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Tired of Waiting

“Now we see everything that’s going wrong with the world and those who lead it. We just feel like we don’t have the means to rise above and beat it…so we keep waiting, waiting on the world to change” – John Mayer (Waiting on the World to Change)

Do you ever get so caught up in the beat of a song that you pay absolutely no attention to the lyrics? It happens to me all the time.  I will listen to a song for weeks without knowing one lyric in it.  But when I finally sit down and listen to the lyrics I am bewildered at how I allowed myself to go so long without allowing such words to bless my soul.  Recently I was listening to the iconic John Mayer song ‘Waiting on the World to Change’.  Everybody knows the chorus, “so I’m waiting, waitinnnnn, waitin’ on the world to change”.  I bet you just sang that in your head and not just because I typed it like I was singing it.  However, this time I wasn’t just listening to the chorus and the beat.  For once, I actually sat down and listened to the lyrics and I was bewildered at how indifferent I felt about such an iconic song, but the bewilderment (I don’t know why I’m using this word so much) was at how much a song written years ago is so relatable today.

Up until recently my generation has been seemingly waiting for opportunity and change to fall in our laps.  I was one of them.  Even today I see so many in my generation and the generation before me simply waiting for the tides to change.  They’re waiting for this fictitious perfect moment to come around for them to grab their long awaited opportunities and desires.  Key word here is fictitious as in not real.  If you’re one of those people, I hate to break it to you (not really), but that perfect scenario at that perfect time is never going to come.  However, I understand where you are coming from.  We want to do something to better the world, our world, but are challenged by immense walls and glass ceilings and parties of opposition.  We understand that the situation we are in is unfair, so we wait, we wait for our opponents to die off and our walls and glass ceiling of opposition to crumble.  We wait until that “one day our generation is gonna rule the population,” but until then we keep waiting for the world to change.

I remember sitting up in my bed having full blown anxiety attacks thinking of the many walls that stand between me and my dreams.  At the time they seemed so high that no ladder would help me get over them.  Jack’s giant beanstalk wasn’t even tall enough to help me.  So I just succumbed to the belief that there was nothing for me to do, I just had to wait for things to change and then I will grab my opportunity. So I waited and waited and it never came.  I was getting frustrated and panic-stricken because I saw my dreams and desires but was getting older and they were getting no more reachable than before.  I gave up waiting and decided to change MY world instead.  So I took a shot in the dark and applied to a college I hardly met the requirements to enter and I was accepted (surprisingly).  Then I took another shot in the dark and chose a major.  One thing after another my world was changing.  Funnily enough, the more my world seemed to change the lower those walls seemed to be.  For the first time I realized it wasn’t me waiting for the world to change, it was the world waiting for me to change.

Recently, President Trump withdrew the United States from the Paris Climate Agreement. The Paris Climate Agreement, in a very condensed description, is an international network of roughly 195 global leaders and their governments that made a pact or pledge to take action against pollution and global warming.  President Trump’s decision to back out of the agreement is a rebuke to heads of state, climate activists and Mother Nature herself.  Millions were appalled at Mr. Trump’s decision but accepted the notion because they don’t feel they have the means to rise above and trump Drumpf.  However, a number of states acted independently and formed the United States Climate Alliance, a coalition that will uphold the Paris Climate Agreement and take aggressive action on climate change regardless of what the federal government will or will not do.  Such states understand that if they wait on the world or President Trump to change, the world will die, so they took change upon themselves.  They understand that though the system may be hard to beat it doesn’t mean they have to stand at a distance, they can use the resources they have to change their world, which inevitably aides in changing the world.

Even more recent, Nabra Hassanen of Fairfax, Virginia was beaten and killed by Darwin Martinez Torres simply because she was Muslim. This horrible incident is unfortunately one of many hate crimes that have taken place in the United States as of recent.  Since the beginning of 2017 there has been a dramatic spike in Xenophobic and anti-Islam hate crimes that have taken place not just in the United States, but throughout the globe.  Hate and fear has become all too normal in our society.  If we wait for the world to change, the hate and fear will just continue to escalate.  If we wait for change Nabra’s death will go in vain as will many others who have been slain and will be slain.  There is no time to wait for the world to change.

