Connected and #inspiredby (People who have made a difference in my life)

ImageI was inspired to write today’s post by Hoda Kotb’s examples of inspiration from the Today Show.  She was told by Ken Duane, “Don’t hog your journey,’’ and  “Share your journey with others, and you’re a power of example. Think of what you are able to accomplish.”

On Sunday, I had brunch with a good friend of mine; she asked me, “Does keeping a blog help you?” Of course, my response was, “YES!”  For as long as I can remember, writing helps me process life, but I also want to be “a power of example.”  I hope my openness helps someone each day (and maybe my son someday); that’s what I truly want to accomplish when I write, but I dream of accomplishing more with my life (that’s another post).

The intention of today’s post is to honor five people in my life who have inspired me on my journey and changed my life.  I’m sorry, I couldn’t list “just” one; I have decided to list them by year, in the order that I “met” each of them:

Right in my own backyard, she inspired me to redefine family…

In 1996, I was in my college cafeteria, standing by the cereal bar, when a random girl came up to me and said, “Do you know who I am?  I’m your cousin!”  That moment catapulted into an incredible friendship; we lived together during my junior year and have been friends ever since.  I have learned that being family has nothing to do with biological connections; my biological mother was adopted; my cousin and I are not related by blood, but we are definitely family; she has always been a confident and one of my friends, but she is my “cuz” and one of my closest allies; we have a special tie that bonds; I believe this tie exists because our grandparents were siblings and they instilled within us the fortitude to value the connectedness of family; for this reason (and many more) we are connected through our family tree and love.

No matter the distance, they inspire me to be authentic…..

During college, in the fall semester of 1998, I met two guys at an informational meeting for a trip to Italy; the trip would be for a class, “Art in the Western World.” During the month-long class, we traveled to Italy for two weeks and explored the sights; I’m so thankful that our friendship has evolved over the past 15 years. Truly, no matter the distance, we’ve always had this uncanny ability to stay connected; I can honestly say that I have been able to be my most authentic self with them (and I hope they can say the same about me). The longer we know each other, the more I appreciate the early days of becoming friends. For example, I was recently reprimanded for calling one of them my “former apprentice;” oh, but I loved the days, they would visit me in my studio and talk. In my jewelry box, I still have a little yellow ring that was made for me. I am a sentimental fool- but I think they love me for it. We have lived all over America (California, Colorado, Tennessee, and New York), but we still manage to have had countless laughs, pep talks, critiques, real conversations, etc.  I am so thankful to be connected by a nexus of artistry, faith and veracity.

From here to there, she inspires me to pay it forward…

After college, while serving with the AmeriCorps in 2001, I had an additional opportunity to work as an intern for a not-for-profit; while working there, I met a beautiful person; she once planned a surprise birthday party for me in February (my birthday is in June!).  She is a beautiful person for so many reasons, but most of all, I have to say that her heart of compassion truly revolutionizes my life; she has made personal sacrifices in her life to help me (whether it was money, a bag of necessities from target or a fun umbrella for a new job); she has always given me her time and truly cared about me.  She is the woman I mentioned during today’s introduction; she treated my son and I to brunch (and she survived a trip to Target with my son-she bought him play-dough for his upcoming birthday). More than our Target adventures, she knows my story, I have felt her empathy, but never any pity; she inspires me to pay if forward. When I moved back to Columbus a few years ago, she relocated to Cleveland for a job. Even though we have been far apart, the distance between us  is too narrow to measure; from here to there, we are truly connected by nostalgia, creativity and love.

Across the miles; she inspired me to find my way…

In March 2010, I called one of my best friend’s (one of the two guys from college-described above) and told him about my pregnancy; he connected me to one of his friends in Colorado who could offer me support; she counseled me and delivered words of wisdom and guidance. She shared her own story and sewed hope into my heart and womb. At that precise moment, I was broken emotionally, yet she didn’t try to proselytize or fix me, even though I could tell that her faith was very important to her; she simply expressed compassion through her words and actions. She was the second person who knew I was pregnant, yet, ironically, we have never met in person (I hope to change that someday).  I am forever grateful; we are connected by the information highway, motherhood, and faith!

