The Heart of a Winner

Christine pic1

“There is a moment in every race; a moment where you can either quit, fold, or say to yourself, ‘I can do this.’”

Christine Sheppard’s life has been filled with many such moments; moments where giving up was understandable – expected even. Yet in those situations Christine found the strength to say to herself, “I can do this!” Many of you have seen her run, or perhaps shared a class with her. Maybe you have served with her on STUFU, Sister-to-Sister or the Diversity Council. Either way, many Builders agree that Christine is an inspiration. She is passionate about everything she sets her heart to, and she pushes herself to unexpected limits! I was lucky to sit down with her and hear her tell her story. I hope that after reading this, you all will be as inspired as I was by this strong young woman who possesses…

The Heart of a Winner

“Perched on one of the couches in the newly-furnished Deets Library, I watch as ‘college life’ unfolds before my eyes. The door opens and the student assistant behind the desk looks up. Conditioned to smile at the sound of the door, she impulsively flashes her pearly whites to a student who clamors in frantically not noticing the friendly greeting prepared specifically for him. I realize now that the pressures of college can rob us of many precious moments. We can get so caught up in meeting deadlines, arriving to practice on time or just getting through the day that we fail to live in the moment.

As I beat myself up about missed chances, I am interrupted by that all-too-familiar woosh of the opening door. This time Christine Sheppard appears into view, and I come to see why so many Builders are inspired by her. Christine immediately makes eye contact with the library assistant and returns her smile. That gesture alone shows me that Christine is here – in this place at this time. I am surprised to learn that Christine has been in class all morning, and she has practice in less than two hours. I expect her to be preoccupied with the million-and-one things she has to do before the day is over. But, sitting here with me, she is completely present. She has cleared her mind for this moment and is putting in 100%.

This is the attitude Christine takes to every race and that is part of what makes her a winner. “I try to get my mind right,” she smiles, as she describes what goes on in her head at the start of each race, “I free myself of the things I can’t control. And focus on what I know.” After this mental purge, she channels her inner strength; that is the other requirement for running a winning race. She achieves this by reciting her favorite bible verse in her head. “I say a prayer and then I tell myself over and over again that I can do this; through Christ who gives me strength.” Philippians 4.13 has gotten her through many races. It has kept her going whenever she hits those moments in a race where she is tempted to give up.

Christine pic3

This scripture has carried her through the hardest moments beyond the track as well. One of the most challenging events of her life happened in her senior year of high school.  She had just moved back to Wichita after living in Texas for 3 years. Now bear in mind that this was already a difficult time for her. She had been pried from her school, her closest friends and an amazing track program. And, just when she was settling back in to Wichita, she lost her cousin to cancer. This is what she was already facing when she received the devastating news; while on her way to her cousin’s funeral she found out that her best friend had been killed in an accident in Texas. He is the person she would have called for comfort in such a situation.

In the months that followed, Christine stopped living. “It was the hardest most depressing time of my life. I even decided not to go to prom,” she reports. She had been patient with God for long enough; after moving 4 times in as many years she had not complained once. And now, in a particularly difficult year, she had lost one of the people who kept her centered. And so her faith in God was really shaken. She became angry at God. She spent days wishing she could go back in time. Stay in Texas. Stop Byron from getting into that car… Then one day she had a dream about Byron.  In the dream he told her, ‘Christine, I love you but you’ve got to live your life. You’ve got to keep moving forward.’ That was the turning point for her. As hard as it was, she came to accept that God needed Byron more than she did. She came to see that the best way to honor her best friend’s memory was to live her life, experience every moment and treasure every friendship. So she started by going to prom.

The journey was not easy and she could not have done it alone. She is grateful for her cousin Alissa Sheppard, who inspired her to attend college. She is also grateful for Principle Sherman Padgett, who never gave up on her. “He barely knew me, but he believed in me when I didn’t believe in myself,” Christine says. His belief in her motivated her to start fighting once more. “I wanted to make him proud!” she says. So she started running a better race, and caught the attention of many college recruiters. It was during this time she began to find her strength in God and Philippians 4.13 became her mantra.

When she came to SC, she was still shy and withdrawn. She only hung out with her cousins, Alissa and Avery Sheppard. “I always felt alone in a crowd,” she recalls. But her involvement in track and SC cheer started to get her out of her shell. And the relationships she formed helped her cope when challenges arose. She remembers having a serious financial setback in her sophomore year of college. “I cried everyday. And I was convinced I was going home.” But Dawn Pleas-Bailey stepped in and made Christine realize “that sometimes you need to back up a little, run, leap and get over the mountain.” And that is exactly what Christine did. And beyond that mountain was the best track season of her life! In her junior year, she was named the Indoor Athlete of the Year.  Looking back, the advice Christine would give to her past self is “Hold on you’re gonna make it!”

