If someone had told me when I was growing up that I would one day earn my living by speaking, I would have said,”No way!” As a child, I was constantly teased about my voice–too squeaky, too mousy, too soft spoken! Read more Finding Your Speaking Voice
As the bus made its way to this “where-in-the-world-are-we-going” corner spot of Washington State called Sumas, the organizers of the Multi-Ethnic Leadership Institute 2015 sponsored by the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities assured us that Cedar Springs Christian Retreat Center was worth the effort. “The food is great!” “The grounds are beautiful”. Under my … Read more Inhabiting the Thin Places
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.
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…
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…
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…
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 a 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.
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!
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
My father had two girls, but I don’t think anyone ever told him we were girls. While other neighborhood girls were busy painting their nails and playing dress up, we were often working as his “go-fors” on any one of his many projects, or we were cleaning the yard, putting fertilizers around the tomatoes, or helping him get his crop of watermelons ready for the market. Dad loved the land, and he was a constant gardener.
My experiences working in my garden this summer, made me reflect on dad and the legacy he passed on to us in understanding the value of work– not just any work but of “manual labor”– working with your hands. When I went to boarding academy in Trinidad, Manual Labor was a required course in the curriculum. I kid you not! Everyone had a pick of where they would work: on the farm, in the…
If you are anything like me, most days you are left with more things to do on your list than there is time left to do them. Being a maximizer type, those things that remain undone on my list really work my last nerve. It’s as though I am destined to be forever stuck in the twilight zone, tormented by a never ending list of things to do! It’s one of the reasons that doing laundry is perhaps one of my least favorite things to do. Has anybody ever gotten to the bottom of their laundry basket? Like really? I mean no sock, no blouse, no handkerchief, no bed linen, no kitchen towel etc. etc. left to be washed? If you have, I applaud you. Me, I am still fighting the good fight.
There is a certain thrill I get from seeing a project through from conceptualization to completion, knowing that the final deliverable, whatever it is, has my signature on it, and I can give the triumphant cry: “Ta da! Done it!” Then of course, there is the added thrill of ONCE and for all crossing it OFF my list! I love it!! However, as thrilling as completion is, I now recognize that for most of the really important things in our lives that crossing out moment may forever elude us. And while the thought of it initially filled me with great dread, as I have continued to reflect on it, I am more at peace with this notion of the incomplete.
On a recent trip to Spain, I stood in amazement outside the famous La Sagrada Familia. This cathedral was started in 1882 and became the magnum opus of Antoni Gaudí. Gaudí envisioned a cathedral with eighteen towers that would showcase his unique architectural style and be a place of worship for the poor. Tragically, he died when only one tower had been built. And yet that is only the beginning of the story. From the time of his death to now, many other architects have continued to add to his endeavors to create this architectural wonder that is still incomplete, but remains the most visited tourist attraction in Spain.
On my last day in Spain, my friend, *Heewon, and I were walking in Park Güell, another one of Gaudi’s creation. In the distance we could see La Sagrada Familia, and as we looked out at it, Heewon said to me wisely: “There is beauty in the incomplete.” Indeed, she is right! There are gifts that come to us from the incomplete journeys in our lives.
Gifts of a Larger Purpose: In early November, I spent a few days shadowing my friend Dr. Edwin Estevez, Provost of Greenville College. I have been in academia long enough to understand the work that a Provost does—he/she is the hand, eyes, ears, mouth and feet of the president of an institution. As Edwin and I walked the more that 10,000 steps each day meeting with faculty, students members of his administrative team, board members etc. there was hardly a moment when he was not ON. His job entails being an unseen cog that keeps the machinery of the institution going. Yet, in one of those rare moments when we sat down to chat, he said to me: “The nature of the work is that I may never see the final deliverable of my day to day activities. Yet, I am committed to a larger purpose, the mission and vision of the institution”.
Similarly, in our own lives there are gifts that come to us when we step back from the mundane day- to-day activities and catch a glimpse of the grand arc of our lives. Each day we are contributing to that larger mission and vision. And unfortunately or, perhaps, fortunately that work will forever be a “work-in-progress”.
Gifts of the Alternative: In economics, I learned the concept of the “opportunity cost.” The true cost of an action includes the cost to us of forgoing some other action. Yes, I know: “Mumbo jumbo, Mumbo jumbo!” Let me clarify with the use of an example. A few years ago, I took a sabbatical leave from my job to work on a book. Said book is still incomplete. Now, I will admit that part of the reason it is not finished has to do with lack discipline, plain and simple. At the same time, that incomplete book is a reminder of the things I did CHOOSE to complete, for example, spending more time with my children, planning birthday parties and family outings for them, reading to them, doing art projects with them etc. etc. However, the biggest gift to me of this incomplete book project comes from the time I took in the last months of my sabbatical to plan an awesome Mother’s Day event for my “mom”. I bought some fabric, dusted off my sewing machine and sewed an apron for her. Then I took the time to search online for the perfect cupcake motifs to glue on it representing her children and grandchildren. We planned a scrumptious brunch and the siblings and grandchildren got together at our house, and we showered her with gifts and tributes of love. What an awesome time we had that Mother’s Day! We had no idea that it would be the last Mother’s Day that she would spend with us! But Oh! I am SO grateful for this gift of time with her that came to me by way of my incomplete book.
Gifts of an Enduring Impact:There is a Greek Proverb that says: “A society grows great when old men plant trees whose shade they know they shall never sit in.” I have been teaching for so long now that individuals, some whose names I don’t even remember, come up to me and tell me what a great influence I have been on their lives. I am often surprised and humbled by these admissions. Yet, many days the grind of trying to get it all done–teaching, answering emails, grading papers, (i.e. things on my to-do list), and sometimes feeling overworked, undervalued, and underpaid threatens to make me lose sight of the unique opportunity teaching affords me to invest in the future. Similarly, in taking time to write this blog, some days I wonder if this “blog seed” will yield any real fruit. What will be my impact factor! For now? Still less than 4,000 views! Yet, what I hope for in this incomplete journey is that one day my writings will be a legacy for my daughters and others after them.
Whatever your life aspirations, celebrate the gifts from your incomplete journeys and recognize that the magnum opus of your life is still unfolding…..
* I am grateful to my friend Dr. Heewon Chang for planting the idea in my head for this blog post.