Light up the Dark, Pain-Fueled Passion

Light up the Dark

I had a poignant, painful conversation with a wonderful old friend last night.   It reminded me of when someone I love, plagued with mental illness, had a large knife to my throat at age 16.  My mind wrestled incessantly between fear and faith.   I said everything I could think of to diffuse the situation while questioning whether I’d lose the opportunity to breathe again.  It’s one of many memories that sears my conscience…   Today – I’m o.k., but decades later, he’s still not.  Nevertheless, I am his advocate, and my commitment to him summons my passion for bringing awareness to the larger plight.

There are many passions that we pursue because we’re so good at them, we could seal the longevity of our careers; but, there are others that we embrace for different reasons – because of their meaningfulness, our connection.  In recent days, mental illness awareness has heightened, in part because of actor portrayals, social inequities, and national tragedies.  For me though, it’s a matter of the heart.  Not only has it touched my life, but it touches our classrooms.

Many people think of mental illness in the context of adults, but it also adversely affects children.    Bouts with bi-polar disorder, the strain of schizophrenia, and the mayhem that so often espouses manic depression aren’t just fodder for entertainment.  For many people, this is everyday life.  Albeit this subject matter has far more gravity than previous posts, I approach it because it is still tied to passion.  I’ve learned that many of our readers balance passion for things of pleasure with passions that compel them to embrace important causes, too.

I recall the passion of a young lady named Carla who poured herself into efforts for the March of Dimes.  April championed the call to raise money for Breast Cancer Awareness.  Molly became a spokesperson for suicide prevention after her son took his life.  Tom started the Amschwand Sarcoma Cancer Foundation after losing his mother to the disease and contending with an 18-month battle of his own.  I take advantage of constant opportunities to destigmatize mental illness and educate the underinformed.

Our contributions to meaningful causes don’t have to be enormous, but I implore you to choose one – and make it significant.  Nearly twenty years ago last month, one of my closest family members died of HIV/AIDS; but, he would be proud to know of my involvement with an HIV Prevention and AIDS Awareness organization.  Combining my passions for writing and speaking put me in the forefront of some of their most successful galas and on the same stage as  Susan Taylor, Editor-in-Chief-Emeritus of Essence Magazine, who’s now spearheading a passionate cause of her own.  She was floored by my tribute to the organization’s founder, but more importantly I was able to share the importance of the cause with an enormous crowd of captivated listeners.

I believe nearly every family knows of tragedies that affect people within our immediate circles.  It may be alcoholism, health crises, educational ills, or more.  I still encourage you to pursue the passions that will inspire you to work tirelessly everyday.  However, let’s add to our list pursuing passions that transcend monetary gain.  Make your mark by making a difference.

#lightupthedark #someoneneedsyoumorehtanyouknow #pursueyourpassion

Picture:  Striving to be a light in the darkness.

Chase Your Dreams? No…Catch Them!


SPOILER ALERT:  (Real) Reference to Beyonce’!

While wrangling my crew of three lively boys for breakfast and balancing my other super hero duties, I received the most delightful of calls.  A colleague of mine had an essential epiphany about bringing home the bliss.  Let me explain!  We had a hot and heated (but amicable) conversation not too long ago about this amazing passion she has for baking – but she’s not a chef by profession.  Nevertheless, when not on the job, she’s creating, experimenting, tasting, researching, posting, and spending incessant – but energized – hours in the kitchen.  Her homework (from me) was to pursue this!  She was to get her very inexpensive dba (doing business as) as the first step to stop squelching that desire and bring it to reality. She insisted she wanted to do this beyond a leisurely hobby.

Nevertheless, her last check-up indicated she had abandoned the plan, or rather that her “but” got in the way.  “I was going to do it, ‘but’…”  “Well, I had started to, ‘but’….”  My but in return?  “But why not?  What are you waiting for?  Excuses…”  Well, she proved me wrong!  Yesterday, she wanted me to know that Bakers’ Lane has officially been born.  She stood in line.  Filled out the paperwork.  Followed the directions and added her name to the list of budding entrepreneurs who don’t just dream about what they want, they catch those dreams – one by one.

Does this mean she has saved thousands of dollars that she’s ready to use to fuel a national marketing campaign for her amazing product?  No.  She doesn’t have to.  Most small businesses are bereft of the huge cash injections easily at the disposal of multi-millionaires; but, they make up “99.7 percent of employers.”  Who says you have to be rich to get an idea off the ground?  You need merely to be passionate, persistent, and productive!  I think she can check all three of those off her list.  High Five to you, Madam!