Now, at the start of her senior year, Christine is grateful that God has brought her this far. “I’ve come a long way from being shy; and not talking to anybody freshman year.” In addition to running track, being a cheerleader and serving on the Diversity Council and STUFU, Christine is the president of Sister-to-Sister. This new organization is designed to empower women; and Christine and her team have an amazing vision for the program: “In the past, we were known as SAAS and our focus was minority women. But Sister-to-Sister is open to women of every ethnicity. We want women to unite as one for a common goal,” she says. “Every woman should know that success is within her reach. She doesn’t have to be a stay at home mom. She can dream big. She can have her own business. She can be somebody. The sky is the limit!” That’s not a message that should be restricted by race or age or financial standing.

Already Christine is passing on her “I can do it” attitude to the women around her, myself included. As I walk away from our interview I clear my mind of past failures; and force myself into the present. I have new-found confidence in what I can do. The recipe for winning is clear in my head: 

  1.  I need to be present, and experience every moment of the race.
  2. I need to stay strong when the going gets tough.

I understand now that winning isn’t about running a perfect, challenge-free race. It’s about fighting to the finish. At last, I have come to see first-hand what Denis Waitley meant when he said “Losers live in the past. Winners learn from the past and enjoy working in the present toward the future.”  

dear unnamed abuser

number1woman:

Powerful words from a powerful woman. Her choice was taken from her by the person she trusted the most. And everyday I see a fighter in her. I see an inspiration in her. I see a survivor. Her story is deeply moving and teaches me what it means to FIGHT!  #speechless #fightingmywayback

Originally posted on fightingmywayback:

Dear Unnamed Abuser,

I know you read my blog. I also know you read my tumblr so you are now reading this. Someday I will speak out about what you did to me. This is not a threat. It is a promise to myself and to all the other survivors of sexual abuse, assault and rape. I won’t mention you by name for many reasons one of which is that your name itself deserves no time on my lips.

I know you have not forgotten me. I don’t know if I haunt your nightmares or your dreams or am just a fleeting thought but your presence on my blog and tumblr proves that you have not let me go.  Good.

 

Think of me when you read about women raped, beaten and abused.

Think of me when you see women and men give impassioned speeches about how the young men…

View original 304 more words

Attitude Makeover

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photo credit: Jonathan Woon

“A positive attitude causes a chain reaction of positive thoughts, events and outcomes. It is a catalyst and it sparks extraordinary results.”    Wade Boggs

Korie Hawkins’ life demonstrates the true power of a positive attitude. Her advisor told her the first time he saw her that she was meant to be a Communications major; her face was made for the camera! Yet, even with a smile like that, Korie seemed to make more enemies  than friends. Her attitude often got her involved in more drama than she’d signed up for. It was not until her mindset changed that she began to turn her enemies into friends. She turned her frustrations into motivations and her failures into stepping stones. Now, a representative of SC, she inspires youngsters around Kansas and Oklahoma to dream big. She inspires her friends to love unconditionally. She inspires her colleagues to aim high. Read her story below, and see that life becomes more meaningful when you get yourself an….

Attitude Makeover

As her name was called out, the stadium burst into cheer. This was it; the moment she had been waiting for. Her Facebook status only days before was, “Remember when Fantasia broke her shoe on stage, when she won American Idol. I feel like that will be me on May 5th! God is so worthy of all the PRAISE!”  As Korie Hawkins walked across that stage, she couldn’t have planned it better. She AND her shoes rocked it as her family and friends cheered her on. She’d had more than her share of challenges; but by the grace of God she had made it!

Seeing her in that moment, took me back to the day I sat in her office only two weeks before graduation. Korie had piles of assignments to turn in; in addition to planning events for her full time job in the college Welcome Center. Did I mention this was in April – the busiest time of the year for the Admissions Office (finalizing enrollment is no piece of cake).  Yet, even as she was clearly being pulled in every direction, Korie made time to share her story.

Her office was like a window into her soul. The inspirational posters on the walls echoed her perseverance and faith. The photos of smiling faces were a reflection of the many relationships she had formed over her years at SC. Everything in her office was colorful, exciting, and friendly. It definitely reminded me of what it means to have Builder Spirit. From her office alone, I could tell that Korie was passionate about life; she was passionate about her job; she was passionate about being a Builder.

