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Dominican Republic (DR) Chronicles 2019: Comfort Zone

I believe that personal growth comes from operating out of your comfort zone on occasion. I preach this often and I hear it being preached often. It’s the truth. In fact, I live most of my life outside of my comfort zone. I’m an introvert naturally which means I draw energy from being ALONE; yet, professionally, I manage a team of educated professionals, present in front of others often, provide input in meetings with other executives, sometimes tell people what they don’t want to hear, advocate for my team, etc. I’m drained when I come home. Becoming a Zumba fitness instructor was another venture that took me out of my comfort zone. Interestingly enough, I attribute my professional success to my alter ego as a Zumba fitness instructor. Keep in mind, I’m not teaching anywhere at the moment, but I practice in my garage “studio” as if I do.

Since I’m a person that is constantly challenging myself and love to help people, it’s not surprising that I decided to participate on a mission trip…another venture that took me out of my comfort zone. The original trip was supposed to occur in Haiti in July 2018. I wrote a blog post about the circumstances surrounding the change here: Haiti. Mission of Hope, the nonprofit that our church, LifeAustin, works with for the Haiti mission trips, is establishing their presence in the DR. My team was the first to participate at the Santiago location. I experienced many feelings (good and bad) on this trip including joy, irritation, frustration, silliness, sadness, elation, humility, awkwardness, boredom, and gratefulness. My patience and ability to relinquish control were definitely tested.

What people need to know is that there are risks to operating out of your comfort zone. It’s not all fun and games, however, the benefits can outweigh the risks. Keep an open mind. I certainly experienced some growing pains on this trip. I’m glad I can laugh at myself. Within the first 2 days, I fell 3 times. These were not dainty falls and there was no saving me from experiencing the fall in either scenario. The first fall resulted in a bloody knee. For two of the falls, people had to literally lift me off the ground. One night, unbeknownst to my roommates, I fell in the shower and landed on my butt, which hurt for the rest of the week. When we were out gifting water filters in a neighborhood, my arm scraped across some chicken wire and the medics had to mend me (see cover). The bandages look worse than the actual scar. It was a good thing that I got my Tetanus shot. Of course, every nurse that I shared the story with asked me if I had gotten the shot.

My battle scars (might be a little dramatic) remind me that I gained way more than I lost in comfort by participating on this trip.

More posts to come from my DR experience.

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Lessons from Solange: Part Two

I’m behind on my blog posts, but I always return back to what brings balance and peace in my life: one such thing is writing. In May, I wrote the blog post Lessons from Solange: Part I. I had intended to complete my second installment sooner than now, but better late than never. I think about my mom often, but my recent trip to the Dominican Republic has me thinking about her and the lessons she taught me even more. My mom, Solange, passed away on 7/8/2017, so we’re coming up on the 2 year anniversary…another reason I’m thinking of her. I requested that day off work, so I can spend the whole day thinking about her undisturbed. I wrote about my grief and loss in these posts: Goodbye, So So, my Haitian queen, Surreal-ality, and Family is everything. I hope these posts will help anyone who has lost someone close to them like a parent.

When you really think about it, it’s amazing the amount of influence mothers have with shaping their children’s lives. I’m more focused on my mother because I didn’t have a relationship with my biological father. He passed away a few years before my mom. My mom was my everything. She shaped my world. You only have one mother. Despite how complicated our relationship was and how much we disappointed each other, the bond was undeniable and cosmic.

A few more lessons Solange taught me that the world (more accurately, the people in my world) get to experience:

  1. Be a good cook – My mom was of the belief that you need to be a good cook to get a husband. My younger, rebellious self was not thinking about a husband. I was about 12 years old when my mom put her foot down and started to teach me how to cook particular dishes. Tears are coming down as I think about how much I respect her now for doing that and how ungrateful I was at the time. It was like participating in my very own cooking class and I didn’t appreciate it. Because I am a good cook thanks to her, I’ve had the satisfaction of pleasing my family with many delicious meals. Did I think my mom’s ideals were sexist…YES! However, I happen to have a family and I know they appreciate my cooking. I can feed them, which I think means something different when poverty was part of your history. I also am able to cook Haitian foods, which connects my family and myself to our heritage. I’ve shared my cooking with others such as extended family, friends, and coworkers. It’s the gift that keeps on giving.
  2. Dress well – If you knew my mom, you know she loved her suits, shoes and purses. For every shoe she had, she had a purse to match. After she passed away, I wrote a post about a pair of shoes I took of hers back to Austin. You can read it here: In her shoes. My mom passed on her love of dressing well to me. It was one of the few indulgences she was able to entertain and she deserved it with all the trauma she experienced in her life. I love clothes and I have many of them. A few months back, I binge watched “Marie Kondo’s Tidying Up” on Netflix and purged my supply. I vowed to only keep clothes that bring me “joy” moving forward. In a “not superficial way”, the lesson I received from my mom was to have pride in my appearance, to take care of myself, and to be aware of how I presented myself to the world.
  3. Be a giver – When I was in graduate school, I participated in counseling the last 6 months before graduation because I needed help with managing the stress of being a working mom in a graduate program and attending to my final internship. As I hashed out my stress to the therapist, she said something that I will never forget. As an explanation to my woes in a particular circumstance, she said, “it’s because you’re a giver”. Quite frankly, the comment floored me because I never thought of myself as a “giver”; yet, I had this insatiable appetite to give all the time. I’d often prayed to God to “use me for his purpose”. The therapist referred me to an article about givers and it made sense. It was at that point, I knew I was a giver. Now where did I get this trait? My biggest role model for giving was my mom because she gave so much of herself to her children. She also gave to others like her family in Haiti, New York and beyond. We didn’t have much growing up, but on occasion she would host dinner parties at our small apartment. I remember being so embarrassed because my brother’s bed was in the living room, but she wasn’t too proud to have people over to experience her cooking. She was my greatest example of a giver. I’ve learned to balance some of that giving to others with giving to myself.

A mother’s love is like no other in the cosmos and you only have one. I’m thankful Solange shared many light lessons with me, even the ones I didn’t want.

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Lessons from Solange: Part I

My upcoming birthday in a couple of days will be my second without my mom, Solange. Last year, Mother’s Day and my birthday was rough. These events are one week apart. I grieved a lot. I hadn’t really thought about how my mom’s absence would affect me on my birthday until the circumstance presented itself. The pain of her loss wasn’t as intense this year as last year. To help curb the pain of her absence on my upcoming birthday, I will honor her for all she’s instilled in me by contemplating and sharing the top greatest lessons my mom taught me, whether inadvertantly or not.

  1. Believe in God – There is an omnipotent force bigger than all of us and that is God. My mom made sure I knew there is a God. However, I didn’t agree with my mom’s religion. In fact, it made me very confused for a large part of my life. She didn’t understand why it didn’t appeal to me. I simply don’t believe God wants us to be miserable all the time by following a bunch of legalistic rules that have nothing to do with God. I did learn to have a relationship and faith in God, which caused me to seek him further as I got older. I was taught only ONE religion leads to God, but I don’t believe that’s true. Thank God I have a relationship with Him because religion would have kept me away.
  2. Work hard – To know my mom is to know she worked hard all her life. She had no choice. She came to the United States from Haiti without knowing the language, without much of an education and had to raise 4 children as a single parent because my father couldn’t/wouldn’t help. She retired from a¬†hospital in Chicago after 20+ years of cleaning hospital rooms. I don’t know how she did it, but she passed on her work ethic to her children. Our work ethic is rare.
  3. Be the bigger person – I used to get frustrated with my mom because people in our family turned their backs on us when my mom was struggling and some thought they were better than us, but she still tried to make peace with them even to her death. I’m not fully at my mom’s level yet, but I do tolerate people better than I see many other people do. It helps that love helping people, am¬†trained as a social worker, and understand empathy and the value in not being judgmental. I also exercise healthy boundaries.
  4. Save your pennies – I’ve struggled with managing my finances for a long time as an adult, often because my wants outweighed my resources. Then life circumstances, such as my husband’s health issues, caused us to rely on one income. One habit that has stuck with me to this day is saving loose change. This one little habit helped get us through some tight months. I used to beat myself up because I thought I didn’t know how to save, but I do know. I’ve watched my mom do it with her small salary. The act of putting money away consistently, no matter how small, builds up over time.
  5. Be early – I still struggle with arriving places on time, let alone early. It is a bad habit. When I was younger and had my first own car, I used to arrive at all the religious meetings late because I didn’t want to be there in the first place. My mom and stepfather made it clear that as long as I lived in her house, I had to go, so I went…VERY late. Admittedly, it was an act of defiance. Later on in my life, the tardiness posed itself as me multitasking to the point that I lost track of time, underestimating how much time I had. I’m still working on this one. It’s a work in progress.

