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Posted in Random Writers

Hero of Hope

Random Writers Week 8 Topic: Write about someone you consider to be a hero.

My original plan for this topic was to write about a woman who has been a huge inspiration to me for over a year now. That woman is Stacey Monk, and I’m pretty sure I would follow her to the ends of the earth if she asked me to. The goodness and beauty and love in her heart is surpassed only by the light that she radiates to those around her. She is a bright, shining soul that I’m honored to call friend.

When I first met Stacey and her now fiancé, Sanjay, in early 2010, I was taken aback a little. I’m not a person who sees auras and I’m not even sure I fully believe in the idea of auras, but for that day, I did. I’m not sure what it was but I came home that night and told Gil I thought our lives might be different because of this woman I just met. That night I learned a little of the story of Stacey and how she and Sanjay started the non-profit Epic Change a few years earlier. I had no idea that night just how impacted my life would be.

Over the next 18-20 months, I would work with Stacey and support her dream to build a school in Tanzania. I would devote time and money and crazy amounts of love into a project that meant nothing more to me than the fact that it meant something to Stacey. It was also during this time that I began to understand just why this school was so important to her. For Stacey, she had found hope after a devastating tragedy, all because of one woman and her dream. While in Africa, Stacey had found Mama Lucy, and in doing so, found hope in her life and her world.

Mama Lucy Kamptoni is a mom who had to take her children to neighboring Kenya in order for them to get an education. After leaving three children in the care of strangers, she knew something needed to change so that other mothers and fathers did not have to do this for their children. In 2003, Mama Lucy told her husband she was going to take the money from her small chicken business to rent the house next door, and that she was going to start a school. And that’s exactly what she did. After hiring a teacher, she posted notes throughout her town and in churches that she was starting a school; and the children came. Six showed up on the first day. By the end of the week, there were 10. The children came and came and came.

Mama Lucy continued to educate as many children as she could in that rented house until one day she was told the house and land would be sold and she would need to find a different place to teach the children. This news came shortly after Stacey and Sanjay had visited and volunteered at Shepherds Junior School. When Stacey and Sanjay heard this news, they knew they had to help. Oh, and help they did. Through some of the most successful social media fundraising campaigns ever, Mama Lucy got her new land and a new classroom. Soon, more new classrooms were built. When the need for a dormitory to house some of the children was announced, more funding was found.

Mama Lucy had a dream of educating the children of her country, and what began with six children is now 503. What was a small rented house is now a Pre and Primary school with multiple classrooms, a computer lab, a dormitory and a staff of 47 educators and administrative support.

I asked Mama Lucy if she found that people told her she couldn’t do this? She responded with an emphatic “Ohhhhh YES. How did you know?” I knew because it’s often our first reaction when someone throws some farfetched idea out there. I can only imagine people’s reactions to her dream. “Who is this chicken farmer to think she can build a school?” I never got a chance to elaborate with her, but in my next face to face conversation with Mama Lucy, I firmly intend to find out what her responses have been to those people. She obviously didn’t let any of those Negative Nellie’s slow her down in pursuing her dream. Throughout all of this, Mama Lucy has never given up. She’s had her struggles and each time, she has found a way, either through her own hard work or through the sharing of love from around the globe or from some ginormous combination of both.

I met Mama Lucy on Tuesday. I also met two of her amazing students, Leah Albert and Gideon Gidori. Earlier in the day I had posted a blog about how I felt a darkness creeping into my life. It was just one of those bad mood feelings that I couldn’t shake.  Within moments of meeting these three people, the bright light shining from their souls left me blinded. I was no longer consumed with my own feelings of hopelessness. I had been filled to the brim with two four letter words: HOPE and LOVE. You can see both so clearly in Mama Lucy and in these kids. I have no doubt the hope Leah and Gideon have is a direct result of Mama Lucy’s perseverance and unwavering dedication to love these children and provide an  education so that they can grow up to be pediatricians, astronauts, or anything their beautiful hearts hope to be.

Mama Lucy is my hero. She had a dream and she made it come true. Now, because of that, 503 children can also hope for their dreams to come true as well. The thing with Mama Lucy is, not only does she channel the ability to hope into these children’s lives, she also showers them with unconditional love. By doing that, she has also flooded my world with love. For this reason, I can’t help but put that love right back out into this majestic universe we live in. How amazing is it to be filled with so much love that you HAVE to share it with others?

