point, you truly accept that God loves you enough to forgive you and He’s just waiting for you to forgive yourself.

You recognize that it’s okay to be less than impressed with yourself sometimes because let’s face it, we’re all liable to be human at some moment.  But, it’s never okay to reduce any part of your character to fit into a job, relationship, or “situationship.”  Everything and everyone is not for you, and whatever is for you, you won’t have to force.

You unearth a bit more patience for yourself and others.  You know perfection to be a lie and convenience to be a privilege.  No one is always right and sometimes you just have to wait on everything – from fast food to apologies.

As the song says, I do sit and wish I was a kid again sometimes.  And I don’t know that I truly believed people when they said your 30s will be different.  But, thankfully I survived the first year of what I hope will continue to be my most productive, stress free, and personal years of slayage.

Change the Game

I’m always amazed when I’m sitting somewhere alone minding my business and I have an epiphany about the significance of relationships.  It’s true that not everyone you encounter along your journey will be there until the end, but do know that every person is playing a role in who you will become.  My most recent aha moment related to a relationship came as I was traveling across the country on another work assignment.  I find that God likes to speak to me on airplanes.  He clearly knows I have nowhere to go except to the front or back of the aircraft to the closet-sized restroom.  So, while He has me on the Boeing, our connection is flowing! *sometimes I rhyme, lol*

I decided to take advantage of the in-flight entertainment and came across an all-star interview with Kobe Bryant.  Now, I’ve never been too much of a sports enthusiast, but basketball and all its details is the one sport that intrigues me and gets me off the couch yelling incessantly at the screen.  Because they can hear me, right?  Ahmad Rashad went through the interview with the Lakers superstar asking him questions about the highs and lows of his career, his love for the game, and how he leveraged the differences in his personality and his teammates to lead them to championships.  Toward the end of the interview, Kobe explained that one of the things that helped him to be a good leader is to be okay with being uncomfortable about his teammates not seeing the best in themselves but still pushing them anyway.  He further explained that if you’re not okay with being uncomfortable, then you’ll go up against a team with a leader who is, and you’ll lose.  In that instant, it clicked.  I think I rewinded that clip at least twice to hear him say that again.

I realized in that moment that was the one thing a close friend and once upon a time sweetheart had been trying to get through to me during all the time we shared life together.  I can’t recall how many times I would mope, vent, and complain to him about how I felt like no one ever listened to me, how I felt alone, how it seemed like my friendships were fading, or how sometimes I just didn’t feel like being the one to initiate, organize, and push the envelope.  And every time without fail he would give me a kind, witty, and stern response that would leave me feeling like it was okay to feel that way, but I’ve been entrusted with certain characteristics to go the extra mile and get out in front because I was born to lead.  It almost seemed as though he was asking me if I was going to take the torch or let opportunities burn because the people I wanted to believe just weren’t getting it and/or what I had to say was the least of their concerns.  Talk about frustrating.

A 10-second perspective in this 48-minute video connected all the dots for me about this part of our relationship and further made me realize how God can use people to teach us about our individual characteristics.  I’m sure he wouldn’t be excited to know that there were times when he was engrossed in one of his tough talks with me, that I let it go in one ear and out the other.  Sorry!  But, I get it.  And I’m grateful for the confirmation not only about the intricacies of leadership and what it means for those who God will place in my care to be there for me in that capacity, but more importantly who He places in my path to embrace who I am, what I have to offer, and how I’m meant to change the game just as the seasoned and developing basketball superstars have done one play at a time.

Love Fronts

Love.  What is it exactly?  Do you ever wonder what it means for your life?  How many times have you thought that perhaps you’re missing what everyone is alluding to?

I’ve always found it interesting how we’re bombarded in multiple ways each day with suggestions as to how we’re supposed to love, but yet we’re also driven by societal boundaries on what exactly that should look like.  We’re supposed to love but follow a specific set of rules to ensure we’re loving the right way?  Interesting concept.  So, if love to me doesn’t look like what someone else tells me it should look like, then somehow I’ve missed the mark?  Even more interesting concept.

Two profound nuggets of my own truth about love:

1) You can’t hold back your love for someone to satisfy society’s “requirements” –  life is short.  And the more mornings I rise from the comfort of my pillow and blanket, the more I understand how ridiculous it is to not want to express your love in fear of what other people will say or think because love for me doesn’t look the way it looked for them.  Yes, you can gain wisdom from the experiences of others, but love is a unique and multidimensional form of affection.  That means we all don’t see it the same, receive it the same, or give it the same.  In other words, if you love somebody, make sure he/she gets the memo.  How crazy is it for us to believe that the people in our lives are mind readers AND that we should abide by some unwritten protocol about love to make everyone else feel better about their opinions?  Are you living for you or someone else’s opinion?

2) Seize opportunities to express your love – your demonstration of love can come in a variety of ways.  I’ve noticed that people, myself included, often give a small percentage of the love they have in their hearts because they’re afraid of rejection and/or how it will be interpreted. The question is are we more afraid of how our love will be received or if we’ll die with love stored that can no longer be reached and acted upon?  I believe that we often regard love as elusive and intangible because we haven’t given ourselves permission to do it without fear.  Just like you can’t hurry love, you can’t stifle it either.

