What You Do Matters

Recently, I was the recipient of some much-needed wisdom: your career does not define you.  Those words coming from a dear friend struck such a chord that I felt it necessary to write about them during my lament of Corporate America vs. The Working Parent.

Over the weekend, while reflecting on those same words, I came to the realization that for many, many people, their careers do define them.  Our military servicemen and women, first responders, doctors, teachers, pastors, chefs, bakers, yoga instructors…just a few of the careers that define people I know.  And that’s not a bad thing; it’s wonderful for others to know you as the one who saves lives, bakes phenomenal scones or educates tomorrow’s world leaders.  Even though we are more than our careers, it’s evident that in some fields, what we do can have a lasting impact on the world around us on a daily basis.

But what if you’re not a firefighter?  Or a nurse?  Or a Marine?  What if you just have a career that you love, but lacks the same enthusiastic response others receive?  Does it matter any less?

I have been an insurance agent for 11 years; nearly my entire working life (for those of you doing math, I started working when I was 12, obviously).  It’s not the career I planned, but I can tell you that without a doubt, I am happy with my decision to be in this field and that each and every day, I love what I do (with the exception of the normal corporate grief).

The idea of risk assessment, of helping others understand their assets and coverage needs, of finding markets for a particularly difficult property.  It’s a challenge each and every day, but one that I look forward to completing, kind of like the NY Times crossword puzzle (which I have yet to complete…)  This career has been rewarding, even if I’m not helping to establish world peace.

But if I’m being entirely honest, I would have to admit that for a period of time I felt inadequate when standing in a room full of folks who worked in ministry, or teachers, or nurses.  You knew the fruits of their labor just by knowing what they did for a living; in the corporate world, it isn’t as obvious.  In fact, if there’s anything I’ve learned from the responses of others, it’s that we who have chosen a corporate path have our own stigma surrounding us, most closely associated with the Wall Street crash of 2007.  Not many folks get the warm fuzzies when talking about Corporate America.  But I love it, regardless…because Corporate America does not define me.

Several years ago, I was speaking with a client who was also a recent widow.  Her husband had always handled their insurance matters, and because of this, she felt completely helpless when he passed.  She came to the office and I sat with her; reviewing each and every policy, discussing coverages, helping her to better understand what she had.  When we were done, she thanked me for my help…and I felt it: warm fuzzies.

I asked her if I could pray for her; the joy was visible in her eyes, and the gratitude was evident in her smile.  It was the first time in my corporate life that I’d been given the opportunity to help someone in a way that wouldn’t just rebuild their home if it was lost; I was given the opportunity to help in a way that would build someone up, encourage them, and maybe even plant seeds for this same love to be paid forward.

I realized that even if, in my work, I don’t always find the opportunity to change someone’s life, I do have the ability to connect with people in a deeper way.  An insurance policy might open the door for conversation, or it might be the blessing they need 15 years from now, should we ever experience another monster hurricane.  I’m not certain of what each interaction will bring, but I do know that I have found myself becoming open and available to talk more, and even more importantly, to listen more.

What you do matters, regardless of what it is.  Your daily interactions have the potential to share love, happiness, joy, hope, grace, forgiveness.  Your words have the remarkable ability to be the exact thing someone needed.

You did not arrive to your current spot by chance; you are here for a reason.  Be open to it.

Make it a great week,

K

See?  Told you so.

See? Told you so.

Advertisements

Are you ready to become a parent?

If you read that title and thought, “LOL!” then I can assure you that you’re well on your way to qualifying for parental status.  Aside from the necessary sense of humor, what else helps to make the leap from childless to child…full?

We’ve been asked before how we knew we were “ready” to start a family (and I’m using the term “ready” very loosely here, folks).  Well, to be honest, we thought about it and prayed about it, and we just decided to give it a go.  At first, I planned things and used a calendar and joined mom-to-be blogs and lost my damn mind.  Then, I gave it up and just said to heck with charting and graphing and doodling and diddling, and we went at it with reckless abandon (TMI? I don’t care)  Then, one day, God said: BOOM!  And so we knew we were ready…because if God trusted us to bring a child into this world, it meant we could do it!

