Higher Education for What?

valuewhatmatters

I ended last semester with this question on my mind: “Higher education for what?” As I watched my students prepare to walk across the university stage to receive that long awaited diploma, the question provoked its way into my thoughts. Now, here again at the start of a new semester, it is demanding to be answered. Yet when I think about it a bit, it occurs to me that I have been pondering this question for more years than I can remember. You see, it all started with my dad.

kathy's dad bw 001 Peter Hernandez – Daddy

It was clear to me as a child that Daddy believed there were two worthy pursuits in life—pursuing education and cultivating a relationship with God. Though he had not finished high school, education beckoned him as a commodity of great value, if not for himself for his daughters. And even now I have a fixed image…

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Ahem, Yes! I Did Wear that Before!

Too long since I wrote a new blog post. However, this morning as I put on my denim jacket–circa 2002, I thought this post was worth a re-blog. In an age of consumerism, I remain committed to marching to the beat of my own drum. Out with the new and in with the old… I dare you to be countercultural! Give it a read…

valuewhatmatters

13177452_1038514682881992_4248996420617606284_n Jacket Circa 2002 – Gift from Mark

I am becoming a staunch counterculturalist! I don’t know precisely when or how it started happening, but it is clear to me that if everyone is going left, then I will be the one staring longingly in the right direction with my hand raised high to ask the annoying question with a preface: “Ahhh, not to cause problems or anything, but exactly why aren’t we going right?”

That is certainly how I have felt about fashion and the media’s constant barrage at us to buy more new clothes. Well, “Not to cause problems or anything, but what’s the deal with this constant buying of new clothes for the change of season, a special event, a new job, or for no reason whatsoever?” I just don’t get it! As someone who deliberates long and hard about most clothing purchases, the lure of intentionally…

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Teaching Our Children to Value What Matters at Christmas Time

Yes, the leaves aren’t even cold on the ground and I am already thinking of Christmas! What can I say? I love this time of year! At the same time, the Christmas season, also adds christmas-treea small lump to my throat, as I think about my dad. He loved Christmas! Ah, what fond memories! Ours was not a rich community. What we had to give each were not store bought gifts. Instead our gifts were open doors to neighbors, family and friends to visit at anytime –day or night during the season; and the very best that we could offer –a clean and well decorated house, good food and Christmas delicacies—sorrel, pastelles, black cake, and ponche crema which we had made, like they say here, from scratch. These were the best gifts! And as I reminded my daughters the first time my mother-in-law presented them with not one, not two, but numerous purchased Christmas gifts, I was lucky to get ONE, and only ONE such gift at Christmas time! But, oh how I treasured it!

Now, as a parent to these two girls who are growing up in this country with so much, I find myself thinking about Christmas in a more intentional way. How can I pass on to them an appreciation for the simple gifts of Christmas time, amidst the cacophony of “Gimme” Gimme”? How can I help them cultivate a giving heart that is sensitive to the needs of others, in season and out of season? Here are some ideas that Mark and I are considering in the true spirit of Christmas celebration this year:

Focus on the Advent: The word “advent” means the arrival of a notable person or event. Therefore, to focus on advent means to prepare to celebrateooo the arrival of the baby Jesus. Although I did not grow up with this as part of my faith tradition, I decided to try it last year. We did not start off on the traditional Sunday or do the Advent wreath, but each night from December 1 to Christmas when we had dinner, we would share a devotional segment from the Focus on the Family 2015 Advent Calendar or another reading that we had chosen that centered our thinking on the significance of  the nativity. What a blessing! What thought provoking conversations that these devotions sparked! What laughter and family fun! We are planning to do it again this year with a customized version of this 2012 Advent Calendar — Knowing Him by Name.

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Give with Intention: For us, that means helping the girls to independently and thoughtfully choose causes for which they want to give. Additionally, it is important that the giving should come from them and not from us, and that it should be relational. In other words, we are careful to guide their selection to causes for which they can connect gifting to helping real people and not merely dropping a dollar in a can. In this way, we hope that they can get a sense of how a small act on their part can be a real blessing to someone else. This year, after considering a number of options, the girls seem most interested in creating greeting cards to send to sick children through Send Kids the World. It is eye-opening for them to see children just like themselves who are battling such serious illnesses.

Celebrate through Worship: I really should not have to write this one down! But with all the merry making and gift giving, worship can be the last thing we choose to do, except, maybe, when we go to church. This year, we hope to have communal worship not just at church, but to open our doors to friends in a special vesper celebration event. In keeping with our faith tradition of a Sabbath rest, we are looking forward to gathering with family and friends on a Friday night during the season around a simple meal and to worship Christ in praise, in thanksgiving and song.