Okay, that’s five out of possibly a hundred (or more)!

Who inspires you? Please share!

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Let it be.

This video prompted today’s post: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yGgOimJaqT4Image

Let it be.

Okay, so I had a conversation several weeks ago with a colleague about my anxiety regarding flying on planes (and about being in situations where I have no control over the outcome). And he said something to the effect of, “so your calm demeanor, it’s just an act?”

This statement startled me. Do I really have a calm demeanor?  How does anxiety and calmness coexist?

Umm….it doesn’t. I learned a long time ago, it’s all about developing appropriate coping mechanisms (I say appropriate, because throughout my life, I’ve struggled with an eating disorder, where I fed my emotions – and still do).

So, I choose to breathe. Most of the time, I just close my eyes and meditate. I think about pushing through, to get to the other side. It’s not always effective, because I’m not immune to stress, but my breathing and/or meditation expresses my faith and belief that I am not alone in this world.

(Inhale)

Writing is also a form of  meditation; When I was in my twenties, I remember that  I would always write in a journal before falling  asleep; I would write some really bizarre ramblings; but you know what, I slept much better in my twenties, than I do in my thirties. I think way too much in my thirties: I care too much about what people think; unfortunately, it’s like that awkward space in junior high; do people accept me or do I just accept being alone?

(Exhale)

Oh, but there is irony; to some degree, I accept my aloneness, but that doesn’t mean that I am fragile, it just means that I am vulnerable, however,  I am strong and determined to push through to grow and become better, as a human being, mother, professional, ally, advocate, writer, daughter, friend, and mother. After-all, I’m on my way, but I’m not there yet.

(Inhale)

It is important for me to state that I am neither invincible nor protected from criticism. For example (pretty basic- from the time we are children to being an adult), being disliked (in whatever situation) well, it can feel defeating. No amount of pep talks (self-guided or otherwise) can make me believe that I will be in a better position to be “liked.” I know I am not perfect, but I have always sought to be my best. I lead with my heart. I guess that could be perceived as my downfall. Some folks might assume that I am weak or weakened by the fact that I step into the shoes of others, by attempting to appreciate/comprehend their perspectives; but I do so, to create better understanding within myself. This isn’t really about being liked or disliked, it’s about being progressive and authentic to learn and grow, despite external circumstances,

(Exhale)

I empathize, but ultimately, I do not back down, I just slow down to build a bridge of understanding. I am developing my skills about not rushing into judgment or assuming the worst case scenario; I practice mediation and remind myself to let it be; after-all, my heart has always been open.  I know that the path of self-knowledge leads me to recognize my weaknesses, but it also reaffirms my strengths, to which I know and accept, that I am precisely where I need to be, so I can reflect and cultivate compassion; my heart is not closed.  I’m not afraid. I was built especially for circumstances like this; my anxiety can be defeating at times, but it does not hold me captive—I have learned to meditate and breathe, to concentrate on what can be, rather than being chained by the challenge itself. It also requires humility and knowing how to be a good listener, which is not as easy as it sounds. It’s about letting go, to hold on to what is most important; to be faithful.

(Inhale)

I am stronger and more aware than I have ever been, therefore, I do accept the calm; I inhale a promise and exhale a prayer; daily, I choose to let it be.

(Exhale)

Purposeful Beginnings (Via Family Tree)

ImageFYI: This post was inspired by National Adoption Month!

  • I am thankful for folks who choose adoption, especially my grandma and grandpa, who adopted my Mom.
  • I am thankful for my foster parents who didn’t adopt me legally, but who still call me their middle daughter, 20 years after they invited me to join their family.
  • I am thankful for my cousins (via my mother’s adoption). My cousins “adopted” my son and I; they love us, just as my grandmother loved me.

When I was in my graduate school program for Creative Arts Therapy (2004/05-ish), I was given an assignment to create a family genogram. I knew my family history, but I really didn’t know the “entire” story. To explore a genogram, is to look for patterns and make connections about all the different generations.