If you haven’t already, please take a moment to read my fellow Random Writers bloggers, Gil, Jeff and Lindsey‘s posts on the changes they wish to see in the world.

Posted in Inspired by Music, Post A Week Challenge, Treasure Chest

Monday’s Treasure Chest – Anticipation

An intense anticipation itself transforms possibility into reality; our desires being often but precursors of the things which we are capable of performing. ~ Samuel Smiles

Today I opened up my Treasure Chest and was a little surprised by what I found. It wasn’t a person or a thing or any particular act that overflowed from the top of my blessing box. It was, instead, an emotion. It was anticipation. It was something I never considered a blessing before tonight, but after thinking about it all day, I am certain it is my treasure of the day.

Gil and I start a much needed and deserved vacation Wednesday morning. We’ll be heading up to St. George Island in the panhandle of Florida. Since 2008, we have made this journey north to attend the annual charity music festival known as Rock by the Sea. We look forward to this trip every year because it’s an opportunity to hear some of our favorite artists, discover new ones, hang out with our music-loving friends who have become family and well, it’s at the BEACH, people. What’s not to love about this?

Rock by the Sea (RBTS) is a Florida not-for-profit organization dedicated to planning and producing music festivals and events that raise money for deserving charities that provide direct services to those in need. RBTS has created an outlet for those agencies to gain exposure with the public and to facilitate donations. Through musical concerts, silent auctions, merchandise sales, and general donations, RBTS has been able to create awareness and provide an avenue that leads to involvement and enhancement of the direct services provided.

Even though this is our fourth year attending RBTS, this year is very different for us. It’s different because we will play a role in helping to make the event the best it can be.  Late last year, we were invited to join the RBTS Board of Directors and I can’t even begin to tell you what an honor that was. RBTS is an event that has been very near and dear to our hearts since our first year attending. Not only does the event benefit a variety of charities that are incredibly close to our hearts, it just so happens our dear friends, Beth Gosnell and Gail Harkins, are two of the founding members of Rock by the Sea.

I’ve admired Beth and Gail since I first attended Rock by the Sea II in 2008, and to be asked to be a part of this organization was one of the highlights of my life. This group has managed to make this event look completely effortless for those of us attending. I’m so very blessed to be a small component within this group of extremely giving individuals. I have so much to learn from them, but at the same time, I hope to add value to the organization as well. I’m very new and very green when it comes to charity event planning, especially fundraising, but I’m willing to learn. It’s what I hope and dream I’ll be able to do with my life someday, and being given this opportunity has only reinforced my desire to make this dream come true.

The anticipation and uncertainty of the upcoming week consumed me today.  I managed to be super productive at work but every second my mind had a chance to wander, it did just that. I thought about things like the weather, the idea of too much sun on my frog-belly-white skin, what food to pack, how many pairs of flip flops I’ll need (yes, I said NEED), and other vacation related concerns we all think about before a beach vacation. But this is not all I thought about. My mind also drifted to concerns of how much I’ll be able to contribute, how much money we will raise, will the honored charities be happy with the level of awareness we bring, will the event hit any snags along the way, etc. The thoughts just went on and on.

The anticipation inside of me fuels the hope I have for this event. My hope is that we do the charities proud, that we raise enough money to make a difference to at least one person, that everyone’s journey to and from the event is safe and without incident, and that the feelings of love and selflessness envelope us all weekend. I hope that when the music has stopped and it’s time to pack up and head home, we leave St. George feeling as if we’ve accomplished something extraordinary, both individually and collectively.

I’ve been given the gift of anticipation, and my anticipation level is ten times what it’s been in the past. My reward, however – or shall I say, my treasure – at the end of the weekend, can potentially fill a thousand treasure chests. For this, I am truly blessed.

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This year RBTS has selected three amazing charities. They are University of Florida’s Pediatric Brain Tumor Program, The Down Syndrome Association of Tallahassee and Camp Sunshine. I invite you to visit each of the charity’s websites and see the incredible services they provide to people in need.