I understand that I can’t change the world all by myself, but I can change my world.  By changing my world I just got the world a step closer to the change I want it to see.  I refuse to sit around and allow Nabra’s death to go in vain, I refuse to sit around and watch the sea levels rise and the atmosphere become even more poisoned than it already is.  That is why I stopped waiting and started doing because the world needs me.  The world needs us, united, in the name of peace, prosperity, respect towards others and respect towards our Mother Earth.  I encourage you to join me by changing your world.  If we all change our personal worlds, the world will have no choice but to change.  The world is waiting for us as a society to change so that it can change.  Those walls will crumble and those glass ceilings will shatter the more we change our world.

I’m tired of waiting and I hope you are too.  Let’s, as one body, jump in and change this world for the better.

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Are You a Leader?

This last weekend I was volunteering at the HOBY Virginia leadership conference.  HOBY, which is short for Hugh O’Brian Youth, is an international nonprofit that works to inspire and empower tomorrow’s leaders today through a weekend jam-packed with corny but extremely fun cheers, team building activities, inspiring lectures and community service projects.  I went as an ambassador in 2010 and have returned almost every year as a volunteer staff.  HOBY did not just change my life, it saved my life.  HOBY empowered me to fix my problems, rather than remove myself from my problems and I am sure many more alum can say the same.  HOBY molded me into the leader that I am today.  But I kept asking myself this question during the entire seminar: What exactly is a leader?

If you Google the word leader you will see mostly pictures that look like this.

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If someone were to ask you what a leader looks like, most likely you would list off a bunch of famous leaders such as Nelson Mandela, Mother Theresa, and Barack Obama.  But what made them leaders?  How did they gain that title, Leader?  HOBY enlightened me this weekend.  There were two things HOBY showed me about every leader.  First, they all sacrificed something. Second, they were most often behind the scenes.

Because HOBY is a nonprofit, it runs on volunteerism, so everyone who staffed at the seminar was a volunteer who sacrificed their time, energy and sleep.  There were a number of staff there that had other things on their calendar that required their attention; however, they sacrificed whatever it was to be at the seminar.  Their sacrifice meant that a group of ambassadors were able to have a life changing weekend that empowered them to be catalysts for change in their community.  Now looking at the examples of famous leader I previously listed, they too sacrificed a lot.  Nelson Mandela sacrificed his life, his family and his freedom in order to lead his people to freedom.  Mother Theresa was a nun, which is practically the embodiment of sacrifice.  Barack Obama sacrificed his family, time and privacy in order to be the leader of the free world for eight years.  Lesson one: All gain in this world, whether it is self-gain or the gain of others, is obtained through sacrifice.  Leadership in its truest sense is birthed from sacrifice.

Now due to the culture of HOBY everyone is celebrating everyone.  There really isn’t much room to hide at this seminar.  Someone sneezed this year and the ambassadors cheered for them.  That was really random, but I just wanted to give you an example as to how hard it is for someone to stay low on the radar at HOBY.  Despite everyone being in the lime light at one point in time at the seminar, there were many that were constantly working behind the scenes, making sure this seminar ran smoothly.  If it wasn’t for those individuals doing the behind the scenes work, the seminar might be able to happen, but wouldn’t be as magical and life-changing for the ambassadors as it was.  Likewise, the anti-apartheid movement in South Africa would not have been as successful if it had not been for Nelson Mandela and his team working tirelessly behind closed doors and even in the corners and shadows of prison on Robbin Island.  Mother Theresa would not have been the revered leader she was and still is if it wasn’t for the countless hours she spent locked up in a chapel praying and interceding for the hurt and hungry.  Barack Obama would not have had such a well-noted two terms in the White House if it wasn’t for him and his cabinet working tirelessly to change things up and make things happen.  Lesson two: It’s great to have the spotlight on you, but it’s what you’re doing behind the scenes that make you a leader.

I watched as these ambassadors quickly broke out of their shells and morphed into world leaders in just a weekend and briefly pondered how this happened?  That one kid would barely talk to me Friday morning, now it’s Sunday morning and we have to practically restrain him from performing cheers and volunteering to answer questions so we can get on with the program.  So what caused such a transformation? Answer: That ambassador, just as all the other ambassadors had a facilitator, an individual that sacrificed their time and effort, working behind the scenes to push them into their fullest potential.  Moreover, there was staff behind that facilitator ensuring they were keeping pace with their ambassadors and had all the guidance and assistance possible.  Much like how Mandela or Obama had a cabinet working behind the scenes helping them lead their people to success, freedom, etc.