Becoming a parent is an incredibly great responsibility, and not one without sacrifice.  Folks are going to tell you that you will have to give up a few things when you bring home the fruit of your loins.  If you’re ready to sacrifice the following, you might be ready to welcome a little bundle of (screaming) joy into the world:

Sleep.  Oh yeah, as soon as you tell the world you’re knocked up, you’re going to get the endless, “SLEEP WHILE YOU CAN!” lines.  It’s going to be irritating, and you’re going to wish it would just stop, but you know what?  They are 147% correct.  Those first newborn weeks, man…they are something else.  They’ll make you question your parenting ability, your decision to have a child, and your sanity (and if you think you never did any of that as a parent, you’re a big fat liar).  But in a few weeks, if you’re lucky, your kiddo will hit that magical 10 hours of sleep window…then 11…then 12!  And you’ll think you’ve won the sleepytime jackpot.  Except when you close the nursery door at 7:30p, you’ll probably have laundry to fold, dishes to wash, or a blog to write.  You’ll finally sit down around 8:30p, just in time to catch some TV or read a book before you hit your 9:30p bedtime (because sleep is precious).  Which brings me to…

Entertainment.  No, you aren’t giving up all entertainment, because the greatest entertainment in the history of time and space is sleeping in the nursery across the hall.  I am talking about your TV, reading and computer time, though.  Before we had Miles, I could easily watch six episodes in a row of Toddlers & Tiaras.  Our DVR was so full, I thought it would explode from the overwhelming Honey Boo Boo of it all.  Now?  Well, we still watch TV, but I can promise you that we are way more selective than before Miles.  Not a single episode of Bad Girls Club or Gypsy Sisters has aired in this house since April 21, 2013.  Admittedly, it’s garbage television, but the real reason it doesn’t catch any air time here is because we’re too busy trying to squeeze in Jeopardy, Law & Order, Criminal Minds or New Girl with our precious 60 minutes of couch time.  And when the choice is between seeing Nellie get into another bar fight over her baby daddy, or watching North America on NatGeo, the choice is simple.  Quality over quantity.

Entertainment, part deux.  The same goes for reading material and length of time spent reading.  Before Miles, I would pick up every weekly issue of OK!, Us Weekly, In Touch and *gasp* The National Enquirer.  I could spend an entire Sunday afternoon reading about bad botox, affairs and scandalous behavior.  I don’t have room for the gossip rags any longer; now, if I have some spare reading time, I’m diving into another Stephen King novel, or reading something to enrich my life.  And no more six hours of laying on the couch on Saturdays to finish the entire novel, either.  A half hour before hitting the hay is about all I can spare.

Grooming.  You know those gals you see at Publix wearing yoga pants with bananas smeared on them, hair in a ponytail, no make-up, dazed and confused look on their faces?  The ones you swore you’d never become?  Well, guess what…you will.  No, not right away, but it will happen.  It creeps up on you like the Freshman Fifteen.  First, you wear the yoga pants to the post office.  Then to Dunkin’ Donuts.  The overwhelming comfort of their heavenly elasticity will take control of your mind, and block things like blue jeans from your view when you peer into your closet.  And shaving your legs?  If you’re a night showerer like me, you’ll spend five minutes contemplating whether or not you have the energy and time to spare (60 minutes people!  Wine or razors, you make the call) and if you’re a morning showerer, your head is probably too foggy for decisions involving sharp instruments.  As a mom, you will embrace the “natural” look, welcome your inner hippie, and know that not a single soul really notices because your kid will always look incredible and, bonus points, the kid is also an amazingly adorable attention hog.  Trust me, no one knows you’ve worn that t-shirt three days in a row because LOOK AT THE BABY!!!

Diet.  Here’s what I’m going to tell you about post-baby weight: you’ll lose it.  Without even realizing it happened, you’ll lose it.  Well, if you’re sensible while your pregnant, anyway.  Don’t worry about dieting after you have the kid; you will naturally shed the pounds through your ability to forget to eat when they’re very tiny, and, when they get older, from sharing everything on your plate.  You will try new foods like cereal puffs and purees, and realize that this is why you’ve lost 10 pounds.  Gone are the nights of eating half a pizza and drinking an entire bottle of wine (again, if you say “not me” then you’re a big fat liar).  But don’t think you’re necessarily bikini ready because…

