Her Story: The Risks and Rewards of a First Step

By Guest Blogger Belinda Todd

I am an actor. This avocation is not about the paycheck, nor is it about recognition. It is an innate something that makes me want to see the world through characters often different from myself.  It is fulfilling a dream.

However, fear almost made me cancel my first audition. The afternoon appointment was set and I arrived at the theater early. Before I could turn off the engine, the mind chatter began: “Are you crazy! Who do you think you are? You will be laughed at!”

Too nice to be a no-show, the integrity of my word compelled me to open the car door and channel an inner diva. I strolled into the theater like I belonged there.

When the audition was over, I was ecstatic, invigorated! I was finally feeding my interests. The director had said she would get back to me in a few days. Three weeks later I had given up hope of being in this performance. Then the e-mail came, offering me the part of Reba in Before It Hits Home, a play by Cheryl L. West.

The play was well received and my performance was good – not stellar, just good. But I was hooked. I was in a new tribe—a community of talented artists.

Today, my credits include television, stage, commercials, and most recently, film. I am so glad that on that fateful day, I took the first step.

The first step begins the journey to nurturing your goals and developing your talents. The first step takes you outside your comfort zone and into your dreams. The first step is a signal to the universe to prepare the way. If you don’t take the first step, you’ll never know what could be.

You see, I am a black woman over 50. The odds of venturing into new territory were not in my favor. I have watched too many people give up on their dreams at certain mile markers in life, letting age dictate their fate. But I am daily choosing to see life as a glorious adventure.

I don’t know what it takes to liberate your soul, but I do know that until you do, your light will not fully shine. The first step is embracing the vulnerability that exposes who you are on the inside: your beauty, your talent, your capabilities as well as you weaknesses.

Here is the truth: first steps are scary. It is scary to leave comfortable surroundings, routine living and even old friends. I didn’t know if I could memorize scripts or if I would appear too old with a younger generation of actors. But I had to take a risk. I had to risk looking foolish and out-of-place. Even though I risked ridicule, I didn’t risk my faith in a kind and loving God who sees me and always has my back. I have learned that it can be good, oh so good, to risk the first step.

Belinda Todd is a risk-taker. After retiring from a career with the airlines, img_4841Belinda received a master’s degree in theology, became a certified yoga instructor, and is now studying acting. She is also an Adjunct Instructor in the Languages and Literature Department at Virginia State University. She believes her mission is to inspire and empower women to use their gifts and talents to make the earth more loving, more peaceful and more joy-filled.

Her Story: The Sliver Linings in Curveballs

By Guest Blogger Dawn McCoy

At the time, it seemed so wrong. It was something that happened to other people. Then it happened to me.

I found myself so blindsided by my company’s sweeping corporate layoff that almost 10 years later, I still cannot recall what was said during the announcement. This was a position I was sure was secure – so much so that I relocated from California to Virginia to oversee a regional office for the organization.

After the layoff, I chose not to move elsewhere or return to California. Instead, I assumed that my college education, leadership positions and 20 years of work experience meant I could readily transition into another top organizational position.

Networking skills and political acumen helped me navigate in the unfamiliar region. However, dead-end interviews and lukewarm job leads ended with closed doors. It was the first time I felt defeated despite my accomplishments. Occasionally I glanced at my diplomas and awards shaking my head in disbelief.

As with other life-changing experiences I’ve gone through, I faced the harsh reality and decided I had to think fast. In this case, that meant reinventing myself and shifting my thinking beyond the expected “climb up the career ladder.”

I began to approach my next steps by thinking beyond checkboxes on a job application. I leveraged my expertise to speak, teach and write, and translated those areas of expertise into a hybrid of part-time work and contract opportunities.

Thankfully, my background in drafting technical user manuals, regulatory policies and corporate compliance requirements paid off. I was able to translate those skills into valuable lectures, life-learning guides and proposals. Networking and strategic thinking also morphed into valuable grant-writing and fundraising opportunities. Who knew!

The same year as the layoff I launched a leadership development and communications firm to empower others with training modules and tools. Looking back, it was the beginning of a new chapter to serve others and at the same time chart a different career path.

Interesting enough, within three years of the layoff, my young son’s special needs and chronic health issues required a more non-traditional work schedule to accommodate his therapies and medical appointments. Not to mention that he had repetitive, unpredictable health problems. Thankfully I was already in a work capacity that nurtured my role as mother of a special needs child.