As a poetic and sultry musician once said, “It could all be so simple, but you’d rather make it hard…”  But why?  My advice: love…and be love.  Because if we were all honest, we’d confidently say it’s the one thing we all want anyway.

 

Weakening My Worry

True life: I am a habitual worrier.

As much as I attempt to capture and check every thought, many become a part of the whirling sea of guilt and defeat that moves about in my head.  I find myself taking these thoughts to the extreme and dwelling in that place as if that’s where I belong, mainly because of own choices that I wish I had handled differently.  But, I recently read something that arrested the worry.  It was as if God jumped right in my face like umm..do you not know I have the power?  Have I not shown you that even with your mess, my record is good?  Like really…who am I to give a thought so much of my energy that it consumes the brain space I could be using to craft new ideas or penning words to inspire generations?  I suspect God may have taken my obsessive worrying as an insult.  BUT (because God is the Master of conjunct solutions, or in other words, moving mountains on our behalf), He cared enough to use that one sentence I stumbled across as I perused an online article to remind me of Who I say I trust.

Trusting means there’s no room for worry.  Because to worry diminishes power. And God isn’t about to let me (or you) get punked by a thought!  God is so much bigger, and the sooner we stop boxing Him in, the sooner we can see how gracious He truly is.  In no way am I implying that an extension of grace gives us permission to purposely make careless choices.  But, asking for help in all of life’s circumstances seems slightly less burdensome when the One you’re approaching doesn’t expect perfection and is still willing to give you an overabundance of grace and mercy.  There aren’t enough words to express the significance of that very fact!  It’s major!  I don’t think there are enough hours in a day to ponder on that goodness.  And for that reason alone, my worry is weakened.

Lessons in Blessings

Lightning speed.  That’s how fast I feel like every hour in the past 30 days has gone by!  I think much of that feeling can be attributed to my work for TEDMED in conjunction with several tight deadlines for major deliverables for my primary job.  A few weeks ago I blogged about my selection as a 201Leaps6 TEDMED Research Scholar and the opportunity it has afforded me to learn a plethora of new information about innovations and entrepreneurs in health and medicine.  There are definitely talented and imaginative people walking among us every day who envision the future of healthcare in creative ways.  But, in addition to my scholarly discoveries, I also learned much about myself through this awesome, yet rigorous blessing that I’ve elected to share in hopes that someone will draw some insight or inspiration from my three lessons:

You can do more than what you think you can do – I can’t even begin to count the hours I spent completing my tasks for my role as a scholar.  Every night I saw the clock strike 1 a.m., I decided that was the point when I would stop tracking.  I had to push myself to stay the course no matter the obstacle.  I countered every negative thought with a encouraging scripture or “self” pep talk (Self, please stay away for a few more sentences, lol).  To have to juggle what seemed like the MOST tasks all at once was a true test of my faith and trust in God to help me make it all happen.  Do you ever feel like you get a ton of random requests when your plate is legitimately full?  Yeah, that was me.  But, all of this was really an exercise in positivity for my mind.  I had to first believe that I could finish before it would be done, and that made all the difference on every late night and early morning.

You have more time than you think to do more of what you need to be doing – I’m guilty of adamantly declaring that there aren’t enough hours in the day to get it all done.  There are two problems with that though: 1) why am I trying to do it ALL?  and 2) what opportunities have I overlooked to prioritize those things that actually matter?  I have no idea where I found the time to absorb, synthesize, and report all of the information I uncovered as part of the TEDMED review.  I just know that the entire process has further revealed to me that when your gift makes room for you that means there will be enough time, resources, energy, and even the space (I now know exactly how to get to the library at my job without getting lost, lol) to finish the assignment and finish it well.  More importantly, my ability to find the time to complete this task also confirmed my ability to be able to give God more when it comes to my devotions, meditation, and just quiet time growing in faith.  Message!

You think you’re ordinary, but God thinks you’re extraordinary – I’m sure you’ve heard people often say that in life you have to take chances or you have to jump to see if you’re going to fly…insert similar statements here.  And, well…you do!  What I’m discovering about myself and those around me is that we neglect to take leaps because we don’t give ourselves enough credit.  We dismiss our gifts, experiences, and talents as if we can’t be chosen to do the unimaginable or that we’re not important enough for our dreams to come true.  A couple fun facts to dispel those unreasonable thoughts: 1) you don’t have to be qualified to obtain favor and 2) “importance” is subjective which means that it is a non-factor when something is meant for you.  The plans God has for us are exceedingly abundantly above all that we can ask or think.  That’s proven every time we find our name on the roster to do things and go places we never thought possible.  So, even when you don’t think you deserve the opportunity, go for it anyway and watch God show you that He thinks you’re worth it.

This is a blessing in my life that I surely won’t forget.  I appreciate everyone who has invested in me to get me to this moment in my career.  I know that God will continue to show His love, kindness, and grace through blessings for all of us.  And even in the triumphs, there will always be something to learn.