Some may question the difference between pursuing and chasing.  Honestly, they’re similar in concept.  I think the better question is, “When do you use them?”  Your passion is that burning inside that drives you insane with pleasure.  It’s the feeling you have about doing what you enjoy so much that you could do it in your sleep/with your eyes closed!  My passions?  Speaking, writing (and eating)!  I have one friend whose gift of sewing is at such a level of excellence that she’d find a shoe she liked – and create a matching outfit.  Her style is haute couture (she made her first dress at nine), and she once toyed with the idea of taking her ridiculous talent to the masses…

One client and friend took his grind to the pavement by way of faith and foot traffic!  After dropping off a (very simple) flyer – of a picture of his abs – to Tina Knowles in her Headliner’s Hair Salon (and a host of others) over a decade ago, he landed a job as the personal trainer to Destiny’s Child (was subsequently invited to travel with them on the MTV TR1 tour), and later trained Beyonce for her Dangerously in Love solo debut and Austin Powers movie.  The thing is, one of these individuals may still be toying with the idea.  The other took a leap of faith.  His grind didn’t stop after returning to Houston.  He’s still a trainer – to both celebrity and non, and now he has a growing, profitable product line!  He’s not chasing his dream because he has too many.  He’s catching them, one idea at a time.  Is your flame flickering?  #pursueyourpassion #catchyourdream

Picture:  Me on top of the world… #watchout

Wanna contact my Trainer to the Stars (you included, of course):  E-mail him at  WARNING:  You will feel the burn!  Ask me how I know!  But it will be worth it…you’ll be…dangerous 🙂

Friends – The Other Kind


Some of us remember our best buds from elementary school.  Others still hang out with them, even in adulthood.  Many of us have made friends later in life, but isn’t it awesome to be able to recognize who your genuine friends are?  When Christopher comes home (far right – front row), he so often mentions his partner in crime, Hilton (on his left).  He tells tall tales of all of their adventures, slightly admits to their guilty pleasures, and revels in their 7 yr. old discoveries.  Above all else, he denotes their friendship, an inseparable bond that exists because of how much he values their relationship.  When their Chinese teacher sent this pic to my phone during their field trip today, it resonated with me because I knew from his expression how much he was treasuring this memory and how much he appreciated his friend.

And so I thought about my own.  I made an interesting connection.  Every year, I teach my students about “multiple meaning words.”  Like bat (the animal); bat (to swing); bat (the wooden equipment), and bat (to blink an eye).  In that vein, “friend” has evolved into an interesting multiple meaning word, too.  Friend (people I know on FaceBook/LinkedIn); friend  (an informal term for a colleague); friend (someone you know through a connection with someone else); friend (to get to know someone); and friend – the ones who really feel more like family.  How many friends do you have that fit the latter?  It seems we have the least of that last group.

Like Christopher, I get really excited about my genuine friends! I talk about them because they crack me up.  They know me in ways that associates do not.  When I’m trying to wear the cape and save the day, they remind me that even superheroes need a moment to recharge.  Real friends – help you pick up the pieces when you thought you were balancing well, but discovered you weren’t.  They forgive you if you hurt them unintentionally, and don’t hold it against you the next day.  They help you when you need it most – without expectation of reciprocity, although you’re compelled to give in return because you are grateful.  Real friends know when to cross your boundaries (when you’re being stubborn) and when to respect them (when you need to figure things out on your own).

I make it a point to tell my friends how much I care for them because on dark days, I don’t want to imagine how things would be different without them.  They encourage me, enlighten me, and leave me in awe.  And nobody can make you laugh like someone who knows you well – because they make the best inside jokes – the ones no one else understands except you and them.  Sometimes, we take our friends for granted, and can leave them feeling very empty.  Friendships are relationships, too that also need to be nurtured.  If you know who your genuine friends are, remember to let them know that your bond will last for a lifetime.  To the friends who love me most…thank you.

Inspired by those who know me best…

Love and Laughter: The Elixir of Life


Even on your best days, horrible things can happen.  Things that seem unfair, unbearable, and unbelievable in your wildest dreams.  I’ve had some of those days – more than I’d rather, actually.  And quite a few lately.  I promised I wouldn’t, but I broke my vow…I asked God, “Why?”  Before I could finish my inquiry though, I was compelled to go to a familiar place:  Reflection.

I was reminded of a conversation that I’d had with my son, discussing how sometimes, like a famous storybook character named Alexander, “we could have a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day.”  But I also told him about how thankful I was when I worked at a Level I Trauma Center; how I’d be flustered about my morning blues and then walk past a patient who had staples in his head, or metal rods through her bones – and somehow my mountains seemed like molehills.

I’d think about how wonderful it was to – breathe – on my own; without tubes and ventilators and oxygen from a tank; how amazing it was to speak; to see; to hear; to taste.  Someone shared with me one day how he offered a patient a magazine to cheer him up, but due to his condition, he couldn’t turn the pages.  In his 20s, he was paralyzed from the neck down.  Life on its own can be…stressful.  Especially in the workplace, because most of what we do, in any industry, takes place in a rapidly moving setting with increasing demands and deadlines and decreasing resources and patience.

