The Gift of Mentoring

In the fall of 1996, at age 19, I was a former foster youth and freshman at college. I knew I was financially on my own  but was scared about navigating life and so much more. There was so much unknown and I wondered many times, “Will I make it?!” In my first semester, I was designated a federal work study (FWS) student in my financial aid award package. I was offered a job in the college cafeteria and met my first job supervisor, Crystal Browning. She told me about my job duties; I was required to clean the waffle bar every Monday, Wednesday and Friday, as well as, serve food in the buffet lines during the evenings. I remember being a little pessimistic- I knew there had to be better jobs on campus, but it all worked out! I am thankful that my student employment job led me to my life-long mentor and friend. (And I loved my job so much, I worked in the cafeteria all four years during college!)

My college didn’t offer a mentoring program, but I remember all the times that Crystal asked me about my goals and what I wanted to accomplish. I told her that I always wanted to get my driver’s license but didn’t have a car or lessons to drive. Crystal not only heard me, she responded. She taught me how to drive, with her three-old daughter in the backseat! When I look back over my time in college, Crystal was my “unofficial” mentor.

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I remember when Crystal got another job on campus and she made sure to let me know that I was welcome to visit anytime. That might be an expected statement, but it meant a lot. No matter what story or experience I shared, she listened. During college, Crystal was more than my mentor and ally, she was my family. She not only taught me how to drive- she taught me how to believe in myself. Her faith demonstrated so much love and compassion. I have always admired how she lived with purpose and faithfulness. She is an example of a strong Christian woman and want to follow her lead and walk worthy in my own life.

Twenty-one years later, we still have a strong bond. Over the past seven years, she has helped me grow as a new parent, and has always welcomed her home to my son and I. In 2015, she nominated me for a Survivor’s Award from the Survivor Foundation. I was awarded the winner of the Foster Alumni and Educator Award. Once again, she impacted my life. Her simple affirmation helped me to actualize my purpose in life. I am an educator and advocate for foster youth.

(One more story, I promise!)

In January of this year, after a short battle, my biological father passed away from Kidney Cancer. I began a relationship with him at age 14, after I went into foster care. My dad didn’t gain custody, but we became a family, one day at a time. During my dad’s funeral, Crystal came up to me and hugged me. During my dad’s eulogy, I spoke about a gumball machine that my dad gave me for my birthday and how my dad visited my office every semester and dropped off gumballs. He was always being thoughtful. I spoke about how I recently visited the office and noticed that the machine was completely empty- which led me to tears. It also inspired me to ask everyone to honor my father by sharing a random act of kindness. When I returned to my office later that week, I found a package on my desk. I opened it and saw a box of gumballs from Crystal! She shared, “I hope these gumballs serve as a source of joy, rather than sadness.” Her act of kindness transformed a moment of ache into a memory of love. I am so incredibly thankful for Crystal and her role in my life. She made a heartfelt choice to support and guide me towards my dreams. She continues to be in my life and I wouldn’t be the woman I am today without her mentoring and care!

Thanks for letting me share my story of mentoring. I hope that others will be inspired to think about the gift of mentoring and how we can make positive change in each other’s lives.

crystal

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Hope. Strength. Courage.

There was a time and place where I would have written, “Facing the unknown creates anxiety and fear.”

I find myself progressing and developing awareness of self, which allows me to experience life differently and more fully.

Today, I write, “Facing anxiety and fear moves you from the unknown to full knowledge of your potential to do the impossible.”

These two thinking constructs are true, but one is more healthier and demonstrates a growth mindset.

Everything prepares you for your life-defining moment, if you are willing to seize the day, when it arrives.

——————–

Earlier this year, I was struggling and afraid to reveal my personal struggles with depression and anxiety. I suffered daily, from daily panic attacks and my mind played tricks on me. It wasn’t easy to walk away from five years of beautiful wins and difficult losses, but when I made the decision to care about myself, my struggle transformed itself into vanishing points rather than places of terrifying convergence. There was something about letting go and beginning again that gave me permission to breathe again.

I didn’t spend the summer reinventing myself or starting over; I just needed to jump-start my passion and purpose. I spent considerable time reflecting and meditating about what I would need to do to live happy and whole. I re-centered my focus and energy on what mattered the most – I needed to prioritize how to better take care of myself and my son. I made myself a promise- I would dwell on the lessons learned, rather than the struggle. When I became conscientious of defining my space, I experienced a new beginning.

But this all seems poetic, rather than real, right?

