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Kaleidoscope

June 28, 2015

Growing up, I spent a lot of time at my grandparents’ house. My grandmother had this kaleidoscope. It was heavy and dark blue on the outside, and for some reason, there’d be periods of time where I’d spend hours for a streak of afternoons just staring into it.

I’d twist it and turn it, deeply concentrated. There were a handful of scenes I liked more than others, but truth be told, I was in awe of the constant beauty that always floated in front of me as I twisted and turned it.

I don’t know where that kaleidoscope ended up after my grandparents passed. If the last few months are any indication, though, if I still had it, I’d probably be looking into it a lot. Twisting, turning, waiting for the next thing. 

I’ve spent a lot of time lately turning things over in my head. I tend to do this at least once a year, right before my birthday. 

I reflect. I introspect. I look to improve.

  

The best way to describe the journey that was this last year of mine is as a kaleidoscope. Life’s journey is like a kaleidoscope. Beautiful things always fall into place, and with the next twist and turn, quickly disappear only for a new, beautiful surprise to come into view.

I turned 31 last Saturday and the thing I’m the proudest of accomplishing during my 30th year of life is becoming open to change. For once in my life, I accepted the twists and turns. I took them as they came and didn’t try to turn the kaleidoscope of life backward to escape back into a former scene.

I’m a creature of habit and comfort, so none of this came natural to me. The last year was like a movie of sorts. It was a movie of tests and triumphs, like life was finally saying to me, “Are you ready to let go and let what’s meant to be happen?” 

In the last year, I’ve been given great opportunities to take the next turn. With love. With my career. With my comfort zone. And every time I’ve twisted and turned, I’ve been met with the next beautiful surprise.

In retrospect, the next beautiful surprise has been a consistent theme in my life. If I’m honest and true with myself, the decision to change and move on to the next thing has never been met with destruction. Rather, only contentment and what was meant to be.

  
I’m another year older. I’m officially a passenger riding in the decade that is the 30s. And I have to tell you, it feels good! It feels good not worrying what comes next. I don’t worry anymore, because I know life is like a kaleidoscope. And only the next beautiful surprise awaits with every twist turn.

Necklace: Jules Smith Open Geometric Necklace from Rocks Box (Get 1 month free with the code RulingSportsXOXO at checkout)

Top: Studio LX (Miami)

Denim: Paige

Handbag: Michael Kors

Shoes: Steve Madden (leftover from sorority formal 2004!)

The Purpose Of Life

May 19, 2015

Somedays I feel more like a guidance counselor than a university professor.

I savor those days, though.

I savor them, because in all honesty, I find it wild that young people trust my opinion enough to guide their lives.

Not too long ago, I was one of them. The confused soul who had done all according to plan her entire life. And then, out of nowhere, she was tossed into the real world unsure of where to go now that she was free.

A young man came into my office during the week of finals. We had a more serious talk about his future. I kept pressing him with questions about why he isn’t living up to his full potential. He met me initially with “I don’t knows,” and I’d hit back with, “Well think a little harder then, because I know you know.” Finally he came through.

I don’t know the purpose of my life, Professor Jessop. I don’t know what I’m here to do or why I’m on this Earth.”

Boom. I can work with that.

So many of us on this planet are SO LOST. We run from one thing to the next expecting to be filled. We go on to the next thing expecting PURPOSE to unfold within us like some magic bloom and just like that, every inadequacy in our life to be cured.

I’ve been there. It was horrible. The years I spent searching for my “purpose” were painful. They were painful until I realized that in all we look for on this Earth, purpose is probably the easiest to find.

Around 2011, I set out to find my purpose. I took long walks. I drove to far off places. I talked to wise people. I shifted my focus. I may or may not have started going to yoga. I was SO LOST and I was looking for that one reason why I was here.

I wanted to find a BIG purpose for my life. Cure cancer. End poverty. Win a Pulitzer Prize. Spend some time in Hollywood.

I wasn’t willing to settle for mediocrity.

It’s no secret that I’m a Christian and I get most of the guidance for my life from the Bible. So during this period, that’s also where I turned. And before you stop reading now if you aren’t a Christian, hang tight with me for a second.

It wasn’t until I really started searching for my purpose in the guidebook for my religion that I found my purpose. And in studying other religions and spiritual practices, I’ve found the same purpose in their texts. Judaism. Hinduism. Yoga. You name it, it’s there, too.

In my search for purpose, I learned one big thing: The only purpose we are on this planet to serve is to love others.

That’s it.

I’ve searched high and low, and I haven’t found anything that says, “Your purpose is to create the next big thing!” Or, “Your purpose is to work yourself to death to stack up a bunch of cash.” You can look everywhere and you will never find those answers if you are honest with yourself and reading truly inspired texts.

Rather, the purpose is so simple that it should smack all of us in our faces. When we look around, wherever we may be, the purpose for our lives should be seen with our eyes.

As humans, we are not born on deserted islands. Rather, we are born on a planet filled with billions of people! We are birthed by another living being that gives life to us. At the least, our mother is with us when we are born. From the very beginning, we aren’t alone! More than likely, though, other people surround us. Fathers. Family members. Friends. Hospital workers. And then, when our parents cart us away, we go into inhabited cities and towns and suburbs. There is no silence, no solidarity even from our beginning. All of this isn’t a coincidence! The universe did not script life this way for some undefined reason. No, this is the way life begins–the way it all plays out–because from our waking moment, our purpose is exposed to us. We are here on this planet to fulfill one simple purpose: Love.

When you get to it and break it down, life’s purpose is so simple: LOVE OTHERS.

But if you really dig yourself into it and if you really set out to LIVE YOUR PURPOSE, you realize it’s the hardest thing you will ever do.