Our relationship was not perfect. Solange was not perfect. I am not perfect. It was a complex relationship as most mother/daughter relationships are. However, I always knew that Solange loved me and loved me enough to teach me how to survive in this world. I’m using what she instilled in me to not only survive, but to THRIVE and be better every day.

Next week, I’ll share 5 more lessons Solange taught me.

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New Day

I woke up this morning with a smile on my face and a sense of gratitude for this life I get to live. I didn’t get much sleep Sunday night, so I struggled to stay focused and awake all of Monday. It’s a new day and I’m a testament that you can be in the midst of uncertainty and anxiety and still be grateful. As I do daily, I woke up this morning and prayed. I’m sharing the morning prayer that I love the most.

Sometimes my prayers are super short. Sometimes my prayers are for specific people. Sometimes my prayers are of thankfulness. Sometimes I ask God for specific things. Sometimes I cite and meditate on prayers from a specific book of prayers my husband bought me many years ago, while we were dating. I knew he was special when he brought me this gift.

Lately, I’ve been immensely worried about my son, Caleb. I know all the logical and spiritual reasons why worry isn’t helpful, but I haven’t gotten to a place yet where I don’t do it. I’m human. I hate that I worry. However, I’ve been making peace with the thought that if things don’t turn out my way, they’ll still be ok. God has a way of letting you know He will take care of things. You’ve got to listen.

At the end of the day, I have a good kid who has some work to do with finding himself. He’s a late bloomer. I will guide him as best as I can, but when I worked in direct practice at an outpatient mental health clinic, I’ve told many clients in the past that I can’t do more than them. Now that Caleb is 18 years old, I’m working on adopting this same philosophy. Of course, you do everything for your babies, toddlers, and children, but as they get older, the parenting dynamic changes. Parents need to adjust. I need to move into a coach and consultant role.

I’m so grateful that it’s a new day…a new day for me to not be so hard on myself like I was yesterday. A new day for me to make a positive impact on somebody’s life. A new day for me to nurture my kids. A new day for me to be a loving wife. A new day for me to be a fair boss. A new day for me to share my gifts. A new day for me to be better than before. A new day for God’s light to shine through me.

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Face your fears Part Deux

Last week, I wrote a blog post about facing my fears by finally getting my wisdom teeth removed. In case you’re wondering, I’m healing very well. Thank you. Although a significant experience, it proved to be less dramatic than I imagined. This past week, I’ve mulled over the lessons that can be learned from dealing with our fears head on. I found myself recalling my upbringing and experiences.

Fear was a big part of my life growing up. The mindset of fear was imposed on me. My point isn’t I’m a victim, but that fear is powerful. You don’t just unlearn fear. It can creep into your thoughts and seduce you with misinformation without you realizing what’s happening. Fear can cripple your mind. It can make you freeze. And there may be legitimate reasons to be fearful, but I don’t think we are meant to live in a state of fear. It takes a great amount of conscious, hard work to train yourself as an adult to overcome the damaging effects of fear. For some, this work may entail therapy, which is ok.

Fear started in my life before I was born. My parents were born into poverty in Haiti, an island with a tragic history of government corruption and civil unrest. I don’t know much about my grandparents on either side, but they were no doubt born into poverty in Haiti. My father physically and emotionally abused my mother. My siblings witnessed and internalized the abuse. Although I was too young to remember, there is no doubt in my mind that I internalized the atmosphere (terror, shame, secrecy, inadequacy, sadness). I was raised in two different, opposing religions, inundated with strict rules that created fear. My family were immigrants to the United States, and in Haitian culture, there is fear of Haitian children becoming Americanized and abandoning their roots.