I had a lot of questions and I asked myself (and God),

1) “Do I really want to move and start over?”
2) “Who will help me move?”
3) “Can I leave my family and friends”
4) “What about money, how will I pay for all these changes, especially rent in two places?”
5) “How will I manage my anxiety and pack at the same time?”
6) “Will my son be okay with changing schools again?”
7) “How will I pick the best community, school & after-school program ( & Babysitter)?”
8) “I have no sense of direction, how will I learn to drive in a new city?”
9) “What about scheduling a last minute physical and paying for an epi-pen for Carter?”

(and the list went on and on….)

Without knowing all the answers, I accepted a job offer to work with foster youth and took a leap!

Guess what?

In just one day, I found a place to live (3rd floor apartment, which helps me with my anxiety) and paid the deposit with money that came right on time.

I moved successfully & start my new job next Monday! I had a crew of folks in Cbus and Cinci. I would have never made it without everyone. (There are 36 steps up to the third floor of my new apartment and there must have been 100 trips up those stairs, by five generous people). Seriously, the awesomeness of people left me speechless. My heart is full of gratitude.

Guess what, you never really leave your friends and family, you just make new friends and family!

Two weeks ago, I had a balance of -$20.17 in my checking account and a week later, I had 2K! Everything has been provided through the generosity of others – Money, food, essentials, trash bags, boxes, containers, gas, school supplies, etc. I am incredibly thankful. My friends and family helped me with extra funds; I also got a loan from a friend, sold some paintings, and had two paying clients this summer!

I manage my anxiety, but sometimes I falter. I find that writing, praying and lemongrass oil help me cope.

With the advice & support of others, I realized that I was transferring my own fear and experiences of my childhood onto my son; I moved three times in first grade and wondered how my son would overcome change. It was communicated to me that I am offering my son the support that he needs to be successful; I was also told that I am not my mother!

I found a great school & after-school program, and have a college friend nearby for emergencies.

My phone helps, but my son is my GPS. He already knows how to get around!!! He told me this morning, “Mom you cannot use GPS to get to school. Don’t use your phone and I am not helping you either!” (That kid!)

I was able to get a physical appointment for the very next day (& pay for it). I was also able to get a free epi-pen for my son – they shipped it over-night for free, just in time for my son’s first day of school!

——————–

Honestly, I wanted to give up several times. I tried to convince myself that I was unworthy, unintelligible and pathetic. I walked myself into a corner and felt sorry for myself. I grieved my loss and I debated “what ifs” until my mind was a stinky pile of poo. And I couldn’t change the past, so I just had to reinvent my thinking process and meditate on what I know to be true. I might have failed throughout my life, but I never gave up. I never allowed circumstances to define me or people’s perceptions to dictate my purpose. I began to zoom in on my passion and decided that I wanted to support foster youth full time.

But guess what? I still I tried to walk away from a new job (my dream job), because I was afraid of change. This summer, one of my mentors told me that I had to “unpark my comfort,” and I realized that I had to be okay with being uncomfortable. Being vulnerable requires a step of faith, which expresses “hope, strength and courage” to grow and be challenged each and everyday, even when we don’t know how everything is going to be resolved.

I have had so many answers to prayer & needs met! I am stepping into my future because I am not alone. I am grateful for my faith and all my friends, family and supporters. I know I am loved and capable of fulfilling my passion and purpose. I am incredibly thankful to be a mother (and my role in my son’s life). I am excited to see what unfolds in the next Chapter, for us!