Nevertheless, we have access to something far stronger than pharmaceuticals; more potent than potions.  Love and laughter.  Reality indicates that the average family is no stranger to trauma and drama; but, are you one of many who remembers having a devastating moment with your family – but finding something in that memory that could bring a smile to your face?  I have.  So has Kevin Hart, comedian forerunner responsible for “Laugh at My Pain.”  Fans eager to escape hurt with humor have flocked to his performances to the tune of $15 million…in two days.

But you don’t have to buy a ticket to get a laugh.  Some of our funniest moments are experienced at home – with friends; co-workers; spouses; children, and parents.  I recently discovered that living in a house with all males, my son was under the impression that we all had the same “equipment”.  Realizing his misinformation, I questioned his logic.  He said, “Well if you don’t have that, what do you have?”  Needless to say, we tabled that for another day, but my husband and I cracked up about it all night!  Which leads me to my next point.

No relationships are perfect, but the ones that we hold dearest?  Friends and family…let’s nurture them!  The love we receive – and give – to those who are most meaningful in our life can help heal the deepest of wounds.  These are the people on our team.  Our all-stars.  The ones who understand us, endure us, inspire and uphold us.  My father often reminded me that things in life that I can’t control, I shouldn’t be overwhelmed by.  The things that I can change for the better should hold my attention instead.  He was right.  Regardless of what’s in store in the days ahead, I think I’ll face it with a tall glass of Love and Laughter.  Somehow, I’m convinced it will make the good and the bad much easier to swallow.  #pursueyourpassion #beinvincible

Picture:  Isaiah, Keeping Me Smiling with Smiles of His Own

Rain on Your Parade or Water for Your Dreams?

All Wet

While I often feel lost in the whirlwind of life, with deadlines, family time, work demands, and the whole gamut – every now and then, I’m smitten by something – illustrious – in nature.  On a cold and rainy day, I peeked through a window and noticed the most beautiful drops on everything in the garden.  I couldn’t quench the desire to take a closer look…  I stumbled upon the same flower I’d “tasted” a month or so ago; but, today, it looked very different.  At first I thought it seemed a bit frail.  Its delicate petals were dampened by the rain and it almost looked like it was shivering.  Briefly, I felt badly.  Was this cold and rain going to lead to the flower’s inability to thrive?  Or was I in fact looking at this the wrong way?

While I pondered, it occurred to me that 1) there are many plants that survive the cold, and 2) these liberal ladles of water are actually among plants’ most vital essentials.  The water quenches their thirst and accelerates their growth!  I snapped the picture for my latest epiphany.  When we’re pursuing things that mean something to us, even with our best hopes and dreams, we may encounter some obstacles along the way.  Perhaps someone we thought would be key to our success didn’t share our vision.  Maybe the opportunity we struggled to secure never panned out at all.  That bright flower of an idea that we treasured and still hold on to for dear life – it may seemed like someone rained on, mercilessly; but, perhaps that rain wasn’t to ruin the parade.

I realize failure is rarely pleasant and often undesirable.  Nevertheless, I believe failures have fueled many successes.  I can’t tell the future, and I don’t know what will happen that I want – or don’t want.  I do know that as I continue to plan for what I’d like to have, I’m opting not to view setbacks in light of “rain on my parade.”  I find that many of my unexpected derailments lead to better ideas; bigger opportunities, and aha moments that otherwise would not have occurred.  The “rain” for me is instead, liberating.  It sends me back to the drawing board to “refresh” my views on my dreams.  I make observations, adjustments, improvements.

I read somewhere that J. K. Rowling, author of the record-breaking Harry Potter series was a jobless, single-parent who had signed up for welfare and felt like a “failure.” She wrote in cafes when she could get her baby to sleep, and even after finishing her first book was rejected by 12 publishers.  Today, she’s sold over 400 million copies, generated more revenues than any other box office series, and has the best selling book series in history.

When you know what you want, and you know how to get it, there isn’t a single, perfect road.  There are many routes – and so long as they’re not illegal, immoral, or unethical, you have every right to pursue them.  So the next time you feel a bit of rumbling thunder, don’t be shaken.  It’s not the parade that we should focus on, it’s nurturing our dreams – and sometimes, nothing grows our potential like a healthy dose of rain.  Soak up those showers, and pursue your passion.  The world is waiting.

Taste Your Dreams…


So we’ve been told tasting is primed for your palate; but, suppose you could taste with your mind?  What if you could smell your future, hear your hopes, feel your fervor – and taste your dreams.  I savor the thought, and I’m not the only one.

