Monday Notes: Listening to, Supporting, and Understanding Women’s Issues

In the States, Women’s History Month is a time “commemorating and encouraging the study, observance and celebration of the vital role of women in American history” (Women’s History Month). Isn’t that great?

While I believe people like Harriet Tubman and Helen Keller were influential to society as a whole, I use this month as a time to not only reflect on the important role that friends and family have played in my life, but also to pay it forward by encouraging and uplifting women with whom I’m associated.

img_9354Therefore, I decided to begin this year’s Women’s History Month by having a book reading. On Saturday, March 2, 2019, four of the authors from my most recent edited collection, Daddy: Reflections of Father-Daughter Relationships and I gathered together to share our stories.

img_9382It was a perfect writer’s scenario. It was a dark and stormy afternoon. Seriously, it rained the entire day. The independent bookstore was cozy. Stacks of used and new books served as a backdrop. Right next to us, sat a group of five doing black out poetry. They circled and highlighted words, while also half-listening to our talk. Afterwards, the group’s leader expressed her adoration for the women and the event, highlighting the importance of healing through story.

The support was palpable. This is no exaggeration. The space held supportive energy and the reason was because each author had invited guests who had their genuine interests at heart. Mothers, cousins, brothers, best friends, longtime high-school friends, and book club members were a part of the audience.

book_reading_2019Most importantly, they listened in an attempt to understand each woman’s point of view about her former dysfunctional relationship with her father. During the question and answer portion, a woman from a book club I frequent began by saying she was trying to relate because “she’s a daddy’s girl.” I’d heard her sentiments from other women with similar experiences. They had no idea that some men had little regard for their daughters. It was a foreign concept. But I was happy to know that she and others were attempting empathy.

To me, that’s what creative nonfiction is all about. We should attempt to understand life through another’s eyes. Reading another person’s story is one way to develop the type of empathy I’m suggesting. Think about it. It’s easy to remain in a bubble of understanding that privileges your perspective. But it takes a different level of relating to listen to someone’s story and try to place yourself in that position to feel what they may have felt.

And so I’m pleased.

I recently read someone’s thoughts on “empowering women.” I don’t remember whom, but she suggested that she does not empower women, but rather she creates the conditions for women to be empowered, and from that, they are able to liberate themselves.

That’s how I view this book and this weekend’s past reading. I’ve merely served as a vehicle and set up the conditions. These (and the other nine authors) have done the work to free themselves. Isn’t that a beautiful thing?

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Self-Love Series: Importance of Self-Love by Michelle Tillman

When we try to live life, it strategically sets us on an evolution of the following:

  • Becoming
  • Being able to self-love
  • Learning how to self-love

My dogs died in my early teens. My grandfathers died in my mid-teens. My grandmothers died in my early twenties. My dad died when I was twenty-three years old. My first real love and heartbreak was at seventeen years old.

love_yourself_wandaThose events began to shape my heart. I know that the word adopted is fundamental in my love language. Being an adoptee pushed me or taught me to appreciate who I am and to love who I am becoming. As love began to hit me in my adult life, I learned how to hone in on the pain and the feelings of rejection, albeit most times this reaction taught me to deny the why of everything. I know that when rejection hurts it can nudge, push and pull us in dark and undeniable places. I have learned that someone’s rejection of me is neither a detriment towards me, nor should it be an obstacle for me.

I am learning that God has prepared us and purposed our lives in such a way that there are no coincidences. Our choices place us on different paths other than what we ask for. Divorce happens. Love is hard. Life creates a ménage of events that leaves us breathless, yet we do not know what life will entail. We are incapable of learning and knowing without going through the process. Life leaves us faultless without a covering, healing is necessary.

Each wound teaches us a different way to love ourselves. Lessons teach us that we are not who we were, but we have become on a grander scale. We are evolving, all within understanding our feelings and emotions. As our faith deepens, our spirituality matures. Our way of thinking impedes upon us to do better, to be better and not to remain stuck in a painful way. It is our divine responsibility to take care of self, to love ourselves-to learn how to love ourselves.