Making My Mess, My Message

As I near a milestone birthday this month (the big 4-0!), I want to share some personal memories from my life journey…I am going to quickly review each decade and close out this blog with a reflection & lessons about my story progressing this year.
My Journey: 1977-2017
Decade 1:  1977-86
Memories: Little sister, only daughter, foster care child, abused, beaten, survivor, moved three times in first grade, speech impediment, dyslexia, held back in third grade, constant earaches, trouble-maker, talker, class-clown, budding artist, class council member and spelling bee finalist in 4th grade, started a food fight and read 501 books in the summer after 4th grade.
Decade 2: 1987- 1996
Memories: 5th grade crossing guard and kindergarten class volunteer, sexually abused, emotionally abused, loved art and volleyball, science fair winner, artist and creative spirit, loved riding my ten-speed pink and teal huffy bicycle, started my eating disorder, wanted to die, wanted to disappear, moved four times and changed schools three times, began to love school and writing, developed my artistic skills, went into foster care again, never went home, abandoned and rejected, became a Christian, found my strength in Him, blossomed into  a beautiful butterfly, honors student, almost quit art, still a class clown, selected by peers to be the yearbook editor-in-chief,  voted most likely to cheer you up for senior superlatives, graduated from High School  in the top 15% of my class, and was accepted to college!
Decade 3: 1997- 2006
Memories: Attended college, worked in the college cafeteria, learned to roller-blade, had my gallbladder removed, volunteered each summer in DC, brooklyn and San Francisco, visited Italy, completed my senior art show, served with AmeriCorps, rejected from grad school, went back to college,  my maternal grandmom passed, accepted to three graduate schools, moved to New York with $100, baptized, participated in a graduate assistant-ship, lost my virginity, dated with a hole in my heart, walked away from God, and graduated with my MA degree in Creative Arts Therapy, landed a job in NY and stayed.
Decade 4:  2007-2017
Memories: Made art, made a difference, lost and dying inside, wore a mask, lied to everyone about my struggles, raped,  pretended I was okay,  unplanned pregnancy, became a mom, moved home, wasn’t received as a prodigal daughter, homeless-lived with a friend, got fired from a sales job, cleaned houses, my paternal grandmother passed, landed a job at a college, found my passion & purpose, received a $60,000 grant to support foster youth, became an advocate, accepted into four art exhibits-two with my son, my brother, mother and father died, depression and anxiety, assaulted, survivor, trainer and speaker, motivator and mama bear, became an entrepreneur, and resigned from my job a month before turning 40.
Reflection and Lessons: My progression in 2017…
A little over two months ago, I had this amazing experience in March of 2107. I presented a Pecha Kucha at the National ACPA Convention in Columbus, Ohio. PechaKucha (Japanese: ペチャクチャ, IPA: [petɕa ku͍̥tɕa], chit-chat) is a presentation style in which 20 slides are shown for 20 seconds each (6 minutes and 40 seconds in total). The format, which keeps presentations concise and fast-paced, powers multiple-speaker events called PechaKucha Nights (PKNs).
My Pecha Kucha was called “Never Never Give Up: The Resiliency of Former Foster Youth” (visit the link to view the video).
I experienced something very empowering and had a “mountain top experience.” I  had the unique opportunity to live out my passion and purpose. The evening was extra special because I had two former supervisors present and two mentees present. I didn’t know then, that this precise moment would allow me to step into my future and fulfill a revolution (new chapter) in my life.
Just days ago, I returned from a conference in Henderson, Nevada. I attended a conference calledYour Real Success: Your Message, Your Brand, YOUR BOOK with Rhonda Sciortino! I have so much I want to say about this experience!!! We were a small but mighty group of women. I am so blessed because of this circle of visionaries and leaders. This retreat/conference truly impacted my message, brand and book. My purpose for going on this trip was to develop myself professionally, but I grew in confidence, self-awareness, purpose and wisdom.  A very special thanks to Diana Bowen-Moshier, Cheryl Alexander and Crystal Van Kempen-McClanahan! Thank you so much for sharing God’s love with me and your affirmations, gentle support, laughter and positive messages. I gained so much from being in your collective presence! I definitely feel called to help others step into their future!
Over the next 6 months, I will be writing My Soul-Inspired Story and Journal for Foster Youth and Survivors. During all three-days of the conference,  I gained traction to  fulfill my personal purpose; I was given tangible tools to implement practices to realistically reach my goals. I am ready!
At the last moment, I added two days to my trip and decided to visit the Grand Canyon. As I stood at the South Rim, my heart looked out over the canyon with a heart of gratitude. I saw the depths of the valleys and I was reminded about my journey in life… I survived and thrived throughout four decades of trauma, lessons, and blessings. As I stood on the mountain top, my eyes teared up.  I realized how the valley transformed my mess into my message and I will not be ashamed of my story! My life has a purpose and so does yours! Are you ready?
Join me! Learn how you can map your revolution and step into your future. Contact me at Kimberly.C.Rhyan@gmail.com or Facebook.
In closing, I am truly thankful for all of my supporters. I wouldn’t be ready for the next chapter without you. I appreciate y’all!

ACPA17: Work-Life Balance, Resiliency & Hospitality!

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The national convention for ACPA17 is right around the corner! I’ve experienced so much positive energy from being a member of this diverse community! The annual convention experience refuels my purpose and transforms my work in Higher Education. I’m looking forward to the opportunity to Connect, Experience, Reflect, Invest, and Transform!