Celebrate through Sacrifice: This is a tough one especially for my 6 year old, who loves gifts! However, undaunted, we are reminding the girls of the great sacrifice it was for God to send his only Son to this earth. Sacrifice means that it should cost them something—might even make them a bit sad to give THAT thing away. Hence, we are encouraging them to think about one gift, special toy, or item that they are willing to give up to someone in need this Christmas season. (I’ll let you know how that one goes!)

Celebrate through Service: We have a close family friend who is in a nursing home not far away. Have you been to a nursing home recently? Well, if you have, you know that some of them can be very dreary places indeed. We have been talking about visiting him for most of the year but have not done so! Shame on us! However, it is our intention to visit him this holiday season and take a bit of Christmas cheer. The girls are putting together a special program, and they are practicing a couple of duets—Alyssa is playing and Amya is singing. You should hear them do “Amazing Grace!” Even though I don’t see any music awards in their future, it does make my eyes water every time! I might even bake a cake and take a fruit basket. I am excited just thinking about the joy this simple visit might bring him! For some more great service ideas, check out The Center for a New American Dream.

Whatever your plans are for this holiday season, keep them simple and keep Christ at the center of them all. Have a blessed Christmas!

 

 

 

Walking the Road Afraid

Fear can be as crippling as it can be motivating! Ask me how I know? Well, I first came to this country with two suitcases and money I had saved from my job and from selling everything I owned–everything, that is, except for what was in those two suitcases. But then again, I did own more than this. What I owned was a dream and a passion to do what no one in my immediate family had yet done –pursue higher education! What I owned was a faith that if I stepped out in the direction of my purpose, my God would take care of me. However, I confess that it was a flickering faith, burning brightly one minute and then almost about to go out the next when challenges presented themselves–when the amount I owed on my student account was more than I could pay, when eating rice and beans everyday got tiring, when I stopped to think about the long road ahead and my dwindling bank account, I was afraid—afraid that I would not be able to make it. And although I have stood at quite a few crossroads of major decisions in my life since then, I recognize that fear remained within arms length.

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So, what would you do if you were not afraid? I have heard this question asked by some, but I would suggest a more pertinent question is: What should you do EVEN if you are afraid? For as I reflect on my own life journey, I recognize that fear is like the friend who no matter how you try to shake her loose refuses to leave your side. From the first day I stood before a class of college students some of whom were much older than me, through leaving the shores of my beloved homeland–Trinidad and Tobago, through the pursuit of my Bachelor’s degree, to Master’s degree, and Doctoral degree, through walking down the aisle to say “I do” to this man, to holding a newborn baby in my arms—I was shaking down to my cotton underwear! BUT I kept on walking the road even when I was afraid.

If you are waiting to be less afraid to make that big move to high tail it out of your current situation with a confident “See ya! Don’t want to be ya!” in pursuit of your passion and calling, then my friend you are allowing fear to do its work as a crippling agent. In an inspiring video, entitled How to get over your fear of failure, motivational guru and coach Tony Robbins urges us instead to train our minds to think: “I can be fearful, but I can do it anyway”. Similarly, in the book Act like a Leader, Think like a Leader, the author present a paradoxical truth that no amount of thinking will allow us to get past the nettlesome companion of fear. Ironically, the only way to shake fear loose is to take him along the journey.

Yet, not to be too cavalier about the whole thing, I will say that fear is useful in curbing foolhardy enterprises that are not well thought out. Hence, the question is not about what you could do but what you should do. By should, I am suggesting what I believe to a fundamental truth of life, that each person is called to walk paths that are custom designed for them. It is your path to walk, whether is to write that book, marry that person, leave that dead-end relationship, move to a different city or country, take that new job or even the alternative,  turn down that dream job in favor of a passionate calling. Whatever it is! It is YOUR path to take given who you are and the gifts with which you have been blessed. Yet, it is often at these junctures that we are most fearful of failure and of going against the grain, turning off the well-trodden path taken by so many others rather than doing what Robert Frost suggested: “ Two roads diverged in the wood, and I–I took the one less travelled by.”