In April 2011, I wrote a poem (see below) about my family’s patterns of connection and disconnection. One of the connections that strengthens my spirit, is the fact that a woman, my grandmother (my mother’s adoptive mother) adopted my mother when my mom was four years old. My mother gave me up twice, both when I was a toddler and then again, when I was an adolescent. Prior to my son’s birth, several folks asked me if I was going to give up my son for adoption; I respect those women who make that choice, but for me ( I was 33) , I knew that I wanted my son and I decided to be a single parent. My son and I are connected to our larger family, which ranges from biological to foster to adoptive; the definition of family is most transparent through my son’s eyes; my son doesn’t understand the difference between foster, biological and adoptive, he just loves our family as our “family.”

Tonight, I asked my son what he wanted for his birthday this month; he didn’t ask for toys, he joyfully said, “MY COUSINS!”  He said them all by name (biological, foster and adoptive). This makes my heart smile; he teaches me that “love is blind, except, blind can see hope.” I am so thankful that he will teach future generations about my grandmother’s legacy of love!

COLANDER GIRLS

We are born with bowls-

not hearts- in our chest,

naturally,

we are able to receive and contain love,

enough to overflow

and fill our souls

until life’s consequences

or pure selfishness forms holes,

one at a time,

pressing pain

like pins and needles

through what was meant to protect us

from aching.

These bowls are passed down

from one generation to another,

from one mother to her daughter,

to another daughter,

and another.

My family bowl

has seemingly

been empty and repaired for years

the strongest women

have learned how to patch up the holes

placed there by my ancestors-

if the truth be known,

during the great depression

my great grandmother

gave birth to many children

she became a widow,

she was rescued by a man’s proposal

he gave her one condition,

she could only bring one child into the marriage.

This is how the story began,

with loss and more loss,

afterwards,

however,

my great-grandmother

had two more children,

one in 1925, my grandmother,

a beautiful girl.

She grew up

and patched her colander,

finally married,

but couldn’t bear children,

found it within her heart to love a child,

not born under her heart,

but in it.

She adopted my mother,

a beautiful girl in 1960

My mom inherited a patched up colander,

but love poured through her

as if she couldn’t feel anything at all-

her own biological mother

was addicted to drugs,

abandoned all of her children.

it’s a fact,

life’s consequences or pure selfishness forms holes,

one at a time,

pressing pain like pins

and needles

through what was meant to protect us

from aching.

In 1977,

my mother’s colander

was passed down to me,

a beautiful girl,

who was physically, verbally and sexually abused

by the men my mother invited into our lives;

she relinquished

her rights to me,

her only daughter;

so my mom’s own existence

could only be validated by

a marriage to a criminal;

I was abandoned,

but I was patched up

by the embrace

of a foster family-

I was invited to become

their middle daughter;

To be welcomed-

Meant not being lost anymore-

While discovering

My identity,

I learned to be more open than closed

It didn’t happen all at once-

to consciously break the cycle,

I attempted to prove failure

wasn’t an option;

for many years,

I successfully pushed away

every opportunity

to be intimately connected

with another,

I built up a resilient shield,

until I stopped caring and

allowed one man after another

into my life

who didn’t deserve

to be there at all.

It’s a fact,

life’s consequences or pure selfishness forms holes,

one at a time,

pressing pain

like pins and needles

through what was meant to protect us

from aching.

In November of 2011,

I became a single mother

and my son was born-

I will gave him

my patched up colander

pressing my love

as a permanent patch

of healing

to protect my child

from aching,

to prevent a 100 year cycle

from being interconnected

to further victimization

and ache;

through the written word,

hope will patch and restore

our family’s colander

for more purposeful beginnings,

to receive and contain love,

enough to overflow to future generations.

FYI: Learn more about National Adoption Month at http://www.davethomasfoundation.org/.

Cause for Reflection

About a month before I found out I was pregnant, I told a mentor of mine, in these exact words, “I never want to have kids.” I was confident in my decision based on the facts, which included my parents getting divorced when I was 9 months old,  my mother giving me up on two different occasions (age 2 and 14), and all the ache (no matter how hard I fought it) that wrapped around my being. It scared me tremendously to think of myself as a mother; I grew up with this fear in my chest, that I was never gonna be loved, therefore, I was never going to be strong enough to love a child (even though, I can clearly identify more than a dozen people who loved me then and still love me now).