This month, I have a new opportunity to present with Renée Hill, Dean of Student Life, and Denise Harris, Vice Provost for Student Engagement at Hilbert College, Buffalo, N.Y.. We will present an educational session at the upcoming American College Personnel Association (ACPA) conference, titled “Work-Life Balance: Interwoven Life Tapestries of Motherhood, Management and Mentorship.” The session is sponsored by the Coalition for Women’s Identities and the Commission for Administrative Leadership. This is my first educational session at a national conference and it’s an honor to present with my current and former supervisors; both of these women shaped my career in Higher Education; they are also role models and examples of women who are exemplary in leadership. I am thankful for their roles in developing my strengths and their support to help me grow as a manager, mentor and mother.

During ACPA, I  will also give a PechaKucha called “Never, Never Give Up: The Resiliency of Former Foster Youth.” I will be speaking about my experiences as a former foster youth and the development of the Columbus State Scholar Network. My session will be given in an innovative presentation format in which presenters show 20 images for 20 seconds each, covering a wide range of topics, ideas, perspectives and thoughts. I have been working on my session for over a month; it’s going to be difficult to speak about my life and passion in only six minutes and forty seconds! I am incredibly excited to have this platform to share about my growth and how we can all support former foster youth in college.

Finally, it has been a great learning opportunity to serve as the hospitality coordinator on the ACPA17 convention experiences team. I have been overseeing the development of the Welcome Kiosk, Lactation and Family Space, Service-on-the-Go projects, and the affirmation and reflection boards. I am thankful to be a member of the planning team, they have been nothing but supportive; together, we have brainstormed ideas to shape a great convention experience for 2017! Being a part of the planning team has helped me to refocus my attention on the heart of hospitality and enhance my practice with my students to consider their needs and to focus on tangible ways to support them as they face challenges in their lives.

You can read my complete online blog post, “What’s Your Happy Place?”(about the conference) here.

 

Self-care and so much more…at Ohio Reach’s first College Retreat!

I have attempted to keep my writing separate from my work, but this week,  my professional career and personal journey of transformation blended.

This week, we conducted a week-long conference and  inducted new Scholars (former foster youth) into the Columbus State Scholar Network. We have nearly 20 students this semester! Yesterday, Columbus State Community College also hosted the first State-wide College Retreat coordinated by William Murray IV and Ohio Reach.


Ohio Reach improves post-secondary outcomes for foster care youth and alumni through leadership, empowerment, advocacy, research and networking (L.E.A.R.N.)


Thanks to William Murray IV,  Ohio Reach had six colleges in attendance including Clark State, Cincinnati State, Ohio University, Central State University, Columbus State, and Cuyahoga Community College.

In my own words….

Yesterday, I was honored to speak about practicing self-care while also sharing my story as a former foster youth.  Self-care is so important….there have been times that I wanted to give up but did not because I implemented practices in my life that sustained me and kept me on the right track. I focused on meditation and journaling as key ways to cope with stress.  I shared specifically about my journey, not just my life in foster care. I spoke of my desire to reconcile with my biological mother and the day I introduced her to my son. I shared about my emotional path from hate to love, and ultimately about the process of developing empathy and unconditional love for my mother- who died in 2014 from brain cancer.

As I opened my heart to future leaders, I felt this amazing energy in the room and it propelled me to push through to be open and vulnerable about my journey of transformation and impact.

Over the course of my life, I never once imagined I would be working in Higher Education – and I never ever thought I would be supporting foster youth. I always ran from my identity as a foster youth. I wanted to be more than a foster kid & I believed that I would be the one person in my family to change to cycle of abuse. And when I had an unplanned pregnancy….so much of my fear and denial made me come face to face with my past; I made a promise to myself to build a better future for my son and I.

So here I am…

I am blessed to be a collaborative partner in growing the next generation of foster youth into scholar leaders; I seek to cultivate a culture of mindfulness so they can make their dreams a reality!


Today’s retreat was a reminder that no matter life’s barriers and obstacles, we can all aim higher via education,  reflection and action. All of the speakers focused on moving forward, purposefully! Speakers for the College Retreat also included, Genesis Shine and Nikki Chin (Columbus State Scholars), Rayshawn L. Wilson, “LionHeart,” and Dr. Stephanie Krah (Central State). All of the students also received 10 Ways Anyone can Graduate from College Debt-free, by Kevin Brown (former foster youth), Amazon Fire tablet and a twin-sized quilt from My Very Own Blanket.


FINALLY, I am so incredibly thankful to be a member of the Scholar Movement that is spreading across Ohio!