Had the unfortunate corporate downsizing really manifested into an unforeseen blessing?

The silver lining in my 10-year journey means remembering the layoff as a life-changing event that no longer makes me frown, but cherish even unsavory situations. Turning the corner does not mean that I have lost time or given up a future cushy-corner office. On the contrary, I continuously remind myself to embrace a new paradigm that nurtures my creativity and makes my spirit soar.

Dawn McCoy is a leadership strategist, speaker and the author of Leadership profile-headshotBuilding Blocks. She is also founder of Flourish Leadership Group, LLC, and a senior service facilitator with Moms in Motion, a consumer-directed Medicaid Waiver service facilitation case management provider. Dawn and her son reside in Central Virginia and enjoy the arts. Learn more about Dawn at Flourish Leadership Group (www.flourishleadership.com). You can also connect with her on Facebook at Dawn McCoy Books  and Twitter @dawnmccoy02

Her Story: Choosing a Life Worth Living

By Guest Blogger Alyson Lindsey Taylor-White

They looked at me like their cat had just talked to them. The kidney surgeon and his nurse had just delivered what they thought would be devastating news – that my case did not merit a life saving transplant – and I had responded with words of hope.

What they did not know is that I had prepared for that outcome and was already strategizing how my future would proceed without a new kidney. This looked less like a barrier to me and more like an opportunity. In many ways, I was relieved. The transplant process has its own challenges that are seldom mentioned in the literature. My healing would proceed without this ordeal.

However my perspective was clearly not the reaction they anticipated.

Having suffered for years with failing, and finally failed kidneys, prepared me for the potential outcome that a transplant might be my only hope for survival. During those challenging years, additional health complications became a factor. In the fall of 2015, my heart and kidneys gave up at the same time, and my survival was extremely iffy for about a month, when I struggled for life in a local hospital intensive care unit.

While coming out of the haze of medications and dealing with other affects of organ failure, the medical staff told me to prepare for the worst. They said my life, if I made it, would never be the same again. They assured me my old life was dead, and that I might have diminished abilities for the remainder of my life.

As difficult as it was to hear, maybe them telling me how awful my life could be actually made me more determined to recover and create a life worth living. Six major surgeries and a year of daily dialysis later, it is.

I had stuff to do, and I was not going to let these new disabilities derail me for long. For two years, I’d been working on my first book and it was at a crucial stage in the publication process. My pets and my husband needed me.

In fairness to all of those medical experts, I had a secret weapon: My ability to believe in myself. This has always proven successful. My life has had serious setbacks, but since early childhood I have been able to count on the soothing comfort of imagining the positive potential outcome of every situation. What saved my life, and has sustained me to this day, is being able to see the positive side of things.

It is not always easy to have faith when faced with doom; but my determination to heal has enabled me to persevere and succeed. Whether I have six years, six months or six minutes of life left, it is my job to live every day to its fullest and jettison whatever is not inspiring joy. You can do the same.

Alyson LinA.Taylor-Whitedsey Taylor-White is a University of Richmond certified adjunct instructor with a background in journalism and museum education. She has researched and written about Richmond and Virginia history and politics for more than 20 years, and is passionate about sharing these stories with others. She creates and gives public and private tours of Virginia historic sites. Her first book, Shockoe Hill Cemetery  – a Richmond Landmark History, will be published this year.

 

Her Story: No More Chains

By Guest Blogger Renee Spivey

I vividly remember the day 25 years ago when I sat on a bathroom floor with a knife to my wrists, ready to end it all. I was tired of the devastating challenges I was enduring, and thought death was better than what I was going through.

That’s not the only time I was suicidal. The second time was when I was sentenced to prison for eight years. Me, the church going, good grade-getting, mostly-obedient child. I had no business going to prison, but sure enough, it happened. Even though I was a first time offender, I was convicted of felony theft by check, and I would go on to serve almost two years of that eight-year sentence.

The day I arrived at the minimum security women’s prison, I was so devastated that I was put on suicide watch. I was asked during the intake process if I was thinking of killing myself and I said yes, because honestly, once again, I thought death was better than what I was facing.

Every hour or so, an officer was at my cell calling my name, making sure I was still alive. After the first two days, I was fine. I had read, cried, prayed and accepted my situation, and a peace finally came over me. After that second day, I told them I was fine and no longer thinking of killing myself. They took me at my word and didn’t perform the hourly checks anymore.