God created us to create. God created us to love. His greatest commandment is to love one another as you love yourself. That I believe is one of the hardest mandates He gave. In order to love ourselves, we have to be aware of who we are. We have to know what makes us tick, how we are living this life is ever-growing, ever evolving-there is no mastery to loving oneself.

We do not come into this world knowing how so we allow the hurt, the pain, the wounds and the disappointment to redirect us into a whole other realm of loving, of living, of thinking. In order for us to love ourselves, which God requires. If I love myself, there isn’t any way that I am going to maliciously, purposely and with intent harm you. Learn to practice self-forgiveness on a daily basis. Do no harm.

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(Shared for Forgiving Fridays)

Self-Love Series: Journey to Self-Love by RayNotBradbury

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One of the lessons I quickly learned in my formative years was that life can be unfair. As a little girl, I’d been told that I must be gracious, soft, and empathetic to all. To always offer a welcoming smile. To be a listening ear and a shoulder to lean on. And I did just that. I became a sort of expert who had perfected the art of loving others. People were drawn to my positivity. Don’t get me wrong, it was as pure and real as they come. I wasn’t faking my concern for people. And it was truly fulfilling being a beacon of light and support for others. But after a while, I began to experience an undesirable side effect. I became drained and discouraged, almost to a depressing degree. I needed love too! Looking back, I realize that feeling was inevitable. I’d learned how to love others but had no idea how to extend the same to myself.

Nowadays, I’ve learned to strike a balance between how much of my energies I dedicate to others and how much I reserve for myself.

I’m happier with myself now and…I don’t feel drained so often.

But, this only happened when I began to learn to take care of, and most important, love myself. In our overly narcissistic and self-centered world, such can appear an unseemly venture. But like everything in life, a healthy balance is all I endorse. I needed that phase. And I’m pleased to share a few cool things that I discovered on my journey to self-love:

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  1. It begins with a deliberate effort. If you’re like I was and prone to caring for others to the detriment of yourself, you’re going to need a deliberate plan to cut that off. Decide that you will love others, but also purposefully love yourself.
  2. You must respect and value yourself first. Have you ever had nice and expensive plates and cutlery? Or perhaps something else that meant a lot to you? If you did, I’m guessing you took great care of them. Why? Because things of value are worth giving the utmost care and attention. You are valuable, my friend. More than any of your possessions. You should love yourself.

Eat like you love yourself. Move like you love yourself. Speak like you love yourself. Act like you love yourself…and LIVE like you love yourself.

  1. It helps boost your self-confidence. Deliberately loving yourself helps you feel great about yourself. You begin to take on your daily tasks with an air of assuredness and positivity. And very soon, others can notice this new lease of life as well. You tend to laugh more, glow more and feel healthier.75ecf687-0ddb-4da5-82c5-54c2f6a7b41d-800-00000076c2d844d1
  2. It helps you become a more mature person. When you embrace self-love, your outlook on life changes, and you become a better and more mature individual. The opinions of others become less significant to you and you become more conscious of the things you spend your time and energy on.

And in the end… guess what?
To love yourself helps you love others better!

This was my most shocking discovery on my journey to self-love. The more I loved others, the bigger my heart grew to care for others. I was happy and fulfilled inside, so it became easier to get others to partake of the same. After all, it’s said that you can’t give what you don’t have…

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(Shared for Forgiving Fridays)

Self-Love Series: A Tribal Investment by Lady G

I am Lady G, and just like you, I AM a unique physical expression of God!

My particular story began with my Earthly debut in the city of Augusta, Georgia at the tail end of the 1960’s.

Now, before I proceed to tell you about my journey to self-love, allow me to take you a couple of steps back:

Prior to my birth, my godmother, who was the equivalent of a nurse practitioner, used her vast knowledge of Augusta’s medical landscape to handpick my mother’s OB/GYN, as well as my pediatrician. After all, she knew that my father had “good insurance,” and she was determined to help my parents take full advantage of his benefits.

With that said, she chose the best of the best to entrust with our care!

3heartsNow, I didn’t tell you that to brag. I simply wanted to illustrate that my parents and their tribe, which included my godparents, were determined to prepare a safe, warm, and loving place for me to land.