Those are the big ticket “fear” items that I contend with…there are more. Each scenario manifests fear differently and in countless ways, but it’s all fear. For example, when I was little, we literally moved around a lot to escape my father. Divorce didn’t stop him from terrorizing my family. He would get on drunken rampages, find out where my mom lived, then would obscenely bang on the door and harrass until eventually my mom found another place to escape. We were fine as long as we kept our distance, but there was the constant fear of him finding out where we were and then what would he do.

I feared people in my Catholic elementary school would find out that my mom was really a Jehovah’s Witness. My uncle’s family thought it best that all of the children attended Catholic school. It’s common in Haiti for children to attend private, parochial schools. I believe my mom’s fear of what could happen to me based on her status as a single, immigrant parent in the United States caused her to make decisions based on loyalty and familiarity. She didn’t have anybody else.

How do I contend with generational fear? I consciously work to break the cycle. Awareness is an important first step. Next steps included learning about who I was through soul searching and education, determining my purpose through prayer, implementing my vision for my life, and living as God had intended for me. I don’t think God wants us to live in fear. I don’t raise my children to live in fear. There is so much GOODNESS and fortune on the other side of fear.

By no means am I completely absolved of fear. It’s a lifelong struggle. Thoughts creep up that I can’t control. However, awareness is still that important first step. Then, I go through a process of determining the source…the reason behind the fear. When I come to an understanding of what the fear is, then I challenge it. I face it. If I’m brave enough, which I usually am, I move towards it. I keep moving towards it until it has no more power.

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Face your fears

It finally happened. I literally faced my fears and got my 4 wisdom teeth removed on Thursday morning. I’m here to tell you that I not only survived the experience, but I’m healing better than I thought.

The anxiety had been building up since Monday, and before I knew it, it was Wednesday night. I was on this mad dash to make a bunch of green smoothies and healthy snacks since I was in the middle of a vegan cleanse and didn’t want to totally undo my progress. I’ve done this cleanse before, which you can read about here in a blog post I wrote named “Glowed Up”. In “Glowed Up”, I go into more depth about what the cleanse is and what I gained from it.

For my recovery, I knew I could only eat smooth and pureed foods the first week or so. I already had planned to mostly drink my green smoothies and some pureed soups. It hadn’t occurred to me to do an online search on recovery foods until a couple of people at work told me I should plan to be eating ice cream, jello, pudding, and milk shakes. Sure enough, those foods popped up as recommended foods for recovery from wisdom tooth removal. I’m not exaggerating when I tell you my jaw dropped and my eyes grew bigger in disbelief. OH NO NO NO!!! The devil is a LIE because I’m not messing up all the work I’ve done on this cleanse for 11 of 21 days. I was laughed at and told I picked the wrong time for a cleanse. We’ll see about that.

Because I slightly panicked, I did go to the grocery store when I left work and bought some no added sugar organic applesauce, coconut yogurt, and a pudding with the least amount of sugar I could find. I looked at the ingredients in jello and just couldn’t do it. I spent a long time in the ice cream section reading labels and finally landed on some organic fruit popsicles with low added sugar. “I can do this!”

I was up late Wednesday night prepping my green smoothie army and other comforting foods. I made 3 different smoothies, two of each, and I chose kale as the “greens” because of its powerhouse nutrients. A member of my cleanse Facebook group gave me a recipe for avocado mouse. SWEET! I didn’t want to waste my avocados. I pulled out my hand mixer for that one because I wanted an extra creamy texture.

I strained the broth from a zoodles recipe. The reserved broth is full of nutrients from all the vegetables steeped in the liquid. I was looking forward to drinking that one. All in all, I had pretty solid options for healthy eating while recovering from dental surgery. I have yet to eat the applesauce, yogurt, or popsicles. I’ve mostly been eating my green smoothies with a spoon, vegan soups, and some pudding. On Day 2, I had two chicken meatballs my husband made and some mashed potatoes.

Day 1 was the most traumatic, judging from the picture, but it wasn’t even that bad. I took my medications and slept off and on all day. I only used the ice cubes once when I was supposed to do it every hour for the rest of the night. I had soreness and some swelling, but not what I imagined in my mind. One of my sweet cats, Beignet, stayed in the bed with me most of the day and my husband Bryan took care of me by switching out the gauze, getting my medications, and food.