Loving others freely, fully and truly can be heartbreaking. There’s a handful of people, believe it or not, that I’d LOVE TO HATE. The universe or for me, God, though, tells me not to, though. In my ear, it whispers, “Love, Alicia. Just love them.”

Love looks different in different times and different places. There’s friendly love. There’s parental love. There’s romantic love. There’s forgiving love.

They all serve a purpose. And that purpose is your life.

I got the biggest smile on my face when the young man told me the only thing he was looking for was his purpose. I think he felt mocked when I almost giggled when he said that’s what he was looking for. I quickly said, though, “Look, your classmates are usually looking for a front office job in the NBA or NFL, which I can’t find for them as easily. You, though? I’ve got you.”

I told him, “Here’s how you find your purpose. Go home. Look around your house. Look at the people there. Go to your fraternity. Walk around. Look at the people there. Walk outside of this office. Take a stroll around campus. Look at the people there.”

He was beyond annoyed at this point. I like to talk, though, so I kept on.

“When you think you’ve seen everyone in your life that matters, I want you to go home. And I want you to go look in a mirror. And I want you to realize that you’ve found your purpose. Your purpose is to be a good person to all of those people. Your purpose is to LOVE THEM even when they are at their worst. Love will look different in every season through which you walk with them, but let me tell you something, if you can LOVE THEM through every single one, you will have served the greatest purpose on Earth.”

He stood up. Shrugged his shoulders. Kind of shook his head at the ground and said, “Have a nice summer, Professor.”

I didn’t give him what he wanted. I didn’t tell him his purpose was to obtain some grandiose job or to live a life of luxury. I didn’t tell him that the universe expected him to kill himself with stress and burden to fulfill his purpose. I didn’t tell him that he needed to keep searching.

All I told him, was the truth.

And sometimes, the truth hurts.

Slow Down

May 11, 2015

I spend a lot of time watching people these days.

Yes, I am acutely aware how creepy that last line reads, but hear me out.

I spend a lot of time watching people these days, because I think our culture is losing its interpersonal connectivity.

We are so wired. Wired into everything. Our smartphones for the most part.

But then there comes our jobs. And our TV shows. And our social media networks. And the personal rat races we are all running.

And in the midst of all of this, we forget to slow down. Or maybe perhaps, it isn’t that we forget to, but we altogether don’t know how to. Perhaps we don’t slow down, because we don’t see any value in it. “Work harder, do more,” they say.

Why don’t they tell us, though, that the greatest ingenuity and the best gifts come when you slow down and let life in?

I work on a college campus and when I walk from one building to the next, I play a little game with myself. The game is called “Count the number of college kids on their cellphones.” Creative, I know. I’ve never been one for titles. The best email I ever received from my Forbes editor went something like this, “Alicia, please be more Whitman-like and less Shakespearean with your headlines.”

Anyhow, while playing “Count the number of college kids on their cellphones,” I have generally found that about 80-percent of the young people I walk by are so immersed in the ongoings within their smartphones that they aren’t looking at their surroundings. They aren’t catching glimpses of the beautiful trees in bloom or the mama duck crossing the street with her ducklings. They aren’t catching eyes with the cute boy looking their way or commiserating with the girl crying alone under a tree. They are walking through life unobservant, focused mainly on the quick access to communication, thrill and fulfillment of their desires that is sprawled out on a glowing screen in front of them.

My unofficial studies have brought me to the conclusion that in this attraction to the false realities spilled out across our cell phones, we are losing touch with what is real and in front of us.

I want to slow down. I want to pull away from the force of the smartphone. I want to enjoy life–the real life that is found in people and places and things and feelings. I want to stop living vicariously through a smartphone and start doing the real thing myself.

I’ve become a lot more intentional with my time in the last year. When you’re building a career, it’s easy to get swept up in the excitement of it all and work yourself to death. You find yourself saying “yes!” to every opportunity at the expense of a personal life and interacting with people outside of your professional bubble.

In the last 365, though, I’ve said “no” a lot more than “yes.” I’m still not perfect about it, but I am getting better.

What I’m the most proud of, though, is my ability to disconnect. To unplug. To pull away from the digital life and into the real world. And let me tell you, the real world is good. Really, really good.

There was a time in my life where I couldn’t sit through a dinner without pulling out my phone. It’s embarrassing to type those words, but it’s true. These days, I tuck the sucker away and let things in the digital world go on without me while I enjoy real life, with real friends and their real stories and real issues. And you know what? It’s really amazing. It’s really amazing, because you can really connect with someone when you pour your entire self and focus into them.

Sometimes, slowing down takes you to the cutest nail bar in the world while a friend visits you for a week.

Sometimes, slowing down takes you to the cutest nail bar in the world while a friend visits you for a week.

These days, I don’t fret about the next tweet. A lot of people ask me how I built my social media following. When I got started in 2011, a big part of it was being strategic about when and how often I shared content. I’d pause every hour for twenty minutes to find something witty to say. As you can imagine, my Twitter productivity was off of the charts, but my real life productivity wasn’t so much. Now, I can sit back and let social media go on without me as I get involved in real life. And you know what? It’s been fine. Great, actually. My followers haven’t flocked away, and in all honesty, they’re probably grateful for the break from me.

I don’t answer or send email on the weekends unless it’s an emergency. And let me tell you something, it’s rarely an emergency. When Monday comes and I respond, all is ok in the world. Nobody has died. Nothing big or real or meaningful has been lost. Only my personal life has been gained.

Weekend brunch with friends is one of my favorite ways to slow down. Loving this dress from Chloe's of Captiva, an awesome boutique with plenty of options for weekend activities.