When I was placed into foster care as a teenager, multiple people offered advice, which always sounded like, “When you have your own family, you will be able to love as you always wanted to be loved.” I didn’t want to take the risk and convinced myself that I was better off alone.

Considering my personal choices, I shouldn’t have been surprised when I found out that I was going to be a mother, but I was completely floored. The week that I found out I was pregnant, I was about to leave for an alternative spring break trip to Seattle with 12 college students. The week was intense. There was a defining moment; I was volunteering with my students at a site for mothers and their children (the organization helps them get back on their feet); a mother entered the classroom with her infant; she reached out and asked me if I minded holding and feeding her child. I think I hesitated, but of course I offered my help.

There are few instances in my life where I felt comfortable enough to hold a baby; there was one instance in high school; but beyond that, I have always declined—even when my siblings asked me to hold their children.  I can remember changing my nephew’s diaper one time in Iowa, when my sister was helping her oldest son; I heard her youngest crying and I thought about it, and finally, I decided to change his diaper. I didn’t have a motherly instinct; I was actually afraid.

So, back to the rocking chair; I was holding a beautiful baby and feeding her; I began to seriously ponder my pregnancy and being a mother; a sea of doubt flooded my heart, but the doubt was washed away with a peace that passes all understanding. I knew no matter my fear, that I would overcome it, to love my child.

In a week or so, my son will turn 3.

And so, here I am. I am thankful for teachers, mentors and family members who taught me to always follow my heart. When my son was a newborn, I didn’t have a rocking chair, but I improvised.  I sat on the edge of my bed and rocked him to sleep while singing “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star.” Lately, as his third birthday approaches, my son has been asking me almost every day, “Do you want to be my best-friend?” This little question transforms my existence; my heart is filled with love; my definition of love expands and is redefined; loving a child has restored my path in life; being loved is transformational and I feel blessed to be a mother. The fear has collapsed; I am not the same woman who once said that I didn’t want to have kids. And what is the deepest longing of my heart? I can’t imagine any other path, except for motherhood and cleaning dirty diapers, stepping on toy cars in the middle of the night, wiping up a flooded bathroom floor, and sharing the past three years with my son; his love makes me believe I was born to be his mother and his best-friend. To learn more about my pregnancy and my reflections about becoming a mother, please visit my poetry blog, HOPE.

This is a good opportunity to thank everyone for your support! I’ve learned it is okay to ask for help; I’ve learned to redefine family; and I’ve discovered that it really takes a village to raise a child; I’m so glad you are in our lives and that you love my son and I!

The Experience of Hoping…..

ImageJust a little while ago,  I cleaned up the living room and managed to make a path from here to there. And then I decided to turn off the TV… Thankfully,  this process prepared me to clear my mind. I now hear the rain, my son’s cough and the humming of the fridge; thank goodness, I can finally listen, at midnight, to what is important;

And so, I finally picked up a little blue book called, “Gone from my sight.”

For the past two weeks, I have been sitting by my mother’s side; I have been traveling to her radiation appointments to give her support. I frequently feel full of  feelings and empty of emotion; the emptiness wipes me out.

While sitting with my mother, I  remember happy moments of my childhood and equally, I  recall the pain that accompanied me during the best and the worst of times. In this moment in 2013, tears cascade into a reservoir of ache; I intentionally stop to breathe; I inhale and exhale and think upon my life, before it was too complicated. Honestly, I have never had the best relationship with my mother, but I have been thinking about our shared experiences that were more positive than negative. And so, I’ve asked myself, what if?

What if, I just focused on the happy memories for one day; what if I just made a conscientious effort to completely fill a room with positive energy; what if I left my disappointment and ache in the past? Instead, I  need to focus on what I can completely bring to each day, especially tomorrow and the next day.