My first introduction to Gracie Cavnar, the striking red headed powerhouse at the center of the picture was through my elementary school years ago as a fourth grade teacher.  As a part of her ingenious program, restaurant James Beard Award Nominee, Chef Monica Pope, was paired with my class monthly.   Quite naturally in love with all things cuisine, I was utterly delighted!  Cooking and gardening were now part of my curriculum.

I delved deeper in my inquiries into the graceful Gracie after my son, Michael, then seven (center) was invited to participate in a photo shoot for her premiere non-profit, Recipe for Success.  Cavnar was being featured in Self Magazine for her outstanding community achievements.

What I didn’t know is that the burgeoning success she was so rapidly attaining was after she’d already garnered achievements in “architecture, hospitality, marketing, and public relations.” Despite over four decades of investment in these industries, her greatest fulfillment has been fueled by realizing her dream for changing the landscape of childhood obesity.  I’m enchanted with her passion.

In less than a decade, she took an idea, fixated on her goal, compelled comrades, connoisseurs, and communities, and cultivated an unprecedented movement.  Her tireless efforts as the pro-bono chair of the organization have yielded not only millions of dollars in funds raised, but propelled her to national recognition, to include receiving a distinguished position as an adviser to First Lady Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move! Task Force.  Impressed with her amazing results, she was asked to share her vision with a nation hungry for change.

So what intrigues me about Mrs. Cavnar?  The scintillating scent of stamina, coupled with a dash of determination, immersed in a generous amount of inspiration, yielding incessant servings of Recipes for Success.  On countless occasions, we all have dreams.  The question is, which half do you represent?  Are you among those who dream in vivid colors, but fail to realize the sweetness of your endeavors?  Or are you on the other side of the contemplative coin?

Regardless of where you stand, never marginalize your innovation.  What may seem minute can transform into magnificence.  A single endeavor, simple in merit, could revolutionize entire cultures.  I have a few dreams of my own, and I’m pursuing them feverishly because I see them brightly.  Despite facts and failures beyond my control, my fervor remains unfeigned.  With every success, my hopes rise like the aroma of fresh baked-bread.  I can hear the opportunities knocking at the door.  I taste my dreams.  Can you?  If not, start stirring your gift.  Pursue your passion.

What Lies Beneath – How Deep Is Your Desire?


When I stepped onto this grassy plain, I had no idea how many bones were beneath my feet.  My affection for the written word via essay had earned me a coveted educator’s scholarship to a week-long sabbatical in Colonial Williamsburg, Virginia.  The significance of our destination was unbeknownst to me, initially; but, as our guide enumerated its relevance, I learned we were standing where soldiers had run valiantly to their end, in hopes of advancing what they felt most strongly about.  Interestingly, they hadn’t enjoyed the best circumstances prior to their commitment.  Nevertheless, the imperfections surrounding their ideals didn’t deter the depth of their desire to contend for their passions.  They had a deep seeded belief that what they valued the most was worth everything they had to offer, at any cost.

Earlier this week, I had a conversation with an old friend who mentioned she’d found herself late to work more and more often.  I assumed it was fatigue or perhaps just feeling overworked and overwhelmed.  Later, I discovered it was simply because she was loathing the thought of her arrival.  Still, she feels compelled – or perhaps coerced and a bit trapped – into enduring the drudgery daily, with increasing dissatisfaction and a growing level of contempt.  Within the last year, it’s really affected her health – scary.  I couldn’t help but wonder what does she really love?  What could she throw herself into that would align so seamlessly with her personal aspirations that it would erase the helplessness and hopelessness that’s robbing her of fulfillment?

I speak not critically, but from experience.  I’ve felt that suffocating feeling in the workplace before – more than once actually.  I knew that I owed it to myself – and to my employer – to find a place where I would be of maximum benefit to myself (personal and professional growth) and to the patron (clients).  As I dig deeper into my own passions, I find myself feeling stronger about those convictions.  I’m happiest when I’m doing what I love.  Inspiration abounds.  Creativity culminates, and time flies by instead of eking along.   I’m willing to make sacrifices to learn more, become better, share more often, delve farther, and broaden my acumen because what I once thought of as a hobby, I now perceive as a career.

I am forever convinced that every person has something unique about them; some reservoir of talent – whether developed or unknown – that would elicit the wonderment of many around them.  I’d dare say that the average person rarely recognizes the breadth of their potential, and their million dollar ideas are born and die without ever coming to fruition.  Nevertheless, for those who are willing to dig beneath the surface, to seriously contemplate their own ingenuity, there exists an opportunity to cross the line of scrimmage into a very different territory.  Do you know what you have an uncanny knack for?  What are you doing with it?  What are you willing to do?  How far are you willing to pursue your passion?  Oh the possibilities…