Weekend brunch with friends is one of my favorite ways to slow down.
Loving this dress from Chloe’s of Captiva, an awesome boutique with plenty of options for weekend activities.

Here is what I’ve learned: Life begins when you slow down.

As a twenty-something, I would’ve never believed that last statement. To me, life was about pushing the envelope. Life was about seeing how much I could get done. Life was about seeing all that I could see.

At thirty, I realized that’s not what life’s about. Life is about slowing down long enough, hard enough, to soak it in. Living comes in slow motion. It comes in the little steps, in the small moments, in the tiniest of thoughts and touches.

These days, I go to farmer’s markets. I talk to the farmers in broken Spanish. I touch all of the produce and inspect it. I slow down to look at it all and dream of ways I can use it. I’m intentional with my cooking, working hard to cook most of my own meals.

These days, I hop in the car and drive a few hours to visit a cute boutique or coffee shop that I read about. I talk with the owner. I hear their story. I build a friendship. I widen my circle. My life becomes diverse and better.

These days, I only work for eight hours, five days a week. I leave my business in the office and let home be the place for relaxation and fun. I treasure visiting new haunts with old and new friends alike. I get a kick out of trying new activities and visiting new places. I feel grateful that I’m surrounded by a circle of people whom I can trust with my deepest secrets and to also pull me out of my shell.

Weekend finds: Obsessed with this new notebook I scored at Rifle Paper Co.'s Mother's Day sale (75% off, people!).

Weekend finds: Obsessed with this new notebook I scored at Rifle Paper Co.’s Mother’s Day sale (75% off, people!).

Slow down. Live. Soak it in. Have fun. Be yourself. Try something new. Sleep. Relax. Try again. Watch life begin. Again.

Shop:

Dress: Chloe’s of Captiva

Necklace: Rocks Box (Get one month free with the code “RulingSportsXOXO” at checkout!)

Journal: Rifle Paper Co.

Coffee mug: Homegrown Monogram Mug, Anthropologie, $8.

A Perfect Nashville Bachelorette Weekend

April 26, 2015

I met Megan during my first weekend of college.  We were in the middle of sorority recruitment and ran into each other outside of our dorm buildings.  We sat and chatted like we were old friends.  Little did I know then as an 18-year-old that she’d become one of my best friends, greatest confidants and favorite people to talk to.

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Megan is getting married in July to a great guy, Craig.  To celebrate her upcoming nuptials, we headed to a place we’ve both wanted to go for as long as we’ve been friends:  Nashville.

I can sum up Nashville by saying one thing:  It’s perfect.

Nashville is the right mix of culture and Southern charm.  The restaurants serve amazing food, the drinks are good and not too strong.  The scenery is pretty–a mix of rustic with lush greenery.  The shopping is ideal–streets lined with cute boutiques with stuff you’d actually want to buy at reasonable prices.  Needless to say, I never wanted to leave Nashville once my flight touched down.

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I’m Megan’s Maid of Honor, so I was able to plan a fun bachelorette party itinerary for our group.  Initially, we wanted to rent a house for everyone to stay in.  I started booking things about six weeks out, and realized quickly that every house and nearly ever hotel in the city was booked for the weekend we were heading there.  This seemed crazy to me, so I finally called one of the hotels to see what was going on.  It turns out the NRA was having their annual convention the weekend we were there and had blocked every room in the city.  Crazy!

We were lucky to find two rooms at the Holiday Inn Express Nashville Downtown.  Due to the convention, they were priced a little higher than you’d normally want to spend for a Holiday Inn (over $400 per night).  However, even though this wasn’t our first choice for hotel, it ended up being AMAZING!  For starters, you can walk to the bars and restaurants (and live music!) on Broadway.  Everything else that you’d want to do is also a quick drive from this location.  The employees at the hotel were also so helpful, welcome and accommodating.  I would stay here again in a heartbeat.

We landed in Nashville early on Friday morning.  Our first stop was the Pancake Pantry.  Flapping jacks since 1961, this spot is a hotbed for celebrities and musicians in the area.  There was literally a line wrapped around the building to get a table, but it was well worth it, because the food was delicious!  I had the Cherry Supreme Pancakes–pancakes with cherry compote rolled into them and then topped with more cherries.  Talk about delicious!

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After eating, we walked around a shopped a bit.  There are SO many cute gift shops in the Nashville area (more on that later).  Next, we went to the Ryman Auditorium, which is known as the “Mother Church of Country Music.”  We took a self-guided tour and got to see dressing rooms where the likes of Patsy Cline and Alan Jackson have gotten ready to perform.  The self-guided tour was reasonably priced, had some fun picture opportunities and was a nice way to learn about Nashville’s history.

Once our tour was finished, we walked around the corner and had drinks at Tootsie’s Orchid Lounge.  Tootsie painted her bar orchid in 1960 and was known for letting struggling songwriters pay for their drinks with IOUs.  Willie Nelson signed his first songwriting deal after performing at Tootsie’s.  We had a blast at Tootsie’s!  We actually ended up there twice on Friday.  We went there for a quick drink on the rooftop after touring the Ryman.  For early in the afternoon, the rooftop was PACKED and filled with fun-spirited people enjoying live music and the nice weather.  We headed back later in the afternoon to meet up with my friends Sydney, David, Anthony, Patrick and Brandon, who were randomly in town.  The drinks are reasonably priced and the vibe is fun, so I’d definitely suggest stopping at Tootsie’s.