Reversed view of the Fork In The Road

A few years ago, my husband Mark and I faced a difficult decision. Should he continue with the world’s largest consulting firm which paid mucho dinero, but which came with an attached puppet string that pulled him on planes, trains and automobiles here, there and everywhere? Or should he say “Hasta la vista, baby!” and launch out on his own–chart a course towards having his own business? There was a moment of great pause. Actually, who am I kidding? There were MOMENTS of great pauses. Are we crazy to even be considering this? What about the risks? We have kids to put through college! So many fears!!! The lure of a stable paycheck to which we had set our GPS was tempting. Yet, as a financial consultant to others, he realized that staying in the firm’s safety zone in these uncertain economic times would lock him out of his future earning potential on his own terms. But more importantly, he was driven by a desire for a better quality of life–more time with the kids and me, and to do more than his parents had done—to work towards a richer legacy than a stable pension plan. The fear of what could be lost if we did not make this move outweighed the fears we had about the loss of that paycheck—fear was a motivating agent.

I confess, that even now, after making that decision, there are still moments of uncertainty and lingering questions. Did we do the right thing? Can we really make it? Yet, it is in the presence of this troublesome companion–fear–but armed with a growing faith that we are determined to continue to walk on courageously in the direction of our purpose and calling. And I’ve got to tell you that the great fulfillment and sense of inner peace that has come to us in taking this path is SO totally worth it.

So what should you do even if you are afraid? I know you’ve thought about it. Well? What are you going to do? My advice: Go ahead and DO it! Prepare yourself to begin walking that road even if you are afraid!

 

 

 

Standing in the Motherhood Gap

I have a deep and growing admiration for mothers and mothering. Now this may surprise you, coming from me, someone who was not raised by my mother but by a single parent father. And if you have read any of my blog posts, I am sure it is abundantly clear that I do have some emotional residuals from that intriguing saga. But I am not going to beat that drum today! Been there; done that! Instead, as I celebrate nine years of the highs and lows of parenting (My older daughter turns 9 today, October 18), I feel a tremendous sense of gratitude for the opportunity I have had to experience motherhood and mothering.

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Auguste Rodin- Young Mother in the Grotto 

Now, it would  be inaccurate to say that my foray into motherhood began with the birth of my own child. I can recognize that inclination from my earliest days of playing with dolls in the back room of my father’s garage and later at each stage of my professional journey. Without a doubt, my finest moments in the profession have been those times when I shook of my professorial garb and connected with students from a deeply rooted spirit of caring–of nurturing.  Similarly, I have been blessed with several mothers along my own life journey –strong and compassionate women who stood in the motherhood gap for me.

This weekend, I spent precious time with one such mother. Oh, how I wished I had met her years ago when I could barely boil an egg, when my rice and peas usually came out sappy and my biscuits… Well, who am I kidding? What biscuits?. My apologies to all past boyfriends and friends who suffered through my valiant early attempt at cooking–who ate undercooked potatoes and season less concoctions. Know that your sacrifices were not in vain. I did persevere, and not to boast or any thing, but Mama Dee, Mom (my mother-in-law), and “Ma” have taught me a thing or two about cooking! If you could only eat at my table now!! Ha!

Making Mama Dee’s Biscuits

Then there are women who stepped in to instruct me about womanhood. There is the next door neighbor who had “the talk” with my dad about what a growing young girl would need and introduced him to the concept of a “Bra”! Like, “Hello!”. The family friend who made sure Dad understood that I needed to be “on fleek” for my graduation party. Can I just say that I did represent!! There was the dean of women of Linda Austin Hall at the boarding school I attended during my teenage years. She would stand at the front door of our dormitory before we left for church and inspect us from head to toe sending us back to our rooms to get a half slip to put under THAT dress, pulling a safety pin out of her pocket to fix too low necklines, or tucking and pinning a stray curl with a hair pin from her other coat pocket. How we despised these inspections. And yet, (sigh), this morning as I waited in the foyer to inspect my daughters on the way out the door, I felt a great indebtedness to this woman. Thank you, Dean Beresford!

And there again, is Mom. Mom who was there for me in those big life moments. It was mom who took me to bridal store after bridal store, in search of that just right dress. How I remember well the moment, when we found THE dress.  As I came out of the dressing room, our eyes locked in a watery embrace compelling our arms to soon follow; we hugged each other tightly and cried openly.

But wait, there is more! When my first daughter was born, I remember well the anxieties and uncertainties that welled up within me. Could I do this? What was this that I had to do? How could I be a good mother when I had not been mothered? So many fears! But “Mom” had it covered. As Mark and I drove home from the hospital on that afternoon in late October, I could see her bent frame through the kitchen window; she was busy at work. When we walked into the house, the aroma of warm food enveloped us, and her arms encircled me –she fussed over me, fussed over the baby, fussed over her homemade chocolate cake –fuss, fuss fuss, and I…, shucks, I thoroughly enjoyed it. Heck, I needed it! Mom stayed with us for several days helping me adjust to my new role. Ah, what a blessing!