If you would like to know more about the organization Rock by the Sea, please visit our website or Facebook Page. If you would like to know more about our upcoming RBTS 5 event, you can check out our Facebook Event page.  We also invite you to follow us on Twitter and subscribe to our YouTube channel.

If you would like to make a donation to Rock by the Sea, you can do so here.

Posted in 30 Days of Truth, Inspired by Music, Post A Day Challenge

Wrong Turn

(30 Days of Truth – Day 23: Describe a truly spiritual moment in your life)

The really happy man is one who can enjoy the scenery on a detour. ~Anonymous

I have to share something before I begin today’s post. It’s funny the way God works sometimes. I have been planning this post for some time now and even alluded to it back on Day 15. Then yesterday’s topic was to discuss a dark/turbulent moment in your life and I just couldn’t bring myself to visit one of those places in my past. But, I knew that today’s post about a spiritual moment would require me to visit one of the darkest times I have ever experienced. I knew the emotions would be running away from me but I wanted to share this story of God’s amazing grace with you. And then in church today, our pastor Paul spoke about the snapshots of regret in our lives. Whew….that one really struck a nerve with me. Even though I have regrets in my life I need to work through, I do not have a single regret about the things that happened that led to this moment in time.

To say that 2005 was the year of my awakening would be a huge understatement. That is the year I officially moved to the Tampa Bay area and it is the year I met Gil. At first, our no strings attached relationship was exactly what I wanted and needed at the time. However, no one can predict what the heart wants and mine was out of control. It was several months into our relationship that I fell in love with him over margaritas at Los Vallarta’s in Temple Terrace. I fought it and denied it for as long as I could but there came a time when the emotions overtook my good senses and I confessed my feelings.

Under normal circumstances, this wouldn’t necessarily be a bad thing. However, there was nothing normal about our relationship. You see, Gil was in love with someone else when I met him. He had sacrificed so much to be with this woman and he was just waiting for her to do the same. He had been honest with me from our first date and at that time, this made him the perfect guy for me. We began to date on a very casual basis but the more we spent time together, the more our feelings grew for each other. Even though he found himself feeling love for me, he was not in love with me. That sentiment was reserved for the woman he was waiting for. And he waited. We grew closer but he pushed me away and he pulled me back in and pushed me away again, not at all unlike what she was doing to him. There came a point in late September of that year that we found ourselves unable to continue the roller coaster we were on together, and I was devastated.

I had been really down and depressed and was sure that all hope was lost for Gil and I to ever have even a friendship. Too many hurtful things had been said and I wasn’t sure either of us could forget and forgive. I spent an insane amount of time literally on my hands and knees asking God to take the pain away or bring him back to me. Whatever God’s plan was, I would be okay, but I needed relief or else I wasn’t sure I could endure it much longer. Unfortunately, it felt to me as if God wasn’t listening, that He was punishing me. I had never felt so alone and so far away from God.

It was during this time that I was asked by a co-worker if I could drive his car from our office in St. Petersburg to his new home in Palmetto. He drove a Miata. HA…of course I would help him out. I headed out one beautiful Saturday morning and grabbed a couple of CD’s on my way out the door. Gil had introduced me to Sister Hazel and I had completely fallen in love with their music. He and I both found meaning and inspiration in so many of the song lyrics. However, during our tumultuous time I was completely unable to listen or even think of them. But something made me grab their CD’s ‘Chasing Daylight’ and ‘Lift’ as I headed out to pick up the convertible for my little adventure.

Given the car was a convertible and it was such a gorgeous autumn day, I took the long way south by heading west toward the beaches. Top down, breeze in my hair, perfect weather, and Sister Hazel on the Bose system. What more could a girl want? It was perfect. And then something amazing happened.