After Tootsie’s Round 1, several of us headed to the Country Music Hall of Fame and Hatch Show Print.  Hatch Show Print is the location where many of the posters advertising performers’ concerts in Nashville are designed and printed.  It was cool to see the design process and some of the interesting historical posters.  Their gift shop also has some great, unique finds.  I’m a big country music fan, so visiting the Hall of Fame was fun for me.  My favorite part was seeing the costumes that some of my favorite performers have worn during the career.  If you aren’t a big country music fan, I might skip both of these places, though.

Next, we headed back to the hotel for a lingerie party with champagne for Megan!  Each of the girls brought a gift for Megan and to thank them all for traveling, I gave each girl a gift bag.  Amongst other things, the gift bag included sunglasses, these cute bachelorette party inspired hair-ties in Megan’s wedding colors, and a handmade Nashville-inspired tea towel that my mom made.  This site has a super cute iron-on transfer design that you can use to print on the canvas tote bags.  Overall, the tote bags were a big hit and it was fun putting them together.

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We enjoyed dinner that  night at The Southern.  The gumbo was super hot, the craft cocktails were creative and delicious and the vibe was relaxed, but cool.  This was a fun place to have dinner and the menu offered a lot of options at different price points.  Girls could order a nice steak if they wanted to, but there were also less-expensive, but still delicious options.  If you eat here, I would suggest asking to sit in the main dining room.  We were tucked away in a private dining area, which was nice for us to be able to chat with each other, but I think it would’ve been more fun to be in the thick of things.

That night, we hit the bars on Broadway.  It was SO much fun!  The guys in Nashville were such gentlemen.  I don’t think any of us paid for a drink all weekend.  We started the night at Tin Roof, which was a good place for the night to unfold.  While there was live music, it was a more mellow crowd and you could actually find a place to sit and hear the person across from you.  We were ready for something a little wilder, so we headed down the street to Honky Tonk Central (amazing name), which ended up being SO MUCH FUN!  There are three stories in this bar, and on Friday nights, each floor had a different band playing.  We headed up a few flights of stairs to the floor featuring a really fun cover band that had everyone dancing. The band played everything from Taylor Swift to Sam Smith and Tom Petty.  It was a great time that probably kept us all out past bedtime.

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On Saturday we hopped in the minivan (oh yea, I rented a minivan, because since there were six of us, it would be cheaper than taking Ubers) and drove south to Franklin, TN.  If I ever disappear, look for me first in Franklin.  Franklin is perfect.  The homes are on expansive, lush plots of land.  The life is a little slower–people talk slower, walk slower and are just more calm, gracious and polite.  I travel a lot, but Franklin was one of the first places in my life that when I stepped out there for the first time, everything just seemed to make sense.

My friend Sydney who lives in Nashville told me that we HAD to eat at Puckett’s, and she was right!  Puckett’s is a restaurant housed in a cute little grocery store found in a strip of shops and restaurants in Franklin’s main thoroughfare.  There was a wait to be sat, so we made our way to the bar, where the bartender mixed us all up some Moscow mule inspired strawberry drinks.  They were AMAZING.  The staff at Puckett’s was so nice!  I’m not a huge drinker, so I wanted a coffee.  There was a cute coffee shop next door and they welcomed my going and bringing a latte from there into their restaurant.  Our food was delicious.  We shared fried green tomatoes (delicious), fried green beans (even more delicious) and hot chicken (MY FAVORITE THING IN THE WORLD) and just enjoyed a slow, lazy lunch.

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After lunch, we strolled around Franklin and took in its shoppings.  Franklin’s shops speak to my boutique loving soul.  There were amazing gift shops (Lulu), cute paper goods and card stores (Rock Paper Scissors), sweet boutiques (Philanthropy) and THE MOST AMAZING bath goods store I’ve ever been to (Bathos).  Do yourself a favor and spend $8 to order the Artemesia Mud Mask.  This is a “fridge fresh” mask, meaning that because it is made of fresh, organic ingredients, you need to store it in your refrigerator to preserve it.  It is such a treat, though, because once you put it on your skin, the feeling of the cool mud draping around your face is fantastic.  From here on out, Bathos’ masks are going to be my go-to gift for friends.

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I never wanted to leave Franklin, but the time came.  That’s because we had tickets for a show at the Grand Ole Opry!  The Orpy has been on my bucket list for as long as I can remember.  So, we loaded up in the fan and drove the 30 or so minutes away to the Opry.  The Opry and its surroundings can best be described as country music’s Disneyland.  Being in a venue whose stage has held some of my favorite artists was inspiring.  The show was super fun and entertaining.  Mark Wills, Kristian Bush, Craig Morgan and the Charlie Daniels Band performed for us as we sipped house wine.  Afterward, we took a behind-the-curtains tour, where we got to see dressing rooms and even grace the Orpy stage ourselves!  This was a blast to me, but again, if you aren’t a country fan, I’d skip this.

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After the concert was over, we decided to head to a different area of town than Broadway to see its bar scene.  We headed to Midtown to check out two bars, Winner’s and Loser’s.  And yes, Winner’s and Loser’s are right next to each other.  However, despite the opposites found in their names, the bars are practically identical in their vibes and patrons.  The crowd featured a lot of recent Vanderbilt graduates and a group of fraternity boys who took a real liking to our 30-something selves.  I felt a little out of place and aged out of both Winner’s and Loser’s, but the vibe was fun (there was even karaoke!) and the drinks were cheap, so they may be worth checking out.

Sunday’s activities were some of my favorite of the trip.  Thus, it’s lucky that you made it this far in the post, because this is where the gems lie!