Tomorrow, I will dwell in happy memories from my childhood, this is my current roster of experiences that I choose to celebrate and acknowledge, in honor of bringing positive energy into my mother’s room:

1) As a young child, I had ear-aches; I would be in a lot of pain; during hospital visits, my mother brought me great comfort; I sometimes felt closest to her, when I was sick, whether it was an ear-ache in first grade or phenomena in 4th grade–I felt loved.

2) During elementary school, I would go  clothes/supplies shopping with my mom; it was an annual tradition; I went shopping with my mom without my three brothers tagging along. I can still remember sitting at the Woolworth’s counter in Heath, drinking milkshakes with my mom. I felt so special during these trips….I always wished that the start of school came twice a year….

3) One day, we were walking home from Meijer and I did something silly and fell. My mom, brothers and I, had a really good laugh. For some reason,  I remember that moment so vividly; too often, it seemed as if we knew  only how to hurt each other with words, but when we laughed together as a family, it was if we really loved each other and all the pain was an emotional mirage.

4) My mom is an artist; I watched her make art  when I was just a little girl; she inspires my art-making today; I’m truly thankful for this gift, which she helped me to develop in my own life, again and again. I am a creative soul and I have my mother to thank for teaching me how to draw and express my inner-being.

5) My mom loves my son, her grandson; to see her with him, is to see someone completely untouched by heartache and cancer. She smiles with so much love, it is a miracle to share this moment (and hopefully more) with her.

I wish I had more to write; I know there are more…I promise. Maybe I will add more examples to this list, as I remember special memories……..Right now, I’m finally feeling rather tired and need to get some sleep!

Take care,

Kim

FYI: (Re)Centering in Progress!!!

(http://www.unitync.net/Labyrinth.html)

Meditating and journaling are tools that I have practice since I was in 4th grade; I have learned to thrive and evolve as a former foster youth/leader/ professional because I invested time in taking care of my core, the center of my being.  Journaling is a tool to self-reflect, record thoughts, evaluate options, share lessons and develop ideas; my journals are a record of my footsteps, illustrating hopes, dreams and aspirations (and I can’t forget, shortcomings).  Meditation is a coping tool to assist with life’s stressful experiences. Whether it is deliberately breathing, purposely being still or praying earnestly, meditation has helped me face situations with an open mind and a calm spirit. My experiences in life have culminated into a series of lessons which remind me to dive deep into the unknown, discover my passion and develop my purpose, while holding steadfast to my values and beliefs; but even so, I have failed and (re)imagined life more than a few dozen times! Recently, I (Re)discovered my need to journal (on blue lines, not online): I know my progress as a writer/mother/leader is challenged/improved/strengthened, only when I make time to breath and (re)center my being.

During November, I plan to be aware of my life-path, though sometimes, I am very unclear of a specific trail to follow, I know the destination is either within or beyond my reach, but uncertainty doesn’t stop me from trying to find my way; I truly believe that my progress is not defined by how swiftly I arrive, but that I simply practice self-awareness to arrive more succinctly, rather than only focusing on how to reach the destination successfully. Life-lessons are discovered without having all the details planned out. I am becoming (re)centered…daily, weekly, monthly, yearly…..to experience what it means to be transformed by the (re)newing of my mind—It begins with being fully present, practicing patience and living  peacefully; all of these ultimately culminate in productivity to (re)store the path of perseverance, no matter the prevalence of pain persuading  every fiber of my being to just give up–but I refuse to give the past power and intentionally step forward into the circle of connectedness with the universe and God. I do know what I want-to live kindheartedly without reservation and/or fear.

At the center of your being you have the answer; you know who you are and you know what you want.
Lao Tzu

When you become centered, suddenly there is great freedom because you know you are not the mind and you are not the body.
Osho

(Heart, Soul and Mind).

To be transformed, in my opinion, is to have an experience that completely revolutionizes one’s way of thinking and doing; in other words, it’s an experience that alters your state of being, including every fiber of one’s existence.