So by now you may be wondering, “am I a leader?”  Great question.  Are you willing to sacrifice your time, energy, and possibly life for a cause?  If so, you are a leader.  Are you willing to work behind the scenes possibly the entire time with no acknowledgement or appraisal?  If so, then you are a leader.  Most importantly are you willing to serve, whether it be an individual, audience or cause?  If so, then you are a leader.  It’s not who you are that makes you a leader, it’s your actions.  I understand that when someone thinks of a leader they think of the red fish in the picture leading the school of blue fish, but in reality a true leader looks like this

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Any inspirational speaker will say, “Go! Lead! Be the empowering leader you were created to be.”  However, today as a mediocre blogger I say Go! Serve!  Be the catalyst willing to risk everything for your cause.  I believe in you and I support you.

Pura Vida

WAIT! Before you exit out of this blog entry, I promise the Spanish in here is minimal and translated for my non-Spanish/Spanglish readers.  Don’t let the title scare you off.

Fun fact: I spent a semester living and studying in Costa Rica.  Costa Rica is a small country (about the size of Lake Michigan) in Central America between Nicaragua and Panama, the Caribbean Sea and the Pacific Ocean.  Costa Rica is known for many things, one of them being its beauty.  Nearly every inch of the country is gorgeous, even the metropolitan areas.  If you are not surrounded by gorgeous jungles and mountains you are surrounded by colorful buildings and extravagant street art.  If the Bible wasn’t predominantly based in the Middle East I would have thought I was walking through the Garden of Eden as I traveled home every day, that’s how gorgeous and lush this country is.  Costa Rica is also well-known for its lack of military forces…and by lack of I mean the country as no military.  That sounds bizarre right?  As an American citizen hailing from a family with so many in the armed forces I thought it was insane. However, after just a week of living there I completely understood why their country has no military.  They don’t need one!  They’re far too peaceful to worry about attacking or being attacked.

You will hear Costa Ricans – or Ticos, as they call themselves – use the expression, pura vida, all the time.  Pura vida (pronounced poor-uh vee-duh) is Spanish for ‘pure life’.  However, in Costa Rica pura vida can mean a number of things including, but not limited to: “hello”, “great”, “nice meeting you”, “thank you” and “you’re welcome”. Pura Vida is not just a pretty sounding phrase that the people like to use, but it is a philosophy that all Ticos live by.  Pura Vida is all about taking pleasure in the simple things and living a peaceful and stress-free life.  This would explain why Costa Rica is rated as the happiest nation on earth.  Ticos don’t fret with very much in life; pura vida reminds them to be thankful for what they have and to not dwell on the negative.

Again being an American, this way of life was very different.  I actually had culture shock.  The first night I arrived in Costa Rica I forgot my backpack in the back of someone’s car and freaked out because I had no way of contacting them.  My host mother, Emilce, looked at me with the calmest face, made a few phone calls and my backpack was returned to me in 20 mins time. I was completely bewildered and she simply shrugged and said “pura vida. Tienes hambre (Are you hungry)?”   I spent days trying to figure out how this woman was so chill while I was running around like a chicken with its head cut off.  But the longer I stayed in that country, the more I began to understand and the more I began to understand the more free I felt.  I assumed it was nothing more than me acclimating to the culture, but I realized one night it was more God working on my heart and mind.  I was walking home alone one night after hanging out with some friends, praying to God about some things on my mind. Immediately God brought Luke 12:22-32 to my attention and told me “Do I not look after the ravens that neither reap nor sow?  Mi hijo (my son), you are of much more value.  Don’t worry about a thing; I will take care of you.  Pura vida.” From that moment on, even up to today after being back in the Uptight States of America, I worry a lot less about things.  I catch myself saying pura vida at the most stressful of times, because I now know that I’ll never be left nor forsaken.  Therefore, I willingly lie down in pastures…no one has to make me anymore.  Though I do admit to still having colossal meltdowns every time someone eats my food in the fridge, but I think that’s an acceptable exception.