The last word I would use to describe this space – to describe Korie – is ‘unwelcoming’. Yet there was a time when Korie was exactly that. Unapproachable, some might even say rude. When she came to SC, Korie was all about Korie. Her strong and independent personality intimidated many people. It was hard for her to let people in and she admits she didn’t try.  Perhaps it was her painful past that caused her to build a wall around her heart. After losing the key father-figure in her life to cancer, she began to see no reason to connect with people. After all she wasn’t here to make friends…

ImageYet somewhere along the way, she began to open up. She still can’t explain what exactly caused the change, but she gives a lot of the credit to God. She also knows she wouldn’t be here without her friend-turned-boyfriend, Branden.  “I met him freshman year and we became good friends. He was just as blunt as I was” she laughs. “He wasn’t afraid to call me out when I said or did something wrong.” She is grateful that he was open with her because that helped her grow.

Another influential person in Korie’s life is Sheleah Taylor who was an admissions counselor when Korie first came to SC. “The moment I set foot on SC everyone told me I reminded them of Sheleah!” says Korie. She recalls finding herself in many settings with Sheleah, and within weeks of knowing her, Korie said to herself, “I wanna be just like Sheleah!”  Sheleah’s personality and attitute inspired her. Korie also met many other people at SC whose influence slowly began to make a difference in her outlook. And now, when asked what advice she would give to ‘Past Korie‘ she flashes her made-for-camera smile and says, “Keep the Drive; Lose the Attitude.

The transformation is unbelievable. Looking back, Korie says some of her worst enemies have evolved into her closest friends. She is grateful for her attitude makeover, because it gave her the opportunity to build some of the most meaningful relationships of her life. The SC experience really brought her out of her shell and allowed her to interact with people very different from herself. And it is through those relationships that Korie has discovered and is continuing to discover who she is.

Her journey at SC has revealed one of her greatest passions: people. She has also realized her love for recruiting and cultivating young Builders. “SC is about the people!” Korie explains, “I for one am intentional about the type of student I recruit. Each Builder is vital to the life of SC, and I am honored to be part of the team responsible for recruiting such people.” Korie loves her job in the SC Welcome Center. “This job has given me several opportunities to mend bridges and grow as a person! It is probably the best thing that has happened to me!” As the OKC/Tulsa Admissions counselor, Korie has the unique opportunity to unite the two places she calls home: Southwestern and Oklahoma. “My job is an opportunity to use my skills to give back to Southwestern and to give back to my hometown. I am excited about the new relationship between SC and my home state.”

If you had told her that she would be here today, with a Master’s degree in Leadership, and working with people, she would have laughed. In fact, a few weeks before she started the Masters Program and her new job at SC she faced a challenge that threatened her decision to come here. She was involved in a car accident that tested her strength; and showed her just how much she had grown. In the events that followed, Korie found out that the injuries she sustained might make it impossible for her to ever have children. Faced with this trauma and this earth-shattering news, Korie had no choice but to find inner strength and determination. She was not going to let this bring her down or derail her from her path. Drawing from her Native American heritage Korie applied the dream-catcher analogy: Just as a dream catcher filters out nightmares and preserves pleasant dreams; Korie made the decision to hold on to the positive. She was not about to let her setbacks define her.  Sure she had experienced one of the hardest weeks of her life. But on the other side of the spectrum, she had been presented with one of the best opportunities of her life. So even though it hurt – physically and emotionally – Korie packed her bags and made her way back to Southwestern College. And here she is, reaping the fruits of her hard work.

In just one year, Korie has grown on many levels. She spearheaded a project that brought together several educational leaders from Oklahoma and Kansas. There she presented to people who had known her as the little girl with an attitude. Yet now, she was pleased to show them a different Korie; a Korie they have come to know and respect as a colleague and friend. She has learned how to channel her energy and maintain her smile.

And as she begins yet another chapter of her life she is excited for another opportunity for transformation and growth.  This fall, her territory is expanding to include Wichita in addition to Tulsa and OKC. Furthermore, Korie has become a mentor for prospective students. While she enjoys working with all groups, she has been assigned to work more closely with minority females. Her mixed African American/Native American heritage make her an ideal role model for minority women. Her openness to diversity on every level is truly inspiring.

A few days ago, Korie’s Facebook status read: “Thinking to myself, I just want to be successful…….. # feeling determined.Inspired by her determination and drive, I promptly hit the like button as I prepared to scroll down and continue to stalk other people on my news feed. It was then I paused realizing just how true to herself Korie had been! Following her own advice, she really did “Keep the drive; and  lose the attitude!” I am excited to see where God will take her; and what heights she will reach this year.  After all, Zig Ziglar did have a point when he said “Your attitude, not your aptitude, will determine your altitude.”

Be A Builder. Be A Light

Capture_Be a builder

Welcome back to yet another year Builders. This year is an opportunity to be the best YOU you can be. It is an opportunity to let your light shine! So as you begin this new chapter of your life, ask yourself, “what can I do to make the very most of this year ahead of me?” Find out how YOU can shine.