Being locked up for 22 months was the roughest thing I have ever experienced. To be treated as simply a number and not a person was a very humiliating, but humbling experience.

Even though this was the worst time of my life, it ended up being the best time of my life. It took me going to prison to realize that God had more in store for me than just a continual life of heartache and pain. He had a calling specifically for me.

The road has definitely not been easy, but through it all God kept me and blessed me. I did not let my past dictate my future. I refused to be known only as Smith #744519.

I’ve gone on to do some incredible things, such as go back to college at age 40 and obtain an associate’s degree in Information Technology/Web Design. I am currently working on my Bachelor’s degree in Business Administration. I own a business called Literary Signature Services, where I work with authors and small businesses, helping them with their website and graphic design needs. I’ve held the same full time job since my release in 1997. And now, I am working on becoming a published author.

I am a wife, a mother, a homeowner and founder of the Women of Worth ministry, which was started to encourage women to step out of the shadows of their past into a brighter future. ~ © Renee Spivey, 2017

Renee SpiveyRenee Spivey, an avid reader and aspiring author, owns Literary Signature Services, a company that focuses on graphic and web design. Her client list includes authors Suzette Riddick, Regena Bryant, and New York Times and USA Today bestselling author Brenda Jackson, to name a few.  Renee also has a short story in the recently released anthology, When Women Become Business Owners. Learn more about Renee at her websites The Masters Vessel and We Are Women of Worth. She is also active on Facebook at Empowered Women of Worth, Instagram at Renees1971 and Twitter @empoweredwow.

Her Story: Finding Beauty in the Storm

By Guest Blogger Venus Bolton

There are times our children get sick and as parents we tend to them attentively, doing everything we can think of to make them feel better. Sometimes Mama’s home health care does the trick; but if you have multiple kids like me, your children may be on the germ-share program; so invariably what goes around tends to make the rounds.

However, imagine being told the illness your child has is life threatening – that time is running out and your options are few. When my husband and I received this news in 2011, it didn’t feel real. Doctors declared that our 4-year old daughter had severe aplastic anemia. Aplastic anemia behaves in the same way as several childhood cancers, with a similar course of treatment.

I now think back to the three years of active treatment that followed this diagnosis, along with two years of maintenance treatment, and I am truly amazed at how we navigated life during those five years. An illness of this magnitude can impose a crippling toll on a family.

The most significant lesson I learned is that beautiful things can happen in the midst of the worst storms life throws your way. My husband and I experienced what the hearts of people coming together to be the blessing looks like. We felt like every good thing we had ever done in our lives was returned to us through the love, prayers and generosity of others.

Through this unimaginable set of circumstances, we’ve had many opportunities to share our story as ambassadors for patient families, in conversations with lawmakers and officials, and by working with businesses and organizations that support patient families. We’ve walked alongside other parents (who became friends) through diagnosis, treatment, heartache and grief.

Our 9-year old daughter was recently released to full survivorship, and while it may sound cliché, my family has a renewed appreciation for life. We take very little for granted and have learned not to sweat the small stuff, because in the grand scheme, it all is smaller.

I never thought I’d say it, but what came to wreak havoc in our lives has ultimately ended up blessing our family in some ways we didn’t expect. Most importantly it gave me, and my husband, a greater desire to have a positive impact in our community, and to put ourselves in position to bless the lives of others whenever possible.

Venus Bolton writes and speaks on issues related to faith, wellness, caregiving and child advocacy. She lives in Midlothian, Virginia with her husband and four children and blogs regularly at Three & 1.

 

 

Her Story: Making Lemonade

By Guest Blogger Cassie Edwards Whitlow

It makes no sense that I’m now a published author.

After I was born, I had uncontrollable tremors. The doctors thought I’d never walk or talk. Weeks after my mother participated in an all-night session of prayer, however, I walked and eventually began to form words.

During early childhood, I was diagnosed with dyslexia and severe Attention Deficit Disorder. Unlike most people with dyslexia, I caught on to reading early and enjoyed it. I struggled with writing, reading comprehension and responding verbally, but I was confident enough to read aloud.

One dreadful day in fourth grade, everyone took turns reading a paragraph from the text. When my turn came, I didn’t know where we were. The teacher accused me of being lazy. That was the beginning of self-doubt.

Yet I still had my other passion to rely on: singing. I declared at age 3 that I wanted to sing professionally, and I spent years investing in that. However, when I was 30, doctors discovered a tumor in my throat. It damaged my left vocal cord, ending my dream.