Your body.  Of course you know you’ll sacrifice your body; if you’re the mom-to-be, you’re going to be hauling that watermelon around for a few months.  You may be blessed with stretch marks, cellulite, or (if you’re lucky like me) a few spider veins.  Here’s what you need to know about these battle scars: you won’t give a shit.  Maybe at first I was super self-conscious about the spider veins.  Okay, very self-conscious.  I would stare at them in harsh fluorescent lighting, stretching and squeezing my skin, trying to decide whether I should see a vein specialist.  And then, I’d see Miles.  I realized that these tiny little blue veins, something no one has ever noticed, were such an incredibly small sacrifice to have this tiny person sitting in front of me.  It’s not about me; it’s not about how I look.  All that matters is this sweet, big boy.  And, since he’s a big boy…

Your body, part deux.  Working out and exercise will fall to the wayside (sort of).  But, after a few months, you will realize that hauling your giant meatloaf son around, chasing him across the living room a dozen times an hour and having endless dance parties will give you an entirely new work out routine that those damn Crossfitters have yet to learn.  Sure, my stomach may resemble biscuit dough, but have you seen my triceps?  P90X couldn’t do that.

Sleep (again).  Did you think your sacrifice of sleep ended with the newborn days?  Spoiler alert: NOPE.  Because just as your sweet babe starts sleeping through the night, you’ll get hit with the first cold.  Then, your kiddo will grow to an age where he starts to make friends, and you’ll worry if he’s making the right friends, or if he’s being bullied, or if the other kids like him.  He’ll become a teenager and holy cow if you thought you had sleepless nights before, well just you wait…because here comes dating and driving.  Your kids will grow up and leave the nest, and you’ll still stay up worrying.  And one day, your kids will have their own kids, and guess what?  Yep, you’ll still spend waking hours praying, thinking, hoping and worrying some more.  Welcome to the mental illness known as “parenting.”  This brings me to our final sacrifice…

Sanity.  You think I’m kidding?  Ha.  Get ready to look at a tiny little person and feel an overwhelming and uncontrollable sense of ferocious love.  A love so strong and powerful, you realize you would bench press a Buick if that’s what they asked you to do.  You will cry tears of joy and fear, all at the same time, because this teeny tiny person is yours.  Yes, you will go absolutely positively cuckoo bananas with love for this person.  Then you’ll look at your spouse, your life partner, your soul mate, the one you’re journeying with through this adventure, and you will feel crazy love all over again at the thought of “we did this!”  If you thought Publix commercials made you cry, just wait…

Still with me?  Good.  Here’s what you should take with you, if nothing else from these 1,655+ (!!!) words: you are ready.  You will think you aren’t; you will be frightened, and you will question your judgement, but God knows that you are ready.  You will learn as you go, just like millions of parents before you.  You will make new parent friends, or reconnect with old parent friends, and you will have a support system unlike any other.  And, when doubt is overwhelming, you will peek in that nursery at 8:30p, look down at your sweet, sleeping, meatloaf of a baby, and feel the ferocious love.  And you will know  that you were born to do this job.

Get busy,

Kristin

The Point.