Admittedly, some of you may be wondering why I selected the word tribe. Well, frankly, it is the best word that I could find to describe all of the folks who encircled and upheld my parents who had moved 300 miles away from their hometown in Southern Alabama.

They were only twenty-two and twenty-three years old for God’s sake!

Bearing this fact in mind, the neighboring elders decided that it was imperative to invest in our young family’s success!

But that’s what folks did back then.

I digress!

At any rate, in spite of having not one local relative, these two young’uns managed to build a beautiful and loyal surrogate family.

Oh, by the way, let me step off track here to tell you that I am clairsentient and sometimes clairaudient so I can clearly hear Dr. Garland somewhere in the ethers hollering, “Lady G, please address the topic at hand!”

Well…Er… I promise Doc, I’m getting to it!

But seriously, this little bit of my personal historical context is a necessary piece to our topic.

Why? Because I believe that my parents and their people, created an environment, prior to and after my birth, that helped me to feel loved, valued and treasured during my formative years, and it was reflected back to me in every one of my early childhood experiences.

Basically, I saw love in my mother’s eyes as we danced to “Just my Imagination,” by The Temptations.

I felt love in my father’s kiss as he greeted me after a long day at work.

I heard love in my godfather’s voice when he asked, “What ‘choo know good Gwin?” and then genuinely listened to my three-year-old answer.

I witnessed love when I watched the brothas and sistas downtown Augusta singing, Say it loud! I’m Black and I’m proud!

In short, it was my wonderful start in life that helped me to develop a strong love for self.

The tribe had succeeded!

Right?

Uh…not so fast!

As you might have guessed, in later years, I found myself associating with people who made me question my worth. They attached conditions to our relationships like size, looks, education, financial status, and so on.

As a result, I did my share of worrying about whether I was good enough, pretty enough, thin enough, smart enough, and ad infinitum.

But, I must admit, in each case, I was eventually able to find my happy “due north” which always led me back to self-love and acceptance.

Of course, there is much more that I could say about the process of returning back to self-love, but the professor is counting words so I have decided NOT to tempt fate!

Just suffice it to say, that I took time to synthesize and integrate my wonderful early childhood experiences with my personal spiritual insights in order to reclaim the love that I always had for myself. Best believe it was not an overnight process, which I am convinced is probably a blessing in itself. I say that because I’ve learned to appreciate every journey that is presented. For me, it is during these times that I receive my deepest insights regarding the importance of practicing self-love and appreciation.

And with that, more will be revealed…

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(Shared for Forgiving Fridays).

12 Ways to Maintain the Christmas Spirit AFTER Christmas

Over the holiday season, a few bloggers and I discussed how easily people slip into the “giving” spirit when mid-November rolls around. And then *poof* Just like that, people tend to slip right out of it when January appears. It got me thinking. How can we maintain this energy year-round?

Initially, I’d planned to “experiment” with different ways and then write this at the end of the year. But I figured some people might want to try with me, so instead, I’ve updated and re-blogged the post every four weeks.

1The first thing I did was serve the homeless (January). I chose to volunteer at the Clara White Mission here in Jacksonville. The shelter is named after a black American who was enslaved on Amelia Island. Her daughter, Eartha became an entertainer and philanthropist, who cared about the poor and disenfranchised. Consequently, she founded the mission and named it after her mom.

Once a week for a couple of hours, I awoke from my usual slumber to literally bring plates of freshly cooked meals to patrons. Interacting with people of varied walks of life humbled me. Providing my time, instead of simply handing someone a dollar yielded a different type of energy.

Volunteering here is pretty simple. If you’re in the area, here’s the information. If not, then I’d encourage you to find a shelter/mission in your city.

People say that Christmas isn’t about giving and receiving gifts, but I can’t tell. It seems to be the part that everyone enjoys. And if you suggest removing it, then entire social media arguments ensue. I once read someone justify Christmas gifts with the story of the Three Wise Men.