Life as a wife and mother became my focus and where I found my joy. As my children grew, so did the layers of life. My son was diagnosed with autism and ADHD at age 7. Couple that with a toddler daughter who needed me and a career military husband who was gone a lot, and I could barely keep myself together.

I took my mentor’s advice and started journaling. This helped me feel centered, and eventually, I realized it was time to reach for a new dream. I had toyed with the idea of writing a novel off and on for more than 10 years, but after many unsuccessful attempts I let it go.

Yet the more I resumed reading, the more my courage grew. I finally reached out to a few authors for advice and took a few workshops, and within two months, I had completed the first draft of a novella. In June 2016, Temptation was published. My second project, One Wish, was released in December 2016.

I’ve received messages from numerous readers saying how my most recent novella inspired them and helped build their faith. And people who knew me as a child, who’ve always wanted to write a book but didn’t know where to begin, now want to learn from me.

Looking back all those years ago, it was a blow when my elementary school teacher chastised me, and I was devastated when my voice changed.

Now I see things differently. What if the singing was sidelined so I could recognize my writing gift? I’m forced to talk more and I get to help people walk through the writing and publishing process.

Success and happiness happen when we discover our purpose and walk in it.

The attention deficit conditions that both my son and I were diagnosed with still have a stigma. Yet I’ve learned that ADHD and most learning disabilities are not disabilities at all. They’re gifts. ADHD is nothing more than overactive brain. We have a lot of ideas that are difficult to turn off.

Once I figured out how I learn, I no longer saw myself as incompetent or less than. I no longer saw this diagnosis as a barrier and I no longer have to hide in the shadows.

I am free to be who I was created to be and I can help others recognize their gifts as a blessing and not a flaw.

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Cassie Edwards Whitlow is the author of two novellas, Temptation and One Wish. She creates relatable characters who grapple with issues she herself has a passion for: women’s mental, intellectual, and physical health issues. Cassie A native of Arkansas, wife of an Air Force Sergeant, and mom of two, Cassie currently resides in a small village in England. To learn more, visit Cassie at www.cassieedwardswhitlow.net,  Instagram.com/cassieedwardswhitlow and Facebook.com/cassieedwardswhitlow.

Her Story: I Was Built for Hurricanes

By Guest Blogger Margo Clifford

I woke up one morning and realized I was living in a nightmare. My partner had told me the night before, that if he couldn’t have me then no one would. He brought out his rifle and leaned it against the headboard of our bed. He meant every word. I was in an abusive relationship and needed a way out. I was scared and ashamed. How did I let this happen?

Abusive relationships don’t start out that way. At the beginning he was charming and thoughtful. Wanted to meet my friends. Loved that I had a college degree. He wanted the same things I wanted. Family was important. I was sure I had found a keeper. However, 3 months in and the tiny cracks began to show in the perfect boyfriend. His temper began to eek out. An unprovoked outburst, accusations of betrayal, and jealousy over friends became my new normal. It was no longer a loving relationship. No matter what I did, it was never good enough. There was always the feeling of dread not knowing how he would come home from work. The abuse was usually done in a rage followed by his denial that he had done anything wrong because according to him I deserved it.

At that point I became driven to understand him, to figure out how to fix the relationship and examine my part in all of this. I began reading books about people with anger issues and domestic violence. I wanted to know why it happened to me. My search for answers led me to volunteer at a shelter for battered women, take a crisis counseling class and help abused women. I realized my relationship was not going to change and I needed to leave. My good friend witnessed one of his tirades and contacted my folks. I had been too embarrassed to admit to them what had been happening. My concern about what others would think about me had gotten in the way of receiving the support I needed. Without any questions my family was there for me. I realized that I couldn’t do this alone and was able to escape.

My mom asked me recently if I regretted that time in my life. I had to admit that the relationship had a silver lining. That experience made me a stronger woman. It was the push I needed to move away and go to graduate school. I realized I had been playing small, and that there was so much more that I could do with my life. And I have.

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1526251_10206057717790061_4707442569239819648_nMargo Clifford is a crusader for children’s rights and empowering young minds to think, create and believe in themselves. As an educator for over 40 years, she has witnessed the amazing resilience that children have to overcome the obstacles that stand in their way. She is currently working on a book about two brothers dealing with homelessness. When she’s not working with children, she is writing, doing art, beekeeping and spending time with friends, family and her dog, LuLu.