I read a lot of mommy blogs.  Some are sarcastic and funny, some are inspirational, some are full of helpful advice.  But most are just real…full of the tales that photos posted to Facebook or Instagram will never tell.  Reading their experiences is a tremendous help for someone who is a new mom, because I now I know that I am not alone in my fears (allergies), worries (current ear infection/cold) or things I find funny (Miles peed on Evan – again).  It’s like being a part of the most awesome club ever in the history of time and space.
Today, I stumbled on a new (to me) blog.  I had linked there from something else; I can’t recall what, but it wasn’t to read what I ended up immersing myself in for the better part of an hour.  This mom wrote like so many of us, about life.  But her life was different.  They have a daughter who is four, but they have also experienced the loss of not one, not two, but three sons.  They lost their twin boys when they were just 18 weeks in utero.  They lost their third son just a few weeks after he was born, after finding a rare disease that prevented him from having a much needed heart transplant.  This is my unfairly brief summation of the cards they were dealt.
Reading her posts made me do The Ugly Cry.  For those who don’t know, The Ugly Cry is exactly what it sounds like.  That overwhelming, consuming, emotional cry that causes your face to twist and writhe, your breathing to become short and gasping, and your eyes to get so puffy and full of tears you couldn’t even read the address on your mailbox.  You.  Look.  Ugly.
And those of you who know me are also aware of my complete avoidance of all things that bring on The Ugly Cry.  I don’t do Lifetime or Hallmark (lame); I don’t read Nicholas Sparks (lamer) and I change the TV channel every time that ASPCA commercial with Sara McLaughlin singing in the background comes on (lamest, ever).  I can’t do it.  I’m not coldhearted; I just don’t want to cry.  The Ugly Cry is the reason we can’t watch things like Extreme Home Makeover (TWO HOURS OF UGLY CRY – NOTHANKYOU!)
So for me to sit there and read, at length, this family’s story, was difficult.  But I couldn’t stop.  Because, while difficult, I found her healing and faith inspirational.  I felt drawn to continue reading.  And I felt called to pray.  A lot. 
When I picked up Miles from daycare today, I hugged him tight. 
This morning, he had a congested cough, which led to me taking another trip to the pediatrician with him today.  And I’m not going to lie; I felt exhausted and exasperated, and not understanding why after ten days of antibiotics for an ear infection that had no cough, we woke up to a cough.  I felt sad for my baby, even though he smiled and played and ignored the cough completely, because I want him to be well and feel his best.  And I felt frustrated that we were dealt something else to handle, in less than a week.
Now?  Well, now I feel blessed that it’s just a cold.  That’s not to say it isn’t still something to struggle with; in life, you will find that while your situation may be better than others, it is still worse than some.  We all have things to deal with, and there is no diminishing what anyone is experiencing, because it cannot be compared to anyone else.  But, in that moment, I felt blessed.
There are times in life that call us to question, “why?”  Times where we struggle to find a reason, an explanation, a purpose…the point.
What’s the point of illness and struggle?  What’s the point of dealing with hardships?  What’s the point of being here, now, in this?
Here’s what I know about the whole point: there are actually two points.  Two reasons, two purposes, two explanations for what we’re here for:
1.      To love God.
2.      To love each other.
That’s it.  Of all the things we do on a daily basis, our entire purpose, being and existence (in my mind) comes down to those two very important points.
So when someone you know, or even that you don’t know, is going through some stuff…our calling is to be there for them.  To love them, comfort them, help them, pray for them.  We go through this stuff together.  God put us here, now, together, for a purpose. 
You will find love and peace in the arms of friends and family, through conversations with people who understand where you’re coming from, in prayer and meditation, and sometimes, just by reading words on a screen written by a stranger but connected to you in heart and spirit.  And while these things won’t always offer the explanation that human nature may cause you to search for, it will always lead you to the point: LOVE.

“The most important command is this…
Love the Lord your God with all your heart,
with all your mind, and with all your strength.
The second is this: love your neighbor as yourself.”
Mark 12:29-31
Be the hands and feet.
L-O-V-E,