I digress.

no_2The second thing I did was send people gifts (February). I began with my little sister friend’s birthday. I ordered Wandas from Two Dough Girls and had them delivered to her home. I also sent my little cousin a care package. She’s completing her first year at my alma mater, Western Michigan University. I asked her what she wanted/needed and she sent me a list. Dwight and I added her requests to our groceries and shipped them off. If you’ve ever been away from home, then you understand how exciting it is to receive free snacks and toiletries. Her older sister didn’t need anything, so I sent her a handwritten card with well-wishes and a copy of my book.

three-2032511_1280This next idea was a combination of a failed attempt to volunteer at a food pantry and something I’d seen other people do on social media. In February, I thought I was going to hand out food with United Community Outreach Ministry (UCOM). Instead, the director asked me to tidy up the toiletry section for an hour and a half. Although I saw the indirect benefit of helping her because she probably didn’t have time, I couldn’t see myself continuing to do this for three more weeks.

“I could do this myself, in my own way, I thought.”

That’s just what I did. The third thing I did was pass out goodie bags to transient people (March). I packed four 1-gallon Ziplock bags with deodorant, wipes, Vaseline, fresh fruit, granola bars, water, and five $1 bills. The first week, I started with the guy I see sleeping under I95. He mumbled something to me that I didn’t quite understand. The second week, I traveled downtown to where I know a group of the same population hangs out. Before I could make it there, a guy stopped me.

img_3054“Can I have that orange?” he asked

I gave him the entire bag. He seemed genuinely thankful, and even more excited when I told him there was money in there.

The third week, I was battling a cold and busy with book stuff, so Dwight gave a bag to an elderly gentleman with a cane.

I had planned to hand out the final bag on my way to Gainesville. For the past two years, I’ve noticed a small population of men who alternate holding a sign right at the Baldwin exit off I10. This time I tracked a guy as he crossed the street to nearby trees. I parked my car, walked over to the men who were seated around a makeshift living area, and handed the bag to the bearded man nearest the fence that separated us.

“God Bless you hun.” He said twice.

“You too luv,” I replied.

With this one, I’ve learned that the homeless population is invisible, until you open your eyes and look for them. Then, they’re right in front of your face, begging to be seen.

four-1426634_1280For the fourth service project, I decided to do something near and dear to my heart, tutor elementary school children. Can you believe it took me two months to find a place to actually volunteer? YReads, associated with the YMCA is the name of the program I chose. After I found a program, it took a full three months (or so) for me to be approved. I’d forgotten that working with children requires a million and one items: application, resume, three references, a webinar about not molesting children, and a background check. Sheesh! This is why I didn’t begin until April.

During April and May, I’ve tutored children in reading. But, these aren’t just any children. Have you heard the term ESL? If not, it stands for English as a Second Language. These children attend one of Jacksonville’s designated ESL schools. I typically have the same two students at the beginning of the hour. One is from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and the second half hour, I tutor students who are Hispanic, mostly from Mexico.

My time with these children has been hopeful. Little kids are vulnerable in ways that adults have learned not to be. For example, the Congolese girl moved to the States two years ago. English is one of four languages she speaks.

“Where you from?” she asked on day one.

“I live here in Jacksonville, like you,” I responded.

“Noooo. Where you from???”

She’s so perceptive. Guess she’d wondered, as others have asked before, you not from ‘round here, huh? I ended up telling her that I was born and raised in Chicago and her eyes brightened. From that day forward, I knew Maya and I had bonded.

Week three she thought I wasn’t coming, and when I walked in the door, her face lit up.

“You’re heeeere!” she exclaimed.

“Of course Maya! I’ve been looking all over for you. I thought you weren’t here,” I put on.

I love children of all ages. It’s one of three things with which I have a natural ability. Therefore, tutoring for one hour a week wasn’t strenuous. And although I don’t know for sure what the impact will be, I suspect I’ve positively influenced Maya’s life in some way just by being there.

YReads is a state of Florida initiative; however, I’m sure your city and state has a similar tutoring program designed to support children’s literacy. Tutoring is a way to give back to your own community that is sure to yield high returns.

*Maya is a pseudonym.

five_dollarBy June, I’d forgotten to formally give in some systematic way. However, I’m happy to report that I was still service-minded…it was just more natural.