On Sunday morning, we headed to Pinewood Social.  Pinewood Social is the COOLEST PLACE ON EARTH!  It features an amazing restaurant, with a great brunch, bar and coffee menu.  Beyond that, though, there is a bowling alley, swimming pool (yes, you read that right!), ping pong tables and bocce ball court.  We enjoyed brunch at a big, comfortable table inside.  After we ate, we wanted to head outside to enjoy cocktails in their great open-air environment and soak in the perfect Nashville weather.  The manager was super accommodating in this request and we spent hours in comfortable throw-back chairs sipping craft cocktails and talking about the great weekend we had.  A few of us played some ping pong, but overall we mostly enjoyed the company!  This place is a hidden gem.  We all remarked about how surprised that we were that it wasn’t packed to the brim with people, because the service was great, the drinks were fun and fresh and the scene was SO DANG COOL.  Go there.  Now.

Our time in Nashville was coming to an end, but there was one last stop we had to make.  it was a stop for popsicles.  Yea, you read that right.

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12 South is akin to the hipster area of Nashville.  People there are just so cool and don’t even have to try to be cool.  There are great murals on exposed brick buildings.  There are awesome shops.  There is a big, beautiful park.  And then, there are the popsicles.  Las Paletas is a Mexican popsicle shop started by sisters in the 12 South neighborhood.  The line for these sweet treats goes outside of the store’s door, but it is well worth the wait.  The popsicles are served from a couple of small freezers and the flavors range from pineapple chili to chocolate and avocado and peanut butter.  They were all SO GOOD.  Every single last melting one of them.  Go there and thank me later.  I wish I had a freezer full of them with me here in Miami, but I don’t, which means one simple thing:

I NEED TO GO BACK TO NASHVILLE.  Right now.  Seriously.  i would if I could.  It was as close to a perfect trip as trips come.  Everything was enjoyable and just so pleasing.  What a gift and wonderful way to celebrate one of my favorite friends.

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Roots

April 15, 2015

I spent my 20s a drifter of sorts, wandering from city to city, apartment to apartment, searching for and building my life.

The later I got into the decade, the more the resounding voice of my Dad said, “You need to put down roots.”

In April 2013 I made a decision that surprised a lot of people and confused others.  I applied for a job at the University of Miami teaching sports law.  The job would not only take me 2,000 miles away from home to a place that in all honesty, the first time I visited in 2006 for a 21st birthday party I didn’t care for, but would also lead to the winding up of my legal practice.

It was a bold move, a brash move perhaps even.  And I couldn’t fully verbalize or explain why I felt compelled to do it, other than I loved sports, I knew about the law and I wanted to work with young people.  For some, though, these answers weren’t enough to justify a life changing decision.

In the back of my mind, though, I knew there was another reason why I was going to Miami–a reason, that at the time, I just couldn’t put my fingers on.

I dream every night.  Bold, vibrant, memorable dreams, many of which come true.  Rarely are there monsters in my dreams.  Instead, my dreams are peeks into the exciting things about to come into my life.

Last July, I had a dream where clear as daylight, the voice in it said, “There is a boy.”  A week later, Prosper came into my life.  Because of Prosper and his life story, I am now a Community Champion for an organization called I’m Me, which is working to end the orphan crisis in Haiti.

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I truly believe that had I not laid roots down in Miami, I never would’ve become involved with an organization located in and focused on Haiti.  I do not think it’s coincidental that months before my life would cross with Prosper’s that I moved to a place that is less than a two-hour flight from Haiti.

A few days before Easter, I’m Me’s founder, David, invited me to spend Easter with the I’m Me kids.  I didn’t blink at the opportunity and said, “Yes!”  I flew into Haiti on Good Friday–one of the darkest, most solemn holidays of my Christian religion.  Straight from the airport, David took our group to one of the darkest places I’ve been in my entire life–the orphanage from which he got Prosper and the other nine children now living in I’m Me’s home.

I went to that orphanage for the first time in November, and it’s safe to say it rocked me to the core.  Going there changed my life.  I held babies that hadn’t eaten in a week.  I held lives that although young, were dying a slow and miserable death.  I smelled sweat and sat in dirt and saw bugs fly by.  In that darkness, I realized for the first time in my naive life that Hell exists on Earth.

Going there again this time still rocked me.  There will never be a day that seeing children helpless and hurting becomes easy.  There is no way to prepare for the pain that stings your heart when you see the sights that exist in Hell on Earth.

This time, David walked us down into the basement that we wandered into last November.  In November, we didn’t find any children in the basement.  This time, though, was worse.  This time, we found a room full of babies, diaperless, lying in a dark room unattended to.  I wanted to pick them all up, hold them and carry them home with me to America.

Unable to do that, I picked up one, Patrick–named after David’s brother, the co-founder of I’m Me–and began rocking him.  I looked into his eyes, which wouldn’t meet mine.  I ran my fingers across his soft face and up into his curly hair.  He didn’t coo, giggle or smirk.  He was lifeless, stoic.  My heart was breaking in the darkness of the room I held him in.

As I stood in the dark room, I realized there was a glimpse of light breaking through the room.  I turned over my shoulder and saw that the light was beaming through the sliver of a window behind me.  I knew what I needed to do.

I walked Patrick over to it. I wanted to show him the light.  I wanted this boy, who prior to my getting there was lying alone, half-naked in the dark, that life exists outside of the walls of his personal Hell.  I wanted to bring the smallest bit of life to a boy whose life the world had all but forgotten.

When I got to the window, I moved Patrick from the cradled position I had been holding him in and propped him up in my arms so that his eyes could peek outside of the sliver of a window.

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I received the most beautiful gift in that moment.  I received the gift of watching life come to this boy’s face, as for perhaps the first time, his eyes were met with light. 