Being loved.

It’s been a year, since I have been carrying her keys on my key-chain; there are days that I’m trying to unlock my door, and I mistake her keys for mine; I get so frustrated and I tell myself that I am going to take them off. But I refuse. I don’t take them off, they are a reminder of the door that opened when I knocked on her door for the first time in 10 years, almost to the day. I’ve read her journals several times over, and I know she suffered her own trauma, but I know she could have made better choices; she was still my mother. So I read in her journal, and found that date and read what she wrote on the day I came to see her; the day I introduced her to my son; she said it was the best day in her life, besides the day she was born.

It’s been a year since I sat by my mother’s side; every day for a month, I remember making that trip with my mom from the nursing home to the radiation treatment facility to treat her inoperable  brain tumor; I remember holding my mother’s hand; I remember the thin white sheet that covered her and the doctor moving in real close to hear her faint voice, as he asked, “Do you want anything?” And she responded, “I want one more day…with my grand-babies.”
It’s been a year, since I brought Carter to see my mom, they would draw together; artistic expression made all of our faces smile. Maybe my Creative Arts Therapy degree prepared me for those moments, in which I could clearly witness the power of healing that transcends pain. In those quiet moments, I felt more connected than I had ever felt before; these moments transformed my heart and life.
It’s been a year, since my brother became angry with me, since he quit talking to me, since I saw my nephews and nieces, since he stepped out of my life, for a second time. As teenagers, when i was in foster care, I could barely comprehend his words, “I want nothing to do with her.” But as a 30-something adults, his actions have severed the tie that bonds and that loss is the greatest loss of all.
It’s been a year, living with this ache….hiding, crouching, much like I did as an adolescent, in which I knew despair as the covering of my soul; this time around, my heart dropped and my faith was dismantled but it did not fade away. I’ve learned that it’s still possible to be suffering and to push the world through the eye of a needle just to try to prove that I don’t need anyone, but I do. Imperfect I shall remain. Striving for a better way; I seek the best path for my family, for our future, for whatever comes next. I stand up and walk out of the past and claim my life back, like never before to connect with others more purposefully and earnestly.

I can’t believe it took 365 days to get to this moment; to let go & to hold on; I have been avoiding this moment; I told my counselor that if I just had my “coming to Jesus moment,” I would be more whole.  I have sat in many churches this past year; sitting, waiting, contemplating, complaining, and sometimes fuming; and this past Sunday, the tears flowed but I did not move forward to kneel at the alter to say a prayer; rather, in the middle of the closing benediction/prayer, I wiped away the tears and stepped out into the foyer, into the beautiful vestibule and kept my eyes down, as to not make eye contact with anyone; I went into the bathroom, checked my mascara and gave myself one heck of a pep talk, prayed and walked out, chin up, to see familiar faces that did not really know me anymore.
Did I have my “coming to Jesus moment?” I think Jesus came to me; I don’t speak religion, I don’t quote the Bible, I don’t try to pry in the lives of others, because I don’t have the right to judge others and no one has a right to judge me.Over the past year – I have been in wrestling with my story, with my inadequacies and failures; the skeletons in my closet are strong boned, they have choked me in a mental head-lock; I know how important it is to move forward, but the loss of my mom and my brothers took a toll on my heart, and I have been experiencing great sorrow while facing my fears of abandonment. This has meant being reflective and really looking within to figure out what’s going to be next.

I have to accept being loved.

3/30 The Maybe Musings of an Artist, #napomo

There is a passageway

A darkened tunnel

filled with complete disaster

and breakthroughs

To create something new

is to unveil inner-most knowledge

In the midst of roadblocks

and life’s many responsibilities,

Including motherhood-

Space is pushed back from all sides

And compacted to clear the mental clutter,

to do lists, and piles of laundry-

Given permission to begin again

Consecutive hours in the zone

spilling out my soul

an undefined canvas given flesh

and breadth of life

to expose vulnerabilities

excavating underlying realities-

affirming the existence of flaws

and skewed perceptions-

actualizing layers of congruence

and resistance-

emerging to illustrate the narrative

of my combined life experiences-

posted via my digital thumbprint

on the world wide web-

to be seen and felt-

(or unseen and indifferent)

without ever being displayed

in the very formal space

of a galleria or book-

but maybe someday.

 

 

1/30, A proper introduction, #napomo

For a long time,

I have considered-

No, I have definitely scrutinized the odds,

The peculiar pull of knowing that there is more to be known.