My goddaughter and I traveled to Nashville the second week in June. There, we hung out on Broad Street with a friend of mine who we’d visited. I’d noticed the homeless population almost immediately and the busyness of the area allowed me to take some candid shots. Well, one man wouldn’t let me take a photo, unless I gave him some money. How much was up to me. I paid $2.00 for a shot of his sign. This, however, isn’t it lol I must’ve deleted it. But this is representative of the types of signs we saw that day.

dreams_nashvilleA couple days later, we rented a car and drove to Memphis to visit my cousin. Here, people party on the infamous Beale Street. The evening wore into morning and clubs began to close. People began to filter back into the street. This is when I met a guy in a wheelchair. He explained to me that it cost $7.00 to enter one of the Memphis shelters. He had one dollar, so I gave him six more. And just as I’ve written before, I didn’t worry about if he actually used the money for housing; that’s none of my business.

Later that morning, my cousin had a breakdown where she revealed her disappointment in our relationship. She’d been suppressing these feelings for a few years. From what I could tell, she wanted more of my money, time, and affection, seemingly in that order. A former part of me would have dug deep and matched her hurt feelings with my own. But I’ve lived long enough to know that doesn’t help. Instead, I hugged her and listened. Later that day, I maintained my own silence and thoughts. Don’t get me wrong. I was mad; however, I chose not to allow my anger to drown out her opinion. Furthermore, when we went to lunch, I also chose to pay for her meal as an act of kindness.

The lesson I learned for Christmas in June is that sometimes it’s good to just go with the flow and give when necessary or as you can.

Additionally, I’ve learned to give without worry.

Many times I’ve not wanted to give to the homeless because I might need that $2 or I don’t want to pay for someone’s food because I’ve already paid for the last five meals when we were together. But in a way, that’s the opposite of an abundant mindset. Giving this year has shown me that I always have enough. I have so much that I can give time, money and resources freely without stress. Isn’t that a wonderful thought?

no_6Soooo…one day I looked up at it was July 25th aaannnd I hadn’t maintained the Christmas Spirit for that month! Turns out the summer is the time when I’m most forgetful about these things cause I’m out frolicking and stuff.

 

 

 

7For August, I paid it forward. In case you’re unfamiliar with this concept, the idea is instead of paying someone back for a good deed, you pay it forward by doing something nice for someone else. For example, during one of this summer’s vacations, our friends paid for all of our meals and museum exhibits. Instead of paying them back, we would just pay it forward by doing something for someone else. Typically, people associate this with literally paying for something for someone. So, that’s where I began.

I learned a few years ago that strangers tend not to accept face-to-face help. When I tried to pay for a guy’s groceries, he vehemently declined. This time around, I simply paid for the person behind me in the Starbucks line. It was done and I could zoom off before the driver knew what happened.

But paying it forward in that way seemed cliche. So the following week, I was more in tune with my surroundings and looked for ways to pay it forward without money. I suppose it’s just called helping someone. This worked out perfectly. Instead of ignoring the bewildered lady who’s never signed into the library’s computer, I stood beside her and patiently explained how to log in and find her name. Someone once had to do this for me too.

I continued paying it forward in this way by holding the door for a lady at yoga. I’d noticed some time ago that people are all Namaste while they’re in yoga, but will let that door slam in your face when it’s over. Instead of silently complaining, I decided to be the change I wanted to see. Another opportunity presented itself the following week. A lady in my Bodyworks class was running late, so I helped her set up her space by getting her dumbbells for her.

“Thank you so much! I was finishing my quinoa and fruit in the car,” she said.

Then, you know what happened? I was running late the next week, and she didn’t hesitate to help me set up so I could begin on time.

This month, I also participated in our citywide “Stuff the Bus” back-to-school campaign. I normally don’t do this because we have our own children’s school supply needs to fulfill, but again, there was that one year D and I needed a little extra help for our own daughters. Instead of paying that person back, I gave freely to support the children in my community.

Paying it forward really is just about being present and giving of oneself in ways that someone once gave to you.

number_8There was a lot going on in the world in September. Natural disasters brought death, destruction, renewal, and rebuilding. Additionally, “regular” life is going on and many times that also requires help. So, for September, I donated and I donated, and I donated.