I have often struggled to understand what it means to be a light. For the longest time I thought being a light simply meant I had to identify anyone who appeared to be in darkness and then go on to blind them with what I considered the truth. I thought I had to bombard “the ignorant” with what I considered essential knowledge; “the poor” with what I considered must-have material items; and “the sinful” with useful bible verses about their wicked ways. Yet, I have come to realize that being a light isn’t about me; or what I think. Being a light is about being useful to someone else.

Lights are not special simply because they shine; they’re special because they shine with purpose. Let me give you an example from everyday forms of light. Let’s take street lights for instance. A simpler form of light, their duty comes to play when the sun sets and the world is covered in darkness. Without them the roads become dangerous for even the most seasoned of drivers. Yet the street light doesn’t achieve safety on its own. This brings me to the next type of light: Traffic lights. They serve to give direction and order to an otherwise disorganized world. Their job is a little more complicated because it involves three players (Red Light, Green Light, and Orange Light). A traffic light has to be one of the most humble forms of light; its function stems from knowing when to shine. A Red Light is useless if it cannot shut itself off momentarily and allow Green and Orange to have the stage when it is their turn to shine. These alternating acts of ‘humility’ are what make traffic lights so magical! One more example I will use is the strobe light. If you tried to use it for reading, you would throw it away, thinking it was useless. But, put it in a disco ball and you would be surprised! Nothing gets people moving like strobe lights! I mean try replacing a disco ball with fluorescent bulbs, and you will empty a club in seconds, even if you have great music.

That being said, Builders I urge you again, to Be A Light this year. But don’t just shine; shine with purpose. Find your niche and be the best light YOU can be. Whether you are a street light, traffic light, strobe light; or perhaps signal light, warning light, flash light. Whatever light you may be, just make sure you are useful to someone else this year. That is what it means to be a Builder. That is what this blog is all about.

The women featured in this blog made it here because they have inspired someone else. They, like all of us, are Builders. Some are sisters, mothers, wives, cousins, best friends, you name it. They come from different walks of life; some as far as Africa, others from right here in Kansas. Some are of Native American descent, and others have no idea who their family is. Yet what unites them is their amazing spirit. Each of the women in this blog has been nominated by a fellow Builder for being an inspiration; for being a light. I hope their stories inspire you as they have inspired me.

Marriane Williamson once said that “Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our Light, not our Darkness, that most frightens us.” My response to that is, “challenge accepted!!!” Builder, I urge you this year to embrace your power; face your fear, and Be A Builder. Be a Light!

Stick With It

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If you fall behind, run faster. Never give up, never surrender, and rise up against the odds.
Jesse Jackson

Rhea Rollins lives by that statement! Like many of us, Rhea had a plan for her life. But her journey took an unexpected turn. When others would have accepted defeat she chose to keep running.  She knew she had fallen behind, and embraced the opportunity to run faster. Below is a story I wrote about Rhea that captures just a glimpse of her drive. She could have given up and accepted mediocrity, but instead she chose to… 

Stick With It

It’s Friday afternoon and I am seated outside the local café, College Hill Coffee. The grass has finally started to show some color; finally Mother Nature has decided that it’s spring here in Winfield, Kansas! As I sip on my delectable Going Green smoothie, I listen to one of the most amazing stories I have ever heard, and I think to myself, “Rhea Rollins needs to be on Oprah!”

This week alone, she has taken 3 tests and 4 quizzes, written 2 papers, and put in several hours to prepare for her track meet tomorrow. This sounds like the occasional week from hell for the average college student, yet it is a typical week in Rhea’s life. Mind blown, I ask how she juggles it all – 24 credit hours, full-time track, work-study, an internship with Career Athletes and raising her 6-year-old son.  “One step at a time” is what she says, “I’d be crazy if I tried to look at it as one big picture. So every day I ask myself, what can I do today? What NEEDS to be done TODAY; and I do that.

Rhea has taught me what it means to fight through every obstacle. What strikes me the most is that in all the craziness Rhea maintains a positive outlook. Despite this life that pulls her in every direction, Rhea has a passion for everyone else.  Her heart motivates her to keep fighting on the hard days and to never give up.  With less than a month to go before she walks across that stage in her cap and gown, Rhea is one step closer to her dream.

For a long time now she has dreamed of opening a family-oriented gym. Being a young parent herself, she has often let her son tag along to the gym and then left him in the nursery while she worked out. According to Rhea, in an America where overweight is the new normal, parents can no longer afford to “dump” their kids in some playpen and not teach them the importance of physical activity. Rhea wants to incorporate healthy practices into the average family routines. She plans to use her gym to cater to the physical needs of adults, children and the elderly alike. Yet her dream does not end there. In addition to the gym, she plans to establish an agency which prepares athletes for life after sport.  She likes to call it a Life Coaching Agency for athletes. “I choose athletes, because that’s who I know. That’s who I work with everyday.” says Rhea, “At some point in your life your sport is going to be over. That part is inevitable. So how do you prepare for that without falling apart? How do you get ready for life after college athletics? I want to help athletes find the answers to those questions.”