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Mom holding Alyssa’s feet

I could go on and on reflecting on how each of these women and many, many more nurtured me, loved me, taught me, and shaped me into the woman I am always becoming. They filled an empty mothering hole till it was overflowing. I am because they are! And it occurs to me now, as I reflect on this that we all are who we are because of community– because of such connections. Each life is a patchwork quilt sewn together by a changing circle of hands, patch after patch, stitch after stitch, each hand building on the efforts of others until the work is perfected.

There is no lack of mothers where there is this kind of community! Hooray for mothers and motherhood ! Hooray for women with bottomless hearts and tireless hands who do not need the pretext of a navel string to bind themselves to others in need. And if you were privileged to be born female, well, then the mantle now falls on you and on me to continue this great work.

Please celebrate with me and share a reflection of the “mothers” who have blessed your life in the comment section below.

 

 

 

 

The Blessing and Burden of Writing

 

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It’s a strange business this writing thing.

I am always writing… writing in my mind as I roll out of bed, and change into my exercise clothes. I put my shorts on, and a sports bra and top and socks; then I spend more than a few minutes looking for my i-pod and finally put my shoes on as I make it out the door for my 7 mile morning bike ride.

I am always writing in my mind, writing stories about the people I encounter along my route.

Well, not really encounter, for seldom do we stop to chat, and yet we do acknowledge each other with a smile, a nod, or morning greeting. We are a community of sorts, connected by this morning ritual of walking, running or biking. And though, I will confess that I don’t even know their names, I have stories about them all—well-constructed mind scripts of who they are and what they do.

I expect to see the four ladies who have been walking together for many years. I would guess that they are in their mid seventies or early eighties—who, in familial conversation, can spread out across the entire path—a fitting metaphor, I think, for the breadth of their friendship. And though I am often a bit annoyed in trying to figure out how to get around them without yelling – “Bicycle on the left!”— their consistent presence is comforting.

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Then there is the man who I am convinced spends the day walking the trails. No matter the season, he is dressed all in black, with well-defined calves that label him No-nonsense- Serious Walker. First he takes his dog for an early morning walk and then walks the dog back home. Then he goes for his own walk, and repeats this ritual at noon and before the sun goes down. Mark and I have often said to each other teasingly: “If only we spoke dog, I am sure we would hear the dog saying to us beseechingly: ‘Woof! Woof! Help me!!’”

I often see one of my neighbors who I have stopped and talked to for quite a while. She lives on the street down from us. One morning, we got so busy talking about this and that, that I forgot to ask her name after she had asked mine. Hmmph! Now I cringe each morning when she greets me with a sunny and triumphant: “Good morning Kathy!” and I can only muster a paltry: “Good morning!” in return–too ashamed to ask: “What’s your name again?”

I am always writing in my mind, these vignettes of serendipitous encounters, and yet to me, they are the real substance of what makes a life meaty, delicious and sweet. But like a painter, my canvas is instead a blank screen and my brushes and paint palette are words and punctuations. I long to capture these moments in a piece that gives them a permanent place to rest– to share with you whomever you are and wherever you are a glimpse into the happenings in my world, my day, and ultimately the time I would have spent on this beautiful earth. But more than giving them permanency, I am attempting to share with you a glimpse into my mind.

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Fora as is often the case with artists, to come to know me is to know me through my work. And I hope you won’t think me too bold in saying this, and it does not come across as if I am too full of myself. But I have come to think that my experiences are not too different from yours—though the details may differ —that in an attempt to capture my lived experiences you can come to see yourself in these encounters, these remembrances, and dare I say, learn something from them. This is my contribution as a writer.

And though my contributions are expressed through the blessing and burden of writing, your contributions are expressed through your own gifts and abilities. Yet, in these expressions, we may somehow recognize the commonality of our struggle: the quest to know each other more fully, the quest to be known by others, the quest to walk intentionally into our life purpose and in doing so bless and inspire others with the gifts we have been given.

I am always writing in my mind…. However, on too many days, these writings stay only in my mind—victims to the tyranny of things to do that are urgent, and these words and thoughts can find no resting place. Yes, this is often the case.

Yet, it’s not the case today.  And on days like today, when I am able to capture just a bit of these mind pieces, I feel such a release and sense of accomplishment that ironically, I am at a loss to find the words to fully describe it.