  • I donated to the American Red Cross through a shoe store, called DSW. All you had to do was stop by a store and literally swipe your card. This was easy enough. However, afterwards I read that the American Red Cross isn’t trustworthy. Well, what’s done is done. I do hope that’s not true.
  • Firehouse ran a campaign for Hurricane Harvey victims. All you had to do was round up your bill to the nearest dollar. This also seemed like a simple way to give, so I rounded my meal’s receipt to support.
  • A friend of mine participated in a suicide prevention run. Consequently, I supported her by giving money to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention.
  • My daughter’s friend’s birthday was September 20th. In addition to planning a huge surprise Sweet 16 Birthday party, her mother also wanted to buy her a car. She used a crowdfunding tool to raise money for this gift. While I don’t usually participate in GoFundMes and such, our family is pretty close to her, so I gave a few dollars for her cause.
  • A friend of mine from high school also created and promoted a feed the homeless day in my home city, Chicago. She calls them “blessing bags.” They are the same concept that I did a few months back. While I had planned on actually sending toiletries, etc., I failed to plan how to execute it by the September 30th deadline. So, I gave money for You Matter Outreach Day (Feed the Homeless).

Around September, I asked for service project suggestions. Although I received some great ideas, one stood out. Ann from Waking up on the Wrong Side of 50 mentioned collecting duffel bags for foster care children because they’re always in transition and rarely have luggage. First, I contacted a couple of friends to find out if they could point me in the direction of a foster care home specifically for minority children. They could not. That’s when I used trusty Google.

nineThrough a simple search, I found Family Support Services of North Florida. Their community service liaison, Dani said they needed diapers. A light bulb literally went off over my head. For October, I decided to host a virtual diaper drive. I’d planned on buying a pack of diapers each week anyway, but it seemed that including others would be even more helpful.

I was quite surprised by the outcome. A friend of mine from Illinois immediately sent $15 through Messenger. I transferred the money and purchased my first box. Other friends ordered diapers through Amazon or Walmart and had them sent to my home. Another friend who lives here in Jacksonville physically dropped off a box. A few bloggers participated by also mailing them. Wanda is one. And Michelle was another. Four weeks later, I was able to deliver 2,212 diapers.

I am grateful that, together, we were able to support a baby or family in need. This diaper drive has been the most internally rewarding activity. I really believe we need to encourage each other to be more giving in multiple ways. I hate to get all preachy, but a lot of times we expect someone else to help out or we think “help” has to be a grandiose idea. Or, we believe we have to join an organization to impact society in positive ways. Well, I’m here to say that support can be as simple as dropping off or sending a box of diapers at your local foster care home. If you don’t do it, then who will?

10This year-long project really became a part of my being. I could tell because when Thanksgiving rolled around, I didn’t have the urge to do something nice for someone because I’d been of service the entire year. However, I did purchase a Barbie doll and give to Toys for Tots. This program runs from mid-November through December if you’re ever interested in giving. Toys can be dropped off at most Toys R Us.

A week later, when December 1st hit, I really hadn’t thought of a bang-up way to end the 12 months of service, so I combined two of the year’s ideas.

11I began the month with a random act of kindness, and I have to tell you, it was quite natural. An older woman pulled up behind me in the Publix grocery store line. She was in one of those motorized scooters with the baskets attached.

“Do you need help?” I asked.

I’ve learned to ask first because some people get super ornery if you assume they can’t do it themselves.

She kind of glanced up at me, and then said, “Actually, I do.”

I placed all of her groceries on the conveyor belt, and she was pleased. She thanked me over and over again, and told me how much easier that made her shopping.

Imagine that. One act that took less than two minutes made this woman’s day.

Next, I decided to end the year the same way I began it, at the Clara White Mission serving breakfast to those who need it. I’ve since learned that the people who frequent this mission are not always homeless. Sometimes they are newly released prisoners; other times they are simply people who can’t afford to eat.

Either way, I spent three December Mondays with them.

I wished there were some grand finale with fireworks or something, but I suppose the endgame is the internal transformation that has occurred. And you’ll have to wait until January for that reflection 😉

If you celebrate something during this holiday season, then Happy Holidays to you! If not, then I wish you well on this day. I do hope these 12 months have been an inspiration for each of you to contribute to society in some way.