Her passion is driven by her own experience. She knows what it feels like to be unprepared for a major transition in her life. College was her first major change.  For her, high school was a breeze; she had never needed to study but still did really well; and so college was quite a shock! Her first semester  at Murray State was extremely difficult as she struggled to keep up in athletics and in academics. Then as if that transition was not challenge enough, she discovered she was pregnant in her freshman year of college. Not only did she never expect to have children in her life, she never expected to have one at 19. It was a defining moment for her. Rhea feels that she was on the road to destruction and her son rescued her from herself.

Even though these experiences have molded her into the strong woman she is today, she admits that the transition from reckless teen, to confused college student, to amazing mother was the hardest stage of her life.  Among Inner City girls, pregnancy is synonymous with “the end of your life”. Rhea’s mother, who continues to be her greatest inspiration, did not want this for her daughter. She offered to raise D’mitri while Rhea went back to school, but Rhea did not want her son to grow up not knowing who his mother was. And so she dropped out of school and accepted that she would never go back; she thought she would never run again. Yet God had a different plan for her…

In the 5 years Rhea was out of school, she got used to the idea that formal education was no longer a part of her future.  “Me going back to college was a JOKE to my family and to myself. I mean I wasn’t even offended when people laughed about it. It was a real joke. Whenever we went to my brother’s or my ex’s track meets, everyone would tease me saying that would be me one day. And we would all laugh  about it. The idea of me going back to school and running again was the last thing I ever expected to happen.”

Sometimes life’s journey leads you through routes you never imagined you’d travel. The danger is to get comfortable in the detour. So when Rhea’s journey took a  terrible turn, it forced her out of what would have become a comfort zone. Her relationship of 4 years came to a sudden end. The struggle of raising a son on her own, and maintaining a household on a single income pushed her to look for something better. She was in a position where she had nothing to lose.  It was then she decided to dare and try something new. She picked up the phone and called her ex’s recruiter from SC, Coach TJ Harris. And her journey to Southwestern College began. Everything fell into place in one short month, and Rhea knew God was telling her she was ready to go back.

In her time at SC Rhea has met people who have supported her and helped her grow. Being a non-traditional student, Rhea rarely interacted with anyone when she first arrived in Winfield. Yet her Math teacher, Shay Cox took her under her wing, and encouraged her to join SAAS. In time Rhea began to find her place and fit in at SC. Her friends and teammates have been supportive. She particularly appreciates Coach Harris and his family, whose home has become a second home for her and D’mitri. Whenever she travels out of town for track, she knows D’mitri is in good hands. Shay Cox and the Harrises have given her peace of mind, and helped her to grow as a student, as an athlete, and as a motherHer classes are going well. She has had an amazing year in track. But most importantly, she and her son have become even closer than before. He is her number 1 fan, rooting for her every meet and counting down the days until “mom graduates.” He is growing into a respectful and highly gifted young man. Rhea beams with pride every time she talks about her son.

Looking back Rhea realizes that God had to strip her of everything – her relationship; a steady income; even her family when she moved here – in order to show her that she didn’t need all those things. “God showed me that I have what it takes to tackle the next chapter of my life. He has given me the strength to endure anything, and I would not have that confidence in Him if I hadn’t gone through that. It helped me see what God had placed in me all along.” Her advice to other young women is to “stay with it! Everyone goes through dark moments. But not everyone makes it through them. To be among those who make it, you gotta stick with it. It is the only way to discover your passion and realize your dreams!” She shares these words of wisdom with her middle-school mentees in Kansas City who are yet to discover the transition of High school and someday college. She shares this message with her clients at Career Athletes, where she prepares them for life after college. Yet her most powerful message is to her son,  who she pushes to be the best he can be in everything he does!

At the end of my interview with Rhea, I am inspired beyond words. I am excited to see where God will lead her from here. I am grateful for her strength through the struggles, because it is her strength that will encourage me to keep fighting when things get tough. Her story has given me new material to use in my own experiences. As I leave College Hill Coffee, reflecting on my own life – my own challenges – I can’t help but smile at the little voice in my head that tells me to just stick with it. 

It’s Okay to be Quirky

Prolai-le

“Here’s to the crazy ones. The misfits. The rebels. The troublemakers. The round pegs in the square holes. The ones who see things differently. They’re not fond of rules. And they have no respect for the status quo. You can quote them, disagree with them, glorify or vilify them. About the only thing you can’t do is ignore them. Because they change things. They push the human race forward. And while some may see them as the crazy ones, we see genius. Because the people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world, are the ones who do.”    