I put Lift in the CD player and there it was…..the hope was back with a vengeance. I was so happy and free all of a sudden. I heard Sister Hazel in a very different and unexpected way. Here is what I heard:

You need a little makeup dear
To cover up all your stains
With another trick right here, yeah
You fool them all once again

You need a little emptiness
Before you know what is real
And take a little taste of wine, yeah
To give yourself half a chance

And when you’re weak of holding on
Release your wayward soul

And with these treasures you have found
The broken pieces of your crown
It’s time to lay your cross on down

(Lay it down)
And with this kingdom you have now
It’s time to lay your cross on down
You better lay it down

You carry in a bright white lie
To cover up all your shame
You’re gonna have to testify
To color in all your claims

And when you’re weak of holding on
Release your wayward soul and
Spend your days not falling down
Before your empty idols

I heard these lyrics, as if for the first time, as my story and my romance with God. And then every song on the CD spoke to me. “World Inside My Head” and then “Hold On” and then “I Will Come Through”. I imagined the lyrics were my prayers to God or God speaking openly to me. I can’t explain why these lyrics affected me so. I’d heard them a hundred times before but I always heard them as if they were my messages to Gil. I had never heard them like this, and I was filled with joy as a result.

When ‘Lift’ was done playing, it was time to switch the CD and I went directly to ‘Chasing Daylight’. WOW, WOW, WOW. What else can I say? Song after song brought me higher and higher. I was at the base of the Sunshine Skyway Bridge when the song “Swan Dive” began to play. This is the song that Gil most often used to describe his feelings for the woman he was in love with so I had never let myself really enjoy that song. That changed for me that day. This song brought me to what I thought would be the highest I could ever be, and it happened, ironically, as I reached the top of that beautiful bridge with the most amazing, breathtaking view of God’s glory. I had never felt so liberated and so loved and so cherished and so pursued as I did in that moment. The song ended and I replayed it over and over again. I think I was on the third playing of the song when I reached for the directions to my friend’s house.

It was at this moment that I realized in my haste to leave earlier that morning, I had left the directions on the front seat of MY car. I had a very basic idea of where I was going but no specific turn by turn directions to get me there. In an attempt to avoid calling and asking for directions again, I tried to find my way on my own. This led to me taking a wrong turn off of the interstate with no ramp to get back on. There was only one direction I could travel and it looked like I was heading that way whether I wanted to or not.

As soon as I turned onto the small, winding two lane road, I was completely overwhelmed. First there were open pastures and falling down barns and trees and suddenly the trees opened up to this beautiful little pond. And then I passed the pond and continued on this winding road. “What lies around the next curve?” Each bend brought a view more spectacular than the one before and by this time I just could not believe what is going on inside my heart and my head and stirring deep down in my soul. The hope was back. The despair I had felt earlier that day was nowhere to be found. The winding road straightened and I think I was shown a glimpse of heaven. The road was long and straight and lined with towering Live Oaks that formed a complete canopy over the road, as if enveloping me and providing protection from the hot bearing sun that was beginning to burn my skin. Small streams of sunlight were shining through but not enough to hurt me. Here I was in a car that wasn’t mine, lost in a place I didn’t know and I felt a euphoria that was almost holy.

I feel like God spoke directly to me first through song and then through the beauty of nature. It was as if he took his hands and covered that road to protect me, just like He has been promising to do since I was born. I was so shaken by this moment that I had to pull over and weep, unlike I’ve ever wept before. I cried tears of joy and ecstasy and bliss. Every tear was a happy tear, no sad tears to be found. How could I have ever doubted Him?

And all of this because of a Wrong Turn.

It, of course, got me to thinking about all the wrong turns I’d made in my life. Some of them I am very much aware of and some have yet to be revealed to me. And then there are the wrong turns I haven’t taken yet. I am sure there will be many more in my life but I will never again assume that a wrong turn will take me to a wrong place. Sometimes, the wrong turn leads to a better way, however winding and dangerous and frightening it may be.

The path to our destination is not always a straight one. We go down the wrong road, we get lost, we turn back. Maybe it doesn’t matter which road we embark on. Maybe what matters is that we embark. ~Barbara Hall, Northern Exposure, Rosebud, 1993

After this experience I felt an overwhelming need to share it with Gil. I wrote him a letter later that day and said, “I do not think that the path that led me to you was a wrong turn. There were too many reasons for us to meet that February evening and our friendship is proof of that. I feel that if you had been a wrong turn for me, I would be able to walk away from this, and never look back. Unfortunately, I am always looking back and I see a road that was amazing and scary and breathtaking and devastating, but I don’t regret taking it.” Gil and I experienced many more months of confusion, hurt, anger and even compassion before we finally found our way. I believe our wrong turns were simply diversions to give each of us the time God needed to put our hearts on the same path.

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