Not just more, but someone-

One person who gets most of my quirky tendencies-

An equal confident and best-friend

Who doesn’t reject my instinct to pull away-

(Because unfortunately, I happen to do that when I am afraid)

To accept possibility-

 

There is comfort in a glance,

The tremendous effort of a half-smile and the complexity of a furrowed brow

Seemingly acknowledging a sacred connection without having to dance –

deferring judgment-

launching a paradigm shift that changes fault lines to linear truths,

rest assured

providential circumstances prevent time from being threatened again-

peaceful salutations deliver ground-breaking awareness-

 

it always seems too difficult

to shift from one side to another

from yes, to no, to well, maybe I will

to finally, I definitely cannot find another answer, other than yes-

to wonder and wander in dreams beyond fantasia,

diving deep into the depths of the sacred universe

it is much too similar to holding a kite in the middle of a storm,

and it supposedly happens-

 

just like it always happens in the movies-

between

Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan

the maximum power of vulnerability

transforms the miniscule molecular fibers of the wounded spirit

to inspire the reconciliation and introduction of hope within a new beginning-

 

and it might be called conversing-

or simply defeating former complexities

that previously existed-

or it might be called a proper introduction.

 

More about  #napomo, AKA: National Poetry Month:

  1. What is National Poetry Month? National Poetry Month is a month-long, national celebration of poetry established by the Academy of American Poets. The concept is to widen the attention of individuals and the media—to the art of poetry, to living poets, to our complex poetic heritage, and to poetry books and journals of wide aesthetic range and concern.

The challenge of compassion…and a few lessons along the way.

Compassion asks us to go where it hurts, to enter into the places of pain, to share in brokenness, fear, confusion, and anguish. Compassion challenges us to cry out with those in misery, to mourn with those who are lonely, to weep with those in tears. Compassion requires us to be weak with the weak, vulnerable with the vulnerable, and powerless with the powerless. Compassion means full immersion in the condition of being human.”
― Henri J.M. Nouwen

“The greatest disease in the West today is not TB or leprosy; it is being unwanted, unloved, and uncared for. We can cure physical diseases with medicine, but the only cure for loneliness, despair, and hopelessness is love. There are many in the world who are dying for a piece of bread but there are many more dying for a little love. The poverty in the West is a different kind of poverty — it is not only a poverty of loneliness but also of spirituality. There’s a hunger for love, as there is a hunger for God.”
― Mother Teresa, A Simple Path: Mother Teresa

Within the past year, I have been asked, “How did you find the strength and courage to love your mom?”

When I was fifteen years old, my mom gave up her parental rights to stay with the man who molested me. As a teenager, this reality broke my heart. My mother and I never had a very close relationship; I felt like a burden, rather than a blessing. I have referenced these feelings before, I felt worthless and rejected; the pain I endured, left an imprint on my life. I spent a lot of my life struggling to overcome the odds of feeling less than, rather than greater than these emotional hardships.

I worked incredibly hard to graduate college, participate in AmeriCorps, and attend graduate school; I transitioned from my own personal struggles to focusing my energy on making a difference in my community.  No matter my professional accomplishments, my heart was still fractured and all of my relationships suffered. So, when I reconnected with my mother two years ago, I didn’t know what to expect. Throughout life, I learned to have zero expectations; but this time, I earnestly hoped for reconciliation, but I never imagined  that we would have so little time to overcome a lifetime of ache; the challenge of compassion revealed the possibilities, including forgiveness.

All along the way, I felt an ever-present peace and abundance of hope through my faith. This abundance made itself known when I became a single mom a couple years ago. Hope was the ultimate message communicated to me and I learned that everything, is indeed possible. I was strengthened most by the people who came beside me and loved me—without judgement. God essentially prepared my heart to love my mom, by blessing my life with a child. It was through the process of becoming a mother, that I surrendered my heart to my creator. In this context, my heart was prepared for the challenge of compassionate action; this was the path to loving my mom.

My mother was adopted; as far as I know, I know she was loved, but she always felt discarded, unlovable and rejected. My mother came into this world feeling unloved and throughout my mom’s life,  she sought love in all the wrong places; after three marriages; she ended up very alone. Seven months ago, when my mom was diagnosed with brain cancer, I made a promise – I wanted her to know she was loved. No matter the struggle, I chose to stay and be present with my mom, offering my time (and as many milkshakes as possible)!