Lai-L Clemons is  quirky – the perfect recipe to change the world! For many Builders her’s was the first name you encountered when you were applying to SC. Yet Lai-L wasn’t just trying to reach her yearly quota for new recruits. When it came to admissions, Lai-L did more than just her job. She cared about her recruits and invested in their wellbeing! And now, she’s inspiring current Builders as the Director of Campus Life. Her love for diversity and empowerment continues to challenge me. Lai-L’s life is a journey that involves daring to be different, appreciating diversity and breaking barriers. Her involvement in the Diversity Council has inspired students to break their own walls of hate. And now, after reading her story I have come to see that it’s okay to be different. Lai-L has taught me to never apologize for being me! Her life encourages us to step outside the norm and assures us that…

It’s Okay to be Quirky! 

“Writing this blog post has been an extremely difficult challenge for me. I wasn’t sure how much of my life I wanted to share, especially with the worldwide internet. In the past I have found that opening myself up to others has led to regret, pain and disappointment. However, I realize that I have a story to tell that shouldn’t be limited by the fear of judgment. As a Christian, I know I must walk by faith in everything I do.

I’m quirky. That’s right, I’m quirky and proud of it! I have decided to stop denying my unconventional side. I have made the choice to embrace it. I no longer see the need to follow the beat of everyone else’s drum, but to follow the beat of my own drum. I have always known that I was “different” from others. It was just easier to suppress that side of me and simply force myself into the mold that others prepared for me.

I’m the elder of my parents’ two children. I grew up in a relatively normal and thriving two-parent household. We took summer family vacations, were engaged in community organizations and were heavily involved in our church. My “normal” family life came to a screeching halt when I turned 13. My father decided that he no longer wanted to be married to my mother and subsequently moved across town into a two-bedroom apartment. I consider the separation of my parents to be one of the lowest points of my life. The combination of my parent’s separation, attending middle school (I wish I could erase those three years of my life) and being quirky, left me feeling empty and angry. Let me be honest, I was downright hateful. I hated my father. I hated my mother. I hated everything. I continued to go through my entire high school career with this hate in my heart. Now, there were a few good moments in high school. Like my love for theater, debate/forensics, enjoying prom and just good times with friends. However, they seemed to be overshadowed by my home life. When I was 17 my parents officially divorced. They remained mutual friends, but it wasn’t the same as them being married.

After I graduated from high school, I received a theater scholarship to Pratt Community College (PCC). PCC was one of the best things that ever happened to me. The college, the atmosphere, and the PEOPLE embraced me with an abundance of love. I had two of the best years of my life in rural Kansas. I received not only an academic education, but an education in diversity and life. It was at PCC that my wall of hate began to crumble. It was at PCC that I learned that my quirkiness was okay. After PCC I transferred to Kansas State University where I completed my Bachelor of Science degree in 2006.

lai-l jinxAfter graduating from K-State, I returned to my hometown to look for my first “real job.” After searching for months, I saw an opening for an admissions counselor position at Southwestern College (SC). I applied for the job, was interviewed and a few weeks later received a job offer. I worked in the SC Admissions Office for four years and I am thankful for every experience that I had while working there. I learned so much about myself, SC and the professional world. I’m most grateful for the people who I met in the admissions office. Some of the people I met while working in the admissions have become more than just coworkers, but friends, mentors and members of Lai-L’s Board of Trustees. These individuals have been essential in helping me to continue to break down my wall.

lai-l running

The last three years of my life I have dove deeper into quirky Lai-L. In being promoted to the SC Director of Campus Life, I have had an opportunity to express myself in many different forms. I have discovered my love and passion for event planning and diversity. The best part about being quirky in my current position, are my co-workers and supervisors who understand and completely embrace me for who I am. In my personal life, having my family, boyfriend and friends love the short afro-rocking, half-marathon running, makeup loving , indie film watching, eclectic music listening, loud laughing, fast talking and quirky black girl is all the acceptance I need. Remember, it was presidential advisor, Bernard Baruch who said, “Those who mind don’t matter and those who matter don’t mind.” 

 

Make Room for Miracles!

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Getting over a painful experience is much like crossing monkey bars. You have to let go at some point in order to move forward. ~C.S. Lewis~

Verna Jokomo‘s story teaches what it means to move on from past heartaches. After falling to her lowest point, she somehow found the strength to heave herself up. Many Builders know her as the smart, witty, talented young woman whose sense of humor is able to transform anyone’s bad day. In her time here, Verna made a difference! She made it a point to brighten someone’s day in everything she did; whether it was scooping green beans onto someone’s plate in the cafeteria; chairing an International Club and ToT meeting; or financially and emotionally supporting her younger sister . Verna is a woman of many talents, but her best trait is her heart! Knowing what she has gone through, I often  failed to understand how she had room to take care of everyone else. Yet after reading her story I have come to understand that letting go of the the past  gives you room to care about the present and therefore transform the future. Her story has taught me that in life you have to learn how to…

Make Room For Miracles!