I say all of this to say, stop stressing.  I understand how taxing it can be going without a paycheck for so long.  I understand how scary it can be stepping into the real world for the first time after finishing school.  However, you’re stressing will get you nowhere.  As the saying goes, “small things for a big God”.  The things you are stressing about are so small in comparison to your creator, who is so big.  Just do your best and let the Creator do the rest.  PURA VIDA.

Photo May 19, 3 12 58 AM

 

The Might of the Pen

“There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you.” – Maya Angelou

Until recently I absolutely detested writing.  So what all changed?  To be honest, I’m not quite sure.  However, I can tell you about a specific grammar Nazi that changed it all.  Her name is Dr. Leslie Layne, an English professor at Lynchburg College and fellow tea addict.  I had her for not just one, but two semesters.  I still remember how angry I was when my first grade in her class and one of the first grades I received in my undergraduate career was a F.  I also remember how horrified I was when this woman told the class that we will be writing weekly journals.  It wasn’t long or tedious (though it did take me a while to get over that first F); I just hated writing, especially about myself.

Up until recently I was the most closed off individual you have ever met.  I was too afraid of opening up because I have been hurt so much in the past.  My past is filled with anger, depression, fear and hate.  I was always on my guard ready to fight at any moment.  I tried to escape my reality by reading.  I read nonstop.  There was never a time that my face was not in a book.  However, every time I finished a great book I became angrier.  I always remember sitting in the bed crying, enraged at the fact that I read about these characters achieving all of their desires and slaying their demons, yet I am still sitting here struggling just to get through the day.  Though I had escaped reality for a moment, when I closed that book, it came right back to choke me, seven times stronger.  But then I met Dr. Layne and her syllabus of weekly journals.  For the first time I was expressing my opinions and feelings. And. I. Felt. Vulnerable.  I felt as if I was slowly ripping stitches out of my wounds from time past.  It was awful and awfully painful.  That was until I noticed that the more I wrote, the greater I felt.  I began feeling at peace, I was feeling…empowered?  I began to understand that this pen in my hand or these keys at my fingertips were not hurting me, they were in fact healing me.  Facing my reality as I wrote ripped those stitches out so God could heal them properly.  I was feeling great, but still not whole.  That was until I began to write my story.  I wrote about what God has done, is doing, and has promised to do for me.  I shared what I wrote with a few close friends and they insisted that I share it.  So I did.  And the responses were unbelievable.  I never could have imagined that people would be coming to me, telling me that my writings inspired and encouraged them to do and be better.  Who would have thought all of that could transpire from a weekly journal?

One of my favorite movies and stories is The Freedom Writers.  The Freedom Writers is based in Long Beach, California in the 1990s.  Following the L.A. Riots and the O.J. Simpson trial, racial tension was everywhere, especially at Woodrow Wilson High School.  A woman by the name of Erin Gruwell, the new teacher to Woodrow Wilson, was assigned to teach a group of 150 very unmotivated and “unteachable” first-year students.  The majority of her students were involved in gang activity, the illicit drug trade, and were immigrants to the country.  Her students fought one another constantly and refused to seek common ground between one another.  That was until Mrs. Gruwell showed them that they are quite the same.  She did this through writing.  She had her students write every day in a journal.  They could write whatever they wanted.  Most of them wrote their personal stories.  They discovered within time that writing is a powerful form of self-expression that could help them deal with their past and move forward…together.  Today, many of the students destined for a life of hardship or worse, death, are college graduates, authors, and national motivational speakers and educational mentors.  All because of a daily journal.

Writing is more than scribbling words on paper.  It is about expressing yourself in the truest manner.  To be a writer is to be a mentor, healer, friend, and anonymous confidant.  I could have gone back and truly hurt those who have hurt me with a sword.  But through the pen, I gained restitution, healing, and peace of mind.  Now that my story is out I can rest peacefully at night.  Like The Freedom Writers and like myself, if you wish to genuinely end the agony, write.  Let ink flow in place of blood and allow God to turn such a testing activity into an active testimony.  Tell your story, leave nothing untold within.

I realize I have a story to tell and though it hurt at first to tell it, it hurts worse now to not tell it.  One day I will write a book, but for now I journal and I blog because I cannot bear the agony of having an untold story inside me.