We spent more time at the orphanage this time than we did last time, which didn’t make leaving it any easier.  The time, though, came for us to leave.  Afterward, we went to the I’m Me house, where I was quickly reminded how quickly love, encouragement and empowerment can change the lives of neglected children.  I thought the I’m Me children were thriving in November.  They are thriving even more five months later!  They’ve learned their numbers and letters and can write their names.  DaeDae, who couldn’t speak the first time I met him, is the chattiest toddler I know and even sings in English!  It’s amazing the work that God can do in the lives of children and I am so blessed to be able to watch this journey unfold.

On Saturday we woke up, hopped in the back of the truck and set out for a 2-hour drive into a voodoo village near the mountains.  The long drive underneath the hot Haitian sun took us through the biggest per capita slum in the world, Cite Soleil.  Cite Soleil can best be described as organized chaos.  There are beautiful parts of it–the scenes of community, the pictures of people working hard, the visions of creativity coming to light in its street-side markets.  There are ugly parts of it–the children wandering naked, the garbage spread out in large heaps everywhere, the hopeless eyes in some of the poorest people in the world.

The organized chaos is one of the worst parts of Haiti, but also one of the best.  I tell my friends that going to Haiti is like an adventure.  Where in America can you pile 12 into a truck and drive without getting pulled over?  Where in America is there a place where you can drive 100 miles and not encounter one stop light, or stop sign?  Where in America can you go and just let your hair down, sing at the top of your lungs and laugh with the wind blowing on your face?  I love Haiti for the adventure it provides.  I love Haiti for the beauty that exists within its borders.  These two things, signal to me Haiti’s great opportunities.

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After hours in the back of the truck (and my hair literally resembling a rat’s nest), we arrived at the voodoo village.  It was Saturday afternoon, about 12 hours before Easter.  The village was quiet, with a few people milling about.  It was surrounded by a good number of trees and a mountain.  Before entering the village, there’d been talk in the truck about what goes on in the village.  Talk about the poverty of the village.  Talk about the rituals of the village.  Talk of the sacrifices performed under a tree in the village.

As the truck crept through the village, I saw all of these things.  I saw the village’s poverty as its children ran about its dirt roads in tattered clothes without shoes on their feet.  I saw a glimpse of the village’s rituals when I saw the church where it holds voodoo ceremonies.  And I saw the existence of the village’s sacrifices when we drove past the tree boldly marked with a red line under which the sacrifices are performed.

Photo credit:  Jensen Sutta

Photo credit: Jensen Sutta

We drove the truck to the end of the village and parked.  There, we saw a handful of children playing soccer without their shoes on in dirt underneath a beautiful tree filled with leaves.  They laughed and giggled, and most notably to me, they didn’t run, when we, strangers, appeared.

We met them on the dirt field underneath the tree.  In our shoes and pressed clothes, we turned a jump rope for some.  We joined a soccer game whose goals were marked by rocks and whose players largely went without shoes.  And we were merciless against them in soccer, as David, an NFL player, may have scored at least four goals on my count against them.

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We let them take selfies on our smart phones.  We laughed and giggled with them and chased them up the mountain only to realize they were a lot better at getting down than we were.

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We didn’t speak their language, but it didn’t matter.  It didn’t matter, because we each spoke a common language–a language whose diction was marked with sounds of friendship, care and understanding.

As time went on, more children appeared.  They journeyed down the road that wound through the voodoo village.  Their shoeless feet hit the hot dirt to get there.  They climbed over the mountain and down the hill to reach this space, marked with a beautiful, lush tree filled with leaves.  At the time, I didn’t wonder why they were all coming to this space marked with nothing but a tree.  Looking back, though, I should have.

About an hour into our time under the beautiful tree, two men appeared.  They had with them long, wooden benches.  I watched from the side as they set them up under the tree.  Once all of the benches were set up, I noticed that the children wound up their games and began making their way to sit on the benches underneath the beautiful tree.

I approached one of the men to figure out what was going on.  He spoke English, and I learned his name was Pastor Mark.  “I come here every Saturday,” he said.  “This village has been practicing voodoo forever.  The adults won’t come to Christianity.  Every Saturday, though, the kids come.  They come to sit under the tree with me and learn about Christ.”

Photo credit:  Jensen Sutta

Photo credit: Jensen Sutta

Pastor Mark is putting down roots.  He’s putting down roots in a community that has suffered the effects of poverty for far too long.  He’s putting down roots in a community whose populous is largely uneducated.  He’s putting down roots in a community where sacrificing animals is still a common, accepted practice.  He’s putting down roots with a younger generation that is accepting that there might be another way.

Most of all, though, Pastor Mark is putting down roots with a group of young people to teach them that love is the only way, and that forgiveness is the key to a life well lived.

The best part about the roots Pastor Mark is setting, is that they are taking hold–they are gripping the ground.  The world in this community, is about to change.  Light is getting ready to come in on the heels of these children, who on their own accord, walk away from the voodoo tree every Saturday evening and enjoy laughter and joy under the beautiful tree down the road.

Sunday was my favorite Easter.  I ate macaroni and cheese and hot dogs, instead of my mom’s typical amazing Easter feast.  I didn’t go to my home church, let alone church at all.  Yet, I felt Christ and his power the most this Easter Sunday of any Easter Sunday I’ve experienced.

To me, Easter is about redemption.  The story of Easter literally involves darkness and light.  Good Friday–the day on which Jesus was crucified–was the darkest day in the Earth’s history.  The Earth literally turned black.  Three days later, on Sunday, when Christ ascended into heaven, light was restored to the world.  If one believes in Christ, they understand that it is only through His love that the world saw light again.