“Expect the best. Prepare for the worst. Capitalize on what comes. Life is not about following in others footsteps, but about setting your own for others to follow.  It is about learning how to get yourself up when you fall. It’s about experiencing the good and the bad. It’s about using the good memories to help you get through the bad. A lot has happened in my life; and I am too lazy to write a book. So allow me to share a single chapter of my life.

I grew up in Zimbabwe – a patriarchal society.  It is a man’s world and at times it’s hard to see this as oppression because it is all we have ever known. As a result many women in Zimbabwe are content. Unfortunately, I have never been one to put up with anything. I hate being told what to do! The more I am told to do something or to fit in a box, the more I want to do the opposite. I have always been outspoken, and have always had a heart for the underdog. My passion for the underdog is what has led me to my dream and it is the reason I work hard in my pursuit to someday become a lawyer. Why law? Firstly, because I am very good at debating and I love  talking in front of people. Secondly, law school will  give me the tools I will need to stand up for the oppressed and those who need my help.

Many may wonder how I became so outspoken; well that’s my father’s fault! He was a strong personality in my life, my rock,  my role model and my best friend. He raised me to believe in myself and to know that being a girl does not make me a second class citizen; but that I can do anything I set my heart and mind to. He also taught me to be kind, patient and tolerant; and gave me the courage to compete with anyone regardless of gender, nationality, or race. I believe in this so much that I have continuously stood up for my family, my friends and my beliefs. I believe in this so much that I am regarded as one of the craziest and loudest women in my family. I believe in this so much that I, a simple Zimbabwean girl, was able to travel all the way to a strange place for college; and not only survive, but conquer. But I am getting ahead of myself. Let me start from the beginning of the chapter.

Verna daddy's little girlsObviously, from the last paragraph you can tell that my father was my pillar of strength.  In 2001, my world was shaken when my father suffered three strokes. 2001 is the year I grew up. I had to stop being a child and be strong for my family. From the time my dad had his first stroke, I knew my life would never be the same. Yet, as we all nursed my dad to recovery, we were grateful  that he was alive and God had protected him for us. He had limited mobility, but his brilliant mind, sharp wit , and vibrant personality stayed the same. Whenever I struggled in high school, my father was there for me; patient, and encouraging. By the time  I graduated high school I was certain I would go to college and make my dad proud. It was at this period in my life that  I lost my father. He passed away  in his room while my mother, my sister and myself tried everything we could to save him, as we waited for the ambulance to arrive. The image of him slipping away will haunt me forever.

Now, remember Zimbabwe is a patriarchal society; so according to tradition, every family should be headed by a man. Days after my father’s death, the family gathered in an attempt to place us under another man’s care.(My father didn’t have sons and so culture says an uncle would have to “take over” as the new head of my family.) Dad had already determined that he didn’t want this for us; we could take care of ourselves.With him gone, I had to make sure that the clan respected our wishes. As the first born, I had to step up and defend my family. In this struggle, I found comfort in my best friend Sam. He did all he could to keep me sane. During this time I discovered I had been accepted into Southwestern College.Not ready to leave my sister and my mom, I decided to put off going to school for a semester until I had made sure we would all be ok.

Months later, on December 29, 2007, I left my mother and sister and flew 9027 miles away from home, not even sure I was doing the right thing. I was starting a semester late and leaving behind everything I knew.  I was not even going straight to law school. Instead in America, I had to do a pre-law program and then apply to law school after getting a bachelors degree.  In my mind,  I was wasting 2-4 years. Sam promised he would talk to me as much as he could and would make sure that I adjusted well in this new place. He kept his promise and slowly everything started to fall into place. I had an amazing roommate, my host parents were awesome, and I talked to my mom, my sister, and Sam every day. Everyone back home was doing great. Everything at school was going well. Life was good… until I received that phone call from my sister. She knew I would rather hear it from her than from anybody else: Sam had passed away in his sleep at his sister’s house. No one knew exactly what had happened, but he was gone.

Sam’s death broke me. It brought back memories of my father. I hardened my heart and became angry with God. Why was He taking away all the important men in my life? The worst blow was that I could not go back for Sam’s funeral.  The following months were the worst months of my life! They went by with me crying all day, except when I had to fake a smile in class or on in the hallways. I didn’t want to live anymore. I knew this was unhealthy and I had to find an outlet. So I decided to drown myself in work. I got a job at the cafeteria, and started keeping myself busy. I made sure I was either in class, doing homework, sleeping or at work. I had to always be doing something.