Loving my mom was a process and gradual evolution of my heart progressing towards loving authentically. In the beginning, I was angry and frustrated; especially when my mother refused to get the care she needed or when she refused to tell her children the truth we deserved to know. We had questions and wanted answers. Over time, I learned to shut up, let go and be open. I think that’s an enormous lesson to practice…the art of learning to listen; listening requires that I purposely let go of my agenda. It was important for me to step into her experience and feel a fraction of her ache; this didn’t excuse her from the pain she caused in my life, but my heart surrendered my resentment and hurt.  I relinquished my demands, questions and anxiety to know peace that passes all understanding. I forgave her and I believe that forgiveness set her free and helped us to understand each other better. Forgiveness didn’t erase years of disappointment and estrangement, but my pain was eased and I was able to let go and finally  love without creating conditions or rules; the process of surrendering created a safe space for love to grow.

There were other key influences in my life; I definitely drew strength from my faith and people like Mother Teresa and Henri Nouwen. I have always had people in my life who offered their support. Their acts of kindness kept me from diving into depression, they motivated me to keep my chin up, and inspired me to accomplish my dreams.  I attended a Christian college and had mentors and volunteer experiences that changed my heart. I learned about living compassionately and love in action. Those lessons and influences are integral to the woman I am today. I experienced generosity and was inspired to pay it forward; my heart experienced growth because seeds were sewn into my life. Those folks were mostly women, who I still have connections with today; my elementary art teacher,  high school english and spanish teachers, my foster family, job  supervisors, mentors, roommates and classmates.

My heart was prepared/cMom_9onditioned for healing; whenever I found myself in the same room with my mother, I wanted to find the nearest exit. I didn’t know what I could offer, but I learned to offer simple things, like a milkshake or smile. After my mother’s diagnosis, during the first few months, whenever I sat with my mother, I saw her as a person first, and a mother last. For years I suffered a great loss, because she gave me up. There is a unique irony to our stories, because we both felt discarded, unlovable and rejected. My mom never took responsibility, she never apologized, she never acknowledged my experieinces with her understanding, until this past October. During my childhood and adolescence, she ignored my suffering and disposed of me, when she should have fought for me. This stung a thousand bee stings (and I am allergic to bees). Ultimately,  this painful cycle convinced me to be the best mother I could become; I’m thankful for my son and the lessons I have learned over the past year.  I focused on letting go and actualized forgiveness; as a result, I became my mother’s daughter; we were no longer estranged from one another. My mother and I learned how to be family once again. That transformation changed our lives forever.

Over the past two weeks, I have had time to reflect and recognize the power of moments; some of them will always be indescribable, but I’ve attempted to encapsulate them into 5 challenges/lessons; I’ve written them as as a way to honor my mom; I am thankful for the gift of transformation….

The Challenge of Compassion, #1- Approach forgiveness as an opportunity to help, rather than be helped. In the process, all hearts have the opportunity to be changed.

The Challenge of Compassion, #2- Hope despite all impossibilities; healing is possible, when you stop giving the past power over the present; forgiveness truly mends the broken-hearted; fragments are sewn into wholes, the empty spaces are filled with love.

The Challenge of Compassion, #3- Simply being present is a gift. Kindness isn’t about what we can give, but it’s about how we give- it’s about the quality of presence, not the quantity or value of many presents. The worth of our presence will always surpass everything else.

The Challenge of Compassion, #4- A small gesture of kindness can be monumental; live graciously—

The nurse who took care of my mom, came to the nursing home and was by her side during her last moments. During the past 7 months, she was very supportive to my mother.  She eased my mother’s pain with her presence; she always appeared to offer her help, especially when she wasn’t working. She made the choice to be with us. In one minute, she was getting us coffee and the next, she was listening to my mother’s last breaths. No one that morning at the nursing home took care of us. They had other things to do, I suppose. My mom’s nurse totally went out of her way, many many times and never asked for anything in return. I am so thankful for the gift of her caring presence (#3); it was beyond comforting. Since my mom passed, we have told one another, we would be friends for life.

The challenge of Compassion, #5- Don’t wait. Make time in your calendar to love without reservation. Don’t wait for the ah-ha moment when things make sense. Chances are, none of it will make sense. People don’t always make sense; cancer doesn’t make sense, but we deal with the nonsense, by doing something as simple as making time to love without reservation. We can’t say we cannot love because….we must say, “We must, we can and we will love because of HE, who entrusts us with His love—

Two years ago, I didn’t know I would lose my mom this January. I can’t change the past. Honestly,  I spent the first year and five months, being distant and reserved. I was taking baby steps, trying to play it safe; I justified my actions;. After all, I did not have a relationship with my mom for 10 years. I was careful yes, and I should have been, but looking back, I could have done more to express my desire to get to know her again. All and all, I didn’t think I was ready. And I wasn’t. But if I had pushed myself just a little, we might have had more time together in the beginning. I am very thankful for the past seven months and for what happened between us- our hearts aligned in a beautiful constellation of understanding. Courage provided the strength, but I could have done so much more.