I saw Christ’s truth come to life this Easter Sunday.  I saw it come to life, as I sat close by and listened to David recount the story of Jesus’ ascension into heaven to I’m Me’s children.  I watched firsthand as the children accepted Christ and what He offers into their life.  I saw the light beam from their eyes when they acknowledged that because of Christ, anything is possible, that their transgressions and those of everyone are forgiven, and that love is the only answer in this confusing world.

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We all dig roots.  Some we dig as the result of our choices.  Others, we are led to dig.  Regardless, roots stick.  The power that they sink into the Earth remain and move forward through generations.  The greatest gift of my life are the roots I’m digging in Haiti–roots that I never imagined I’d dig.  As my life continues forward, I look forward to seeing the results of the deepening roots, and the light that hopefully shines over them.

I’m Me is laying down some roots of its own.  A year ago, the money it raised through its “House the Vision” campaign allowed it to take in 11 orphans, feed thousands of street children, provide jobs to 12 Haitians, and feed 200 children per week.  I’m Me has just launched its “House The Vision: Part 2” campaign.  This campaign is focused on fundraising for state-side office space in Dallas, TX.  I’m Me has grown much faster than any of us anticipated or dreamed!  Due to this, it is critical that I’m Me is able to hire the necessary people to carry out our vision and also provide these people with a safe, clean space to bring their dreams for ending the orphan cycle in Haiti to life.  This campaign will fund the office space for I’m Me’s employees to help empower Haitians.  To learn more and donate, click here.

Bloom

March 29, 2015

Spring has sprung and my world is filled with color.

Everywhere I look seems new, refreshed and bursting with opportunity.

Life right now is golden.

There’s a saying that goes, “Bloom where you are planted.”

And this Spring, that’s all I seek to do.

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I’m working on growing something new in my life.

I’m working on being intentional with things I really haven’t been intentional with in the last few years.

Free time being at the top of the list.

And cooking.  And hobbies.  And being silly.  And finding a favorite TV show.  And making it a point to read for pleasure.

For the last decade, I’ve ran a race.  The finish line of the race was a dream career.  I wanted a job I loved.

A couple months ago, something hit me:  The race is over.  I can slow down.

Career wise, I’m exactly where I want to be.  There’s nothing else that I’d rather be doing in a job.

And so, that got me thinking.

Where do I need to bloom next?

For me, the answer is obvious:  My personal life.

I’m lucky that I have so many friends who are so driven, so talented and so successful.

When I look at many of us, though, I see people who don’t know how to slow down.  People who don’t know how to accept what they have.  People who don’t know how to move on to the next thing.  People who are stuck chasing things that truth be told, they don’t have to run after anymore.  If there is a leader of this pack of people, it’d likely be me.

I don’t know what changed in me.  Something did, though.  For so long, there has been this fire burning inside of me that echoed in my ear, “You need more.”  The fire would tell me to chase this opportunity or go after that one.  It would never tell me to sit still.  It was always leading me into a race.

The fire has faded, though.  In its place, life is blooming.

It’s a life built on intentionality.

On slowing down.  On letting people in.  On being vulnerable.

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I was driving home last night and in the time span of five minutes, two of my best friends let me know that they were engaged.  I was over the moon for them.  They both truly found their soul mates and are both so, so deserving of good love.  My heart is so happy when I even think of the futures awaiting them.  They’re so good.

This morning, though, I became vulnerable.  I was texting with one of my best friends, Brit, who’s living in Germany.  In the midst of catching her up on life, I wrote, “I’m just really scared that I’ve missed the boat when it comes to getting married.”

Old me would’ve never let this vulnerability card show.  Old me never let her guard down.  Old me had everything under control.

Or so she thought.

Something changed.

And I’m so glad it did.

Something changed, because I realized that if I didn’t slow down, the boat might really sail away.

And when I thought about it, more than anything, it’s a boat I didn’t want to let sail away.

These days, life isn’t about building a following on social media.

These days, life isn’t about chasing the next opportunity.

These days, life isn’t about pushing the limits.

These days, life is about blooming.

It sounds crazy, but in the last year I’ve gotten to know myself better than I had in the 29 that preceded it.  I’m more intimate with my feelings, more careful with my words and more thoughtful with my gestures.

I tell people how I feel.  I let people know I love them.  I share when people hurt me.  I tell people when they make me happy.

I’m no longer afraid of being hurt.  I’m ok with letting go.  I’m open to new things.  I’m grateful for my past.  All of it.

I listen to a couple of podcasts every week where I try to soak up new knowledge.  I have favorite shows that I catch on Netflix.  I return phone calls within the same day.  I send handwritten notes.  I am slowly learning a new language.  I cook a new recipe each week.  I found a church that I can call my own.  I keep a journal that’s secret from the world.  I make it a point to meet one new person each week.  I try hard to smile at everyone.  I unplug at least one day each week.

I go for runs.  I download new music and let it play in my ears.  I focus on my breathing.  I try to lengthen my stride.  I look at the colors that pass by.

And as I go, I realize this:  Everything that’s blooming is beautiful.

Where I am planted is more than alright.

I’m happier than I’ve ever been.  I notice this.  Other people notice this.  Even strangers notice this.

I’m happier than I’ve ever been, because for the first time in my life, the only thing I’m chasing is me.

These days, I’m not running after the girl I think my family expects me to be.  Nor am I chasing the girl I think my friends would like to be around the most.  I’m not exhausting myself trying to become the girl I think he’d want to be with.  I’m not chasing the girl I think a boss would like to hire.

These days, I’m running as fast as I can after the woman who is finally ready to bloom into what she was meant to become.

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This is a new season.  And truth be told, it’s a welcome one.