 

12 Ways to Maintain the Christmas Spirit AFTER Christmas (7)

Here is another reflection of how I maintained the Christmas spirit after Christmas.

7For August, I paid it forward. In case you’re unfamiliar with this concept, the idea is instead of paying someone back for a good deed, you pay it forward by doing something nice for someone else. For example, during one of this summer’s vacations, our friends paid for all of our meals and museum exhibits. Instead of paying them back, we would just pay it forward by doing something for someone else. Typically, people associate this with literally paying for something for someone. So, that’s where I began.

I learned a few years ago that strangers tend not to accept face-to-face help. When I tried to pay for a guy’s groceries, he vehemently declined. This time around, I simply paid for the person behind me in the Starbucks line. It was done and I could zoom off before the driver knew what happened.

But paying it forward in that way seemed cliche. So the following week, I was more in tune with my surroundings and looked for ways to pay it forward without money. I suppose it’s just called helping someone. This worked out perfectly. Instead of ignoring the bewildered lady who’d never signed into the library’s computer, I stood beside her and patiently explained how to log in and find her name. Someone once had to do this for me too.

I continued paying it forward in this way by holding the door for a lady at yoga. I’d noticed some time ago that people are all Namaste while they’re in yoga, but will let that door slam in your face when it’s over. Instead of silently complaining, I decided to be the change I wanted to see. Another opportunity presented itself the following week. A lady in my Bodyworks class was running late, so I helped her set up her space by getting her dumbbells for her.

“Thank you so much! I was finishing my quinoa and fruit in the car,” she said.

Then, you know what happened? I was running late the next week, and she didn’t hesitate to help me set up so I could begin on time.

img_4623This month, I also participated in our citywide “Stuff the Bus” back-to-school campaign. I normally don’t do this because we have our own children’s school supply needs to fulfill, but again, there was that one year D and I needed a little extra help for our own daughters. Instead of paying that person back, I gave freely to support the children in my community.

So far, this month is my favorite way to maintain the Christmas spirit after Christmas because paying it forward really is just about being present and giving of oneself in ways that someone once gave to you.

Let me know what you think about this one. Also, tell me if you’ve ever paid it forward to return a good deed, or just to be nice in the moment.

12 Ways to Maintain the Christmas Spirit AFTER Christmas (3)

Here is the third way I maintained the Christmas spirit after Christmas.

three-2032511_1280This next idea was a combination of a failed attempt to volunteer at a food pantry and something I’d seen other people do on social media. In February, I thought I was going to hand out food with United Community Outreach Ministry (UCOM). Instead, the director asked me to clean the toiletry section for an hour and a half. Although I saw the indirect benefit of helping her because she probably didn’t have time, I couldn’t see myself continuing to do this for three more weeks.

“I could do this myself, in my own way, I thought.”

That’s just what I did. The third thing I did was pass out goodie bags to transient people (March). I packed four 1-gallon Ziplock bags with deodorant, wipes, Vaseline, fresh fruit, granola bars, water, and five $1 bills. The first week, I started with the guy I see sleeping under I95. He mumbled something to me that I didn’t quite understand. The second week, I traveled downtown to where I know a group of the same population hangs out. Before I could make it there, a guy stopped me.

img_3054“Can I have that orange?” he asked

I gave him the entire bag. He seemed genuinely pleased, and even more excited when I told him there was money in there.

The third week, I was battling allergies and busy with book stuff, so Dwight gave a bag to an elderly gentleman with a cane.

I had planned to hand out the final bag on my way to Gainesville. For the past two years, I’ve noticed a small population of men who alternate holding a sign right at the Baldwin exit off I10. This time I tracked a guy as he crossed the street to nearby trees. I parked my car, walked over to the men who were seated around a makeshift living area, and handed the bag to the bearded man nearest the fence that separated us.

“God Bless you hun.” He said it twice.

“You too luv,” I replied.

With this one, I’ve learned that the homeless population is invisible, until you open your eyes and look for them. Then, they’re right in front of your face, begging to be seen.