I can share many stories about “leadership transformation,” but there is just one, which truly revolutionized my heart, soul and mind; It was a religion class that I took in college. First, you should know that I was an art major, with a youth Ministry Minor; throughout college, I flipped my major back in forth between Art and Youth Ministry. During January 1998, when most of my friends were taking a stained-glass/paper-making class, I decided to take a class called, “Contemporary Forms of Ministry.” I traveled to Washington D.C. with a bunch of religion majors and learned how to live my life with purpose. During this course, my professor taught us from life experiences, not just from books (FYI: That class also had one of the most difficult books I have ever read; I literally needed a dictionary, from start to finish!).

During the course (less than 30 days), we spent a week in Washington D.C. visiting not-for-profits; we were challenged to critically think about each organization’s  mission, purpose and programs; in addition, we volunteered and made a difference through service. I still remember S.O.M.E. (so others might eat) and cleaning the food pantry; I remember dreaming about starting my own not-for-profit/safe-haven for youth-at-risk, utilizing the arts to help support foster youth.

The big “experience” of the week, included a homeless simulation project, which meant that my professor woke each of us ridiculously early and dropped us off in pairs around Washington D.C. I remember that is was cold and that it felt awkward following through this experience; who legitimately was going to take me serious; I was a “privileged” college student, not a homeless student. However, I wasn’t a stranger to feeling alone, I was an emancipated former foster youth. Throughout the day, I had several encounters with the homeless; at one point during the day, I had to use the restroom; I knocked on a very well-known church door; the door was completely made of glass; someone saw me, but they denied me access; several actual homeless acquaintances told me to just go to the nearby hotel; I remember being very hesitant; it was an absolutely beautiful hotel; I was scruffy, hungry and irritable. The doorman let me walk in and use the restroom; I remember crying in the bathroom stall; I wanted to know why I was rejected and accepted; regardless, I washed my hands and there was a life-defining moment when I decided that I wanted to live my life differently; I wanted to be driven to give, serve, and lead differently.

During that religion course, my professor instructed us to utilize several tools, which I still practice today. These tools definitely have shaped and continue to reinforce my leadership philosophy. The following five practices guide my work in Higher Education today;

1) Ask questions 2)  Put myself in other people’s shoes  3) Meditate 4) Journal/ Reflect  and  5) Live Differently.

1) My professor challenged us to go to a college and ask other college student’s questions. This experience felt awkward; some students were open; others were closed. This perhaps, was one of my first experiences learning about the needs of college students; it would be eight years later, that I would begin a graduate assistantship in higher education.

2) To put myself in other people’s shoes means that I may feel uncomfortable and out of place. The homelessness simulation always reminds me that I cannot possibly know everything and the only way I can begin to understand unique perspectives is through listening. To listen is to begin to have compassion for each person’s experience (and to feel moved to do something to create change).

3) My professor included a silent retreat during the course; I became familiar with my inner-voice and I learned to rest; a lesson that I have repeated countless times; it is vital to prevent burnout, by making time to slow-down; to really reflect and determine next steps; following that course, I knew, I wanted to do more, be more.

4) I kept a journal for the class; it was a part of my grade; it was the best practice to develop insight and perspective.  I truly learned to be silent and focus on changing my core first, rather than focusing on changing others or my environment. Today, I have many other outlets, such as this blog, Facebook, and etc. Keeping a journal allows for reflective thought, which promotes constant growth; how can I take this moment, grow and improve myself?

5) Living differently meant not accepting the status quo; for me, it meant building a campfire, dwelling with others and celebrating life. I will never forget the friendships I forged during the class, but discovering my passion for service and making a difference truly resonated with me; It would take me a few years, but to live differently, means to live to make a difference; if my heart is stagnant, it means that I am no longer making an impact and that I need to reassess my dreams and forge a new path.

Again, to be transformed, in my opinion, is to have an experience that completely revolutionizes one’s way of thinking and doing; in other words, it’s an experience that alters your state of being, including every fiber of one’s existence.  I’m thankful for my professor, the course, new friendships, the lessons and the hands-on-experiences that  provided me with tools to reflect and revolutionize my priorities to live differently, keep a journal and think reflectively,  meditate and listen to my inner-voice,  earnestly practice compassion and never quit asking questions!