The beauty of seasons, is we don’t know how long they’ll last.  Nor do we know when they’ll begin again.  All we can do in them, then, is bloom.  Right where we’re planted.

And so for now, that’s what I’ll do.

Be You.

March 18, 2015

I’m a daughter and a storyteller and the appreciator of a good joke.

I’m a friend and a Gemini and the lover of really bad music.

I’m a bleeding heart and a dreamer and if I’ve met you once, I can tell you that you’re important to me.

I’m a wallflower most of the time and a quiet girl sometimes and an outgoing, bubbly person when I need to be.

I’m fiercely loyal and a supporter of the Golden Rule and a firm believer in the power of a good cup of coffee.

Above all, I’m faithful to the One who gave me life and honestly, I’m just really happy to be here.

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They tell you to “Be yourself!  Everyone else is taken.”

And when I was a little girl, I got to be myself.

My mom operated a chauffer service of sorts, where she toted me all around town.  To music lessons and dance classes and theater performances and sports practices.  I did it all.

And you know what?

Doing it all helped me become me.

Just be you, they say.

I walked into the basement of an orphanage in Haiti last November 8.  It was dark and hot and covered in dirt, but had nothing else inside of it.

Except for children.

As I walked down the stairs and peaked around the corner, I saw children.  I saw children like the child I used to be.

Innocent children.  Precious children.  Hopeful children.

Children with dreams.

When I saw these children on November 8, 2014, they didn’t have a place to dream.

They didn’t have a mother like I did, who would drop everything to ensure that their dreams were fostered.  They didn’t have hope shining in on their lives, but rather, only a dark home with not so much as a bed or toilet in it.  They didn’t have a mentor to tell them they could become anything they wanted to be, as the older children looked after the younger children and the name of the game was survival, not dreaming.

When I walked into the orphanage they were living in, the children whose faces are burned in my mind forever were packed tightly on six wooden benches sitting on top of that dirt floor.  They were silent.  They were stoic.  One would argue that they weren’t living, but rather, merely existing.

I believe that in life, there are a handful of moments you receive that stand out more than the rest.  These are the moments that in turn, shape you and turn you into the person that you need to become.

Seeing these children was one of my moments.

Seeing these children changed me.

I sat in a corner that day holding a two-year-old boy who looked like an infant because of malnutrition.  As I held him and stroked his head, I looked on at the children on those benches.  I didn’t care that I was staring at them.  When their eyes caught me, I would just hold my gaze with theirs.  If anything, my eyes screamed to them that I was perplexed by the image of childhood that was being painted in front of me.

As I sat there, the thought that continued to pound through my mind was how angry I was that these children weren’t receiving a chance to live up to their full potential.  The only thing I could think about in that moment, was how mad I was that these children didn’t have a chance to live out their dreams.

Before we left the orphanage, my friend David Nelson, one of the co-founders of I’m Me, stood in front of the group of children spread across wooded benches.  Through an interpreter, David asked the children what their dreams were.  He asked them what visions they had for their futures.

At first, the children were shy.  None moved.  Dreams?  How do you dream when you’re living your life on a wooden bench in a dark room covered in dirt?

I guess though, that even darkness cannot turn out the light of a child’s hope, because, soon enough, they came alive.

One by one, for the first time in God knows how long, they got off of the wooden benches and came to the front of the room.  And there, they did what no one else had ever asked them to:  They shared their dreams.

They sang.

They told jokes.

They opened up their hearts.

And they shared their hopes for their lives.

When they were encouraged to dream, these children came alive.

Life has a funny way of working, is one of the most important things I’ve learned in my 30 years on this Earth.

Life has a funny way of working, because as I sat in that dim orphanage on that November Saturday morning, my constant silent prayer was for these children’s dreams to come true.  I prayed that they’d be given a chance to live out their full potential.  I continuously hummed to myself that day, “God doesn’t put people on Earth for them to live a life of sitting on benches.”  I made a silent deal with myself, that I’d give up all of my dreams coming true for just one of them to have a dream come true.

Less than two months later, the answer to my prayer began.  In January 2015, I’m Me launched its fine arts program–the first of its kind in Haiti.

On day one, 200 children lined up outside of the doors of the facility that I’m Me rented to house it in.  200 children!  200 children on a hot afternoon in Haiti stood wrapped around a building in a line to get inside of a place they’d never even seen.  They did, because something inside of them told them that inside of that building, their dreams would come true.

Be you, they say.

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These days, the children paint and sing.  They play basketball and soccer.  They tinker with musical instruments and act out plays.

Some may become the next Haitian Idol.  Others may land a star on Hollywood Boulevard.  Some might be picked first overall in the NBA Draft.

All of them, though, are getting to do something that up until this point, they’ve never had a chance to:

Be a kid.

This March Madness, I’m asking you to join me in supporting I’m Me’s fine arts program.  Supplies for the program cost $200 per month and the program runs for 9 months out of the year.  I’d love nothing more than to be able to raise enough money to fund the program’s supplies for an entire year.

If you know me, you know that I believe that sports is one of the greatest facilitators of social change in the world.  Sports, though, also has an uncanny way of making dreams come true.  This year, a Cinderella team’s success will fuel young men’s dreams.  Coaches’ dreams will come true when their team wins the National Championship.  As we celebrate my favorite season of the year–yes, March Madness is its own season in my book–I’m asking that you join me in supporting the dreams of some young people who need people championing behind them the most.

Anything you can donate will help bring to life the possibility of making a young person’s dreams come true.  My goal is to fundraise $100 per day over the 18 days that the tournament lasts.  To donate to my campaign, which will be open through April 6, you can click here.

Thank you for believing in these children’s dreams.  Thank you for empowering a nation.  Thank you for being you.

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