Let me know what you think about this one. Do you think you could pack a goodie bag for the transient population in your city? Is that demographic high where you live?

 

 

 

Monday Notes: Who is Family?

Being adopted has shaped the way I view who is family and who is not. When I found out I was adopted over thirty years ago, I saw the people around me in a different light. I saw them as strangers, yet I still accepted them as family because they had taught me to do so. I instantly realized that any combination of people could make a family.

img_8185In this way, I accepted my mother and father as my family unit. These were the people who’d decided to raise me from infancy as their own. They loved me, and I them. But when my mother died and my father gave up his parental rights, I began to question the definition. Was my adopted father not my father anymore simply because the Court said he wasn’t? I mean the Court deemed him my father in 1974, and so he was. Was he not in 1990 because they said he wasn’t? He was the only father I’d known. Could the Court demolish sixteen years of relationship?

At the age of seventeen, I was briefly orphaned, until my adopted grandmother assumed responsibility. She became my legal guardian. I never called her mother or mom because I’d already had two of those. Plus, she was simply my Grannie as she’d been before. She was family, not only because she was my mother’s mother, but also because she’d provided love and comfort throughout my entire life, and at a time when I’d most needed it. She’s been the most consistent relationship I’ve had.

img_8191As I grew older and had children of my own, curiosity about my own background grew. By the age of thirty-two, with a lot of hassle from the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services, I found my birth mother’s family. My biological mother had committed suicide five years after I was born. Few family members were easily contacted. One of her older sisters, Aunt Catherine, was found and I immediately felt connected.

Our shared name was odd. But what was stranger was the point of her nose and the idea that her face looked like mine. It’s a luxury adopted children don’t have. In fact, people who didn’t know me asked her daughter who I was, making sure she knew that I looked exactly like her mother. Aunt Catherine and I held long phone conversations and that lady, although I didn’t know her fully, felt like family.

My sister, the woman whom my mother had birthed five years prior to me, did not. She was cold and distant and didn’t seem interested in establishing or maintaining a sisterhood. Today, we’re friends on social media, but similar to former grammar school classmates, that’s the extent of our relationship. Our genes are stronger than our connection, yet we are family.

Fast forward thirteen years later, and I’ve found my biological father by accident via DNA website. When I looked at this man’s face, I knew he was my father. The parts of my face that Aunt Catherine and I didn’t share, were seen in him. Our eyes. Our smile. Our demeanor. He is my biological father and we are family.

After our first conversation, I learned that I have another sister. We are the same age. We look like twins. Pictures reveal the same wide puppy dog eyes as youth and the same curvature of our backs in our twenty-something wedding pictures. We are family because genetics says so; however, we’ve found that we are also family because we relate similarly. Conversing with her is like talking to myself. And once again, I’m left wondering, what is family? This newfound sister certainly is. It’s like I’ve found part of me I didn’t know I needed. Our immediate love for one another is evident.

I share all of this to say that family is whomever you make it. Being adopted has taught me that family is but another societal construct, but relationship is something altogether different. Like other relationships, familial ones can be maintained simply because two people want them to be. I’ve also come to believe that being born or adopted into a family is but one component of actually being family. For me, relationship, caring, and commitment are true connectors, and consequently what makes a family.

That’s my final answer. What’s yours?

22 Years and Counting

apple2Today I begin my twenty-second year as somebody’s teacher/professor.

Twenty-two years of convincing someone that what he or she is doing is just temporary and that anything can be done short term in order to achieve a long-term goal

Twenty-two years of being at least one student’s first African-American teacher/professor…still

Twenty-two years of helping people shift their thinking as they step out of the boxes in which others have placed them and sometimes shed or re-shape the boxes they’ve created for themselves

Twenty-two years of building and re-building the delicate teacher-student relationship because each student is unique, no matter the institution

Twenty-two years of counseling someone through the process of what it means to gain more knowledge because they didn’t realize critical thinking was an integral part of the experience

Twenty-two years of reminding students that they really can do it because sometimes we all need a nudge and reminder of our strengths

Today I begin my 22nd year in a profession that I pursued on purpose. Today I’ll influence someone’s future life…on purpose.