Kristin 

My Mom, My Hero

Society will sometimes lead us to believe that upon reaching that magical AARP milestone age, we’re supposed to start winding down, relaxing, taking it easy.  And while that’s true of some people, others find that as a time in life to try new things, embark on exciting adventures, and maybe even see the world.
My mom is one of those “embark on exciting adventures” people.  It’s because of not only this new phase in her life, but her journey leading up to it, that my mom is my hero.  Not in a sappy, Hallmark move kind of way…well, sort of, but in a, “I’m tougher than nails and no one is going to stop me” kind of way.  Let me explain…
My mom was diagnosed with Retinitis Pigmentosa as a young girl.  For those who are unfamiliar (which could be many – this isn’t one of those diseases you hear about very often) this is a degenerative eye disease affecting the retina.  It affects only 1 in 4,000 Americans.  It is genetic, although as far as we know, no one else in our family has experienced it.
Retinitis Pigmentosa causes loss of night vision, loss of peripheral vision, loss of central vision and color blindness.  There is no treatment; there is no cure, and the disease can lead to eventual complete blindness.
In her 20s, she was declared legally blind.  In her early 30s, she voluntarily turned in her driver’s license as she felt unsure of herself driving from Pahokee to Belle Glade (about 10 miles). 
Despite this disease, my mom worked in accounting and bookkeeping her entire life.  In the 80s-2000s, while keeping the books for our family farm, she ran payroll for hundreds of employees on her computer using a DOS program for which she’d memorized the keystrokes to complete her task.  This was just one of many day-to-day tasks that some people in her position would have given up on…but she did not. 
My brother and I grew up, moved out, went to college (me) and joined the Army (him).  We got married, settled, and started our own adult lives.  My parents’ house was quiet; there were no more term papers to help with, no Saturday nights waiting up for one of the kids to get home, no big meals to prepare.  Yes, that “winding down” time had arrived.
My mom then became involved with Lighthouse for the Blind of the Palm Beaches.  She began to learn about “accessible” technology – programs, devices and apps for the visually impaired.  She found that through the State of Florida, there is a wealth of technology available.
She started with audio books.  She moved on to a screen reader, to help enlarge her cookbooks so she could continue with one of her hobbies and passions.  She installed a computer program that allowed her home computer to “talk” to her.  She started texting and she joined Facebook months before I, her sighted daughter, did.  She was unstoppable.
She no longer wanted my dad to drive her to Lighthouse; she started taking the bus, wanting to increase her independence despite her disability.  She used her white cane frequently.  She took dance lessons, and performed in a dance competition.  She learned Braille.  She began taking classes in technology.  She began volunteering to assist in the technology classes.  
And today, my mom is an Access Technology Instructor at Lighthouse.  Yes, my mom, the girl who was declared legally blind her 20s and stopped driving in her 30s, became an educator in her 50s.  Because, really, who has time to slow down?
This woman gets on the bus several times a week, and heads to the coast.  She teaches in the classroom, and she teaches in homes.  There is now a waiting list for these classes, thanks to the awareness she has helped bring to the technology available.
Despite her busy schedule of teaching, co-chairing events, and volunteering for various organizations, my mom found new things to add her ever growing “to-do” list.  There was still so much to learn, to “see”, to become involved in, to do.  She became increasingly interested in Southeastern Guide Dog School, and so, a couple years ago, she began the process of applying.
This is no small feat.  It involves months of interviews, education and mobility training, to make sure you’re ready to get around with just your dog.  An example of mobility training: crossing all four intersections (eight lanes each) of Congress Avenue and 45th Street in West Palm Beach, alone, during morning rush hour.  This may sound easy, but for those who travel in rush hour traffic, have you noticed how many people who are turning right on a red light fail to slow down, yield, or even pay attention to pedestrians in the crosswalk?  When my mom told me this was one of her “big tests” for mobility training, I was nervous.  We prayed about it at home, at church, in small groups.  I now knew what all parents probably feel like when their sixteen year old drives to school alone for the first time.
Once you’ve passed mobility training, you begin meeting with trainers from Southeastern Guide Dog School who will assess you, to help pair you up with the perfect dog.  After that, the waiting game begins.  There is no attending school until a match has been found; this can take some time to happen.
I am beyondthrilled to say that tomorrow, just a two short months after completing her training, my mom will leave for Bradenton, where she will meet her dog for the very first time, and attend school.  She will be there until her graduation on October 31st.  Yes, my mom is going “off to college” at the young age of 55.
In terms of faith, there are many people who question why certain individuals are given struggles like Retinitis Pigmentosa.  My personal belief has always been that, through these times of difficulty, not only will we learn the power of our faith and the strength and love of our God, but that we will be given the opportunity to be Jesus to someone else.  And I can say, with certainty, that regardless of the challenges presented, my mom has used this to its full positive ability, and has absolutely brought love, joy, appreciation and determination to many.  She has been the hands and feet in more ways than I could mention.
The image of a hero is usually a grand one…someone with superhuman strength, fortitude, power, and an unwavering spirit.  That’s my mom.  No mountain too high; to river too deep; no storm too turbulent.  Immovable, unstoppable, unbreakable.
I could fill the pages endlessly with words telling you about the adventures we’ve been on as a family; the fun things we did growing up, the foundation she gave my brother and me for life, the wisdom she imparted on us and the respect, appreciation and determination we have gained through watching her.  But I will close with this, something my mom told me as a young girl when faced with decisions that weren’t always easy:
“Life is not a dress rehearsal…you only go through this once.”
Once.  Just one time to do all you can, be who you were destined to be, follow the path laid in front of you – regardless of how rocky it may be.  And it’s never too late to start. 
If, in my life, I can be half the mom she was to me, I know I’m doing it right.
Thank you, mom, for being you.  Happy Birthday.
Endless love and thanks and gratitude,
Kristin
 Dancing Out of Darkness

 The whole fam-damily, kayaking River Bend in Loxahatchee.

Mom with Stevie Wonder at LAX.

If you’d like to read more about my mom, check out this article published in the Palm Beach Post earlier this year: How Miracle Devices are Helping the Blind.
Also, you can see photos from Dancing Out of Darkness, an event held by the Beyond Blind Institute, by clicking the link.
If you’d like to learn more about Retinitis Pigmentosa, check out RP International.