So? Increase your measure of knowledge  by implementing these challenges in your life. Reach deep within and reach out and around, you just might feel a squeeze in return, but don’t give up, “just keep on, keeping on.”

All things grow with love, Part I and Part II

Preface to the Preface

I planned to post this on 12.31.13 on my sister’s birthday; I wanted my family to read this first…thus the delay…

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Preface

I don’t want to sound like a broken record, so adjust the volume as needed…

As a writer/artist and mother, I choose to openly express my vulnerabilities, in order to give transformation — the way God comes into our lives — permission to change my heart.

I guess I can honestly say that 2013 has been a tremendous year filled with new  challenges; in a nutshell,  my heart has been through the shredder;  if you gather and tape together all the pieces, I think this is what you would read….

Part I

I have recorded many instances where I have fought incredibly hard to be strong, in some instances (maybe all), I kept people an arm’s length away (okay, so maybe even hundreds of miles). This year, circumstances  forced me to confront my insecurities and fears;  I’ve learned more this year, than ever, that all things grow with love.

For years (well into adulthood), I couldn’t push through the victimization of my childhood, I always took pride in declaring that I was a survivor, but internally, I remained wrecked as a victim. Body paint made me a warrior, but my soul lost its ignition somewhere along the way. Loss homogenized itself in being lost, while attempting to turn the car around in more promising directions.

During therapy as a teen, I was told by my therapist, that it was up to me to break the cycle of abuse. For years, I never knew completely, what she meant, because I was caught up in blaming, rather than accepting the responsibility of taking ownership of my life. I basically designed a battleground with trenches, for my heart to hide while my soul searched for answers; I was completely immersed in muddied waters.

No matter what I achieved in my life, I kept returning emotionally, to the closet of my childhood; a safe haven for my wounded  heart; time and time again, my fears filled years with unnecessary tears until I  became camouflaged against the wall, my spirit sunken with insecurities; I was squeezed, dried and exfoliated with anxiety. Honestly, I have felt like a pile of rags, not even worthy of a rummage sale.

To overcome challenges, I  learned how to thrive within muddy waters. I think the Son has a lot to do with that!  Many times over, amazingly enough, at my own ground zero, I have felt the extraordinary generosity and compassion from people all around me, but the first time, I encountered growth, was in the embrace of my foster family, who loved me for me. They nurtured and provided me with a home, when I felt unlovable as a teenager.

I have learned to daily resign my fears and give my roots permission to become acquainted in the salutation of being entirely welcomed. Just as I was welcomed into a family 20 years ago. This is the lesson/gift I wish to pass on to my son….

All things grow with love . . .

Part II

Dear Family,

On Christmas Eve of this year, I presented the women in our family with a necklace, which symbolized much more, than just a family tree. With children (too excited over gift-giving and receiving) in the room, I could hardly speak, I attempted to make a formal announcement, explaining the symbolism of the gift I was giving. I but I could not literally speak all the words, I wished to speak, so, here they are . . .

. . . this year is a special year; it’s the 20th anniversary of an important day in my life. I wish to take this moment to celebrate a life-changing conversation that took place at a winter retreat held in Ripley, West Virginia; we sat around a 6ft table and you changed the course of my existence through your open invitation to join your family; your decision to love me, enabled the transformation of a fragile young girl into a strong woman. Nearly 21 years ago in 1993, you opened your hearts and invited me to become your daughter and sister.

During my personal struggles this past year, I have been reminded repeatedly, about your gift of family. My heart is filled with gratitude for the decision you made to love me, when my own biological family rejected me.  The circle of family is truly, never-ending, which has given us the awesome opportunity to grow in love. The tree has many branches, for we have grown both in love, and in numbers, including the arrival of five grandsons (Papa’s basketball team). Through all the seasons, for many years, no matter what, you have nurtured my faith to withstand all the stormy seasons of life (did you notice, that the leaves are still intact?) Again, my heart is filled with gratitude and I am thankful for the love that has grown between all of our hearts (especially between all the cousins) – I am so thankful to be a member of this family!

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I love you.
Kimberly (Jo)