Day 2 was more of the same in the morning, but it turned out to be such a beautiful day, that my husband and I went out to run some errands. We even did a 30 minute walk. My appetite increased throughout the day, but there is only so much I can eat. I did sample some products at Costco (LOVE this place!) like macaroni and cheese and lasagna. The lasagna was a mistake….a little more difficult to swallow. I found a recipe for pureed asparagus cauliflower soup and made that once we got home. I was really tired last night and thought I could get away with taking only 1 of my pain pills, but I was wrong. I ended up taking the other eventually. I could feel the pain building up.

Day 3 is today and I feel a little groggy, but I’m up blogging. I plan to do some dancing and may start on meal prep for next week. I can’t really partake of the snacks from the cleanse because they’re mostly crunchy and chunky. I will make more green smoothies and soups.

Overall, after all the horror stories I’ve heard, and fear built up in my own mind, this experience hasn’t been that bad. Sure, there was the IV, blood in my mouth, and some pain, but with following doctor’s orders, resting, and eating well, I’m getting through it. I do believe my healthy choices in foods are helping me heal faster.

Light lesson: Sometimes, we make FEAR bigger than it actually is, giving it more power. I know it’s easier said than done, but don’t put off things because of fear. You could be shaving more time off your life than necessary. You will find yourself asking why you put something off for so long and allowed it to take up so much space in your life.

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Never too busy to go to the doctor

I’m back. Listen, this lady (ummm…me) has been busy! What else is new? You know that about me already. Despite my busy life, I really strive to be as grounded as I can by doing the things that bring me joy, make me relax, calm my nerves, and bring me peace. As an introvert, I need to recharge often. Yesterday, I got in the bed as soon as I got home and stayed there for the rest of the night. My husband was kind and warmed up my dinner (I’m on a 21 day vegan cleanse). I ate, scrolled through my email and social media, drank tea, and pretty much stayed in the bed until it was time for “bed”.

For the past month, I’ve had a couple of health issues that have been begging for my attention. The first had to do with my teeth. I’ve decided to schedule the appointment to get my 4 wisdom teeth removed. I had another flare up that I couldn’t ignore. As I was discussing my pain with my team members one day, one of my employees kind of jokingly said something to the affect of “You, of all people, should be attending to this as part of self-care”. The blogger who writes about self-care has been putting off dental work for a year. Touchet…touchet, mon frere!

The thing is I’ve always hated going to the dentist. I’ve never really needed anything major done to my teeth. It’s a miracle that I’ve kept up with teeth cleanings all these years. Last year, I started getting some specialized cleanings as a result of some wear and tear from low levels of calcium.. probably as a result of getting older (as “they” like to remind me). I had been able to get away with keeping my wisdom teeth because they rarely bothered me, but one got inflamed last year and I was told then, to get it removed. I did not.

Next week, I have an appointment to get all four wisdom teeth removed. I’m not excited about it, but I’m proud of myself for finally making it a priority. I’ve had another health issue creep up that resulted in me calling my gynecologist yesterday and leaving work a little earlier. I’ll spare the details, but let’s just say my menstrual cycle has gone “rogue”. I have to be careful because as part of my breast cancer treatment, I’m on cancer medication that may increase my risks for other cancers. It could be the medication. It could be perimenopause. It could be my uterine fibroids. It could be stress. Whatever the case, I’m not taking any chances. I have an appointment to see my gynecologist and to do some testing next Tuesday.

I admit I don’t necessarily like that my work takes up a huge space in my life, although my job is rewarding. I mostly work long days. I don’t have as much time to do simple things like check my personal emails and voice mail like I used to. I don’t talk to my family/friends as often as I want. I usually have to spend my whole Saturday recovering from the work week. However, I have limits, especially when it comes to my health.

I will continue to take care of myself by eating well, exercising daily, praying, and socializing with the people that mean the most to me. I’m on the vegan cleanse for the health benefits and I enjoy participating on the Facebook group. My health is very important to me and my family, so I’m not going to ignore it. I’m never too busy to go to the doctor when I need to.