This was hardest time of my life, and I responded by isolating myself.  Yet, the Winfield and SC community did not give up on me. God sent several angels to help me heal. Even as I tried to close off and not get attached to anyone, the community of Winfield and Southwestern College did what they do best; they snuck into my heart. Phil Schmidt and Dr Woodburn, my history professors took notice of me and encouraged me to remain a history major. They took me under their wing; and made sure that I stayed ahead in my education, giving me pep-talks whenever I needed them. Then there’s Dawn Pleas-Bailey who became my mentor in my sophomore year. She listened to me and challenged me to step outside my comfort zone. I remember her making me talk about myself in front of different groups of potential students and professionals. This helped me to see how far I had come, even when I did not want to see it. Then Harold Harris, my manager in the cafeteria,  was patient with me. He gave me the hours I needed and was supportive. He saw potential in me; gave me promotion after promotion, and insisted I got trained in every area. Finally, Dr. J, my political science professor took an interest in me. He found out that my dream was to be a lawyer and started to help me get there. All these people helped shape me into the woman I am today. They believed in me and encouraged me to believe in myself once more. Through their support, I slowly started to snap out of my funk. I would not have made it past my sophomore year without their support.

In my junior year, with the guidance of Dr. J, I got an internship at Vital Voices Global Partnership, a nonprofit agency in Washington D.C.  This is where I started to fully live again.  I got to do what I love. Everyday, I would wake up excited to make a difference in the life of another oppressed woman. I was able to work with big names like the Nike Foundation, the World Bank and Girl Child Network. I also got to work with Anne Hathaway in the Rising Voices: Unleashing Young Women’s Leadership Potential program — a 5-day training workshop, where the girls learned about communication skills, social change and project design. This was one of my favorite projects. For the first time, I was doing what I loved.  I was actually able to work independently and I began to find my confidence again.  I realized for the first time that I could do this. I could go to law school and eventually  work in a non-profit. Through this internship, I saw a glimpse of the amazing things that God created me to do.

In addition to helping me shape other women’s lives, this internship helped shape my life. I wasn’t in law school yet, but the education from Southwestern College was helping. I had the opportunity to meet many amazing women from all over the world.  One of the young ladies in the 5-day program was from Nepal. It was her first time leaving her village. She had almost been forced to marry an old man from her village and both families didn’t understand her decision to participate in the program. She had  to reassure them that she would get married as soon as she returned from the training, with something to bring to the marriage. After hearing her story, I was ashamed. Here I was feeling sorry for myself, but I was in college getting a good education; my family understood me and had never forced me to do anything I didn’t want to do. I had traveled around the world, and I was now an intern at a leading non-profit. I was in D.C where I had family with me and  I was learning to stand on my own two feet. I started to see how truly blessed I am. God had brought me this far. Suddenly, I started to completely let go and forgive God for all the pain. I got a whole new perspective:  God  had blessed me by loaning me these two amazing men and yes they were gone, but they were in a better place. Now  my job was to work hard so I could  honor their memory. Amidst all the anger, I had forgotten my father’s spirit. I had forgotten his advice to always count my blessings. It took me three years to remember all this.

familyEver since then, I have been working on my relationship with God. It‘s true what people say: “if you hold on to your anger, God will not be able to bless you, because your hands are already full. The moment you let go and release all that rage, you open up room for God to give you more.” And God really has given me more to be grateful for! I now hold Bachelors degree in History with  a minor in Political Science. My sister has since joined me in the US and I get to see her at least once a month.  My mother has been able to come and visit me.  I currently work in nonprofit, for the Kansas Humane Society, and I love my  job! I get to meet different people and connect them with companions in their time of need. And, I get to sit and play with animals in my office whenever I want to! In my line of work, I am literally serving the underdog, cat and the occasional rat (which I am terrified off).  I am also the co-founder and director of a charity organization, Gashirai Nyasha Project, based in Harare, Zimbabwe. I am doing what I love as I prepare to start a master’s program in business administration, and God willing law school in a year’s time.

As if that is not enough, God has surrounded me with people who love and build me! I have  the bestest friends ever! They have “tricked” me into opening up to them and have supported me ever since.  Together we help each other grow. I am actually living with one of my best friends right now, and he keeps me out of trouble… most of the time. Looking back, I realize that Sam was right in his last email to me, “God is faithful Verna. He will never let anyone down as long as we have faith in him.” At times we do not understand his decisions, but what I am slowly learning is that I am loved by a compassionate God who holds me in the palm of His hand.

Wow, writing about that was harder than I thought it would be! But it forced me to reflect on my life, and see that “in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” Letting go of the pain and counting my blessings opened me up to the miracles God had in store for me!”