Words of Wisdom from Mom-In-Chief

The hottest ticket in town this week was Michelle Obama!

She graced the Altria Theater stage as a guest of The Richmond Forum, and I was grateful to be in the building.

Mrs. Obama set the tone from the start that this would be a nonpartisan, apolitical conversation, borne from her forever title: Mom-in-Chief.

Through that lens, I resonated with her greatly, having children the same age as hers (her youngest child turns 21 on Friday; mine turns 21 on Sunday), and having penned a daily newspaper parenting column for 11 years.

There were so many great takeaways from her conversation with Forum Executive Director Heather Crislip, many of them directed to parents and to the young people who were in the theater or watching via simulcast.

But there also were some collective words of wisdom for all.

In the spirit of the “Wednesday Wisdom” I occasionally share, here are some of the gems Michelle Obama dropped:

* You don’t have to change the world to change something.

* There is power in the small – in the little, everyday things that we take for granted, like spending time with family, voting, etc. Doing these things with excellence and intention make a difference.

* Don’t lose sight of your own destiny. It holds power.

* We owe hope to the next generation. Democracy requires us to be hopeful.

* Find your passion and do something meaningful with your life.

* You are smart enough to be there, wherever your desired or longed-for “there” is.

* When someone kindly touches you, that gives you the liberty to respond in kind, even if it’s the Queen of England. (That’s how and why that went down, she says! Lol)

And my favorite: Stories matter.

Mrs. Obama delivered that declaration as she discussed some of the projects she is working on with Netflix and due to her interactions with people from all walks of life, all over the world, whose stories have inspired her.

I share that view, from my local and lived vantage point, and through the work I do as a journalist, writer mentor and author.

It’s in this spirit that I invite you to “Save the Date” for an October 22 storytelling event I’m hosting in RVA. More details are coming soon!

In the meantime, lean into some other wisdom that Mrs. Obama shared, which is to consider tackling big issues and hard conversations by starting with connection first.

Get to know your neighbors and colleagues and find some commonalities rather than letting social media or other sources shape your views. Once you understand what you have in common, you’re better able to appreciate others’ similarities and differences, maybe better understand their perspectives, and maybe even become friends – and then, through those lenses, talk about the tough, and important, stuff.

June!

How did we get halfway through 2022? Hopefully with some beauty, some growth and lots of gratitude.
#welcomejune #LifeUntapped #lifemusings

We move through life in ways that are both unique to us and collectively familiar, and perhaps many of you join me in wondering how half of this year has zoomed by.

Welcome to June!

Some of the things I’ve come to appreciate about the first half of 2022 are the experiences that have stretched me the most, and in the process, helped me get to know myself all the better while appreciating others as they are.

I make that sound easy, but we all know this is where the work lies!

In these six months I have learned to find peace in surrendering to every day’s measure of work, rest, hope, contentment, and mutual giving and sharing.

I invite you to reflect on your highlights and challenges thus far, too, and to celebrate how far you’ve come, while seeking lessons from the valleys you’ve traversed and the mountains you’ve scaled.

There’s so much to reflect on and grow from, and in some cases celebrate, including the simple gifts of each day and the aha moments that have opened your heart.

So, with what I pray are miles to go, I say hello to June, and to the possibilities and promises the rest of this year holds. They are ours for the taking, if we’ll believe, trust and invite these blessings in, however they come.

Words Matter

“I am tired, just fatigued.”

I spoke those words in a meeting with acquaintances yesterday as we chatted about the recent wave of hate crime murders in Buffalo, NYC and other cities.

We had no idea as we gathered that horror was unfolding in Texas, and when I learned about the school shooting last night, I had no words.

I was left speechless because words seemingly haven’t served as a shield.

Yet, I realized this morning that while they may be rambling or awkward or filled with trepidation, words do matter.

Words still hold power.

Words can be the first step to keeping hate from having the final say.

So we must use them, however imperfectly,

to voice our anger,

to share our collective pain,

to let the families of these 19 murdered children and their two teachers know they don’t grieve alone;

to speak the names of those who were killed yesterday,

and in recent weeks, and even over the years,

so that these men, women and children don’t become invisible casualties in the hate that seeks to become a societal norm.

We must speak up and speak out, because regardless of whether we personally know victims of gun violence and hate crimes,

humanity is deeper than DNA.

We are our brothers only keepers.

We are our sisters only keepers.

We are our children’s collective keepers, too, and we cannot quit on the job.

When one soars we all benefit. When one is harmed, we should all be hurting.

I can only imagine how every teacher, principal and school official aches today – wanting to protect your “school babies” yet having to talk to them about murder.

I still have no words that can make it any better. But I hope that knowing I care helps.

Because I am a woman of faith I am indeed praying for God to bring comfort to the families and all who are grieving.

Because I‘ve long lent my voice to child advocacy issues, I also will lean into seeking out ways to support changes in policies and laws that can make a positive difference.

I will continue to vote.

I will stand for good in other tangible ways, on an ongoing basis, even when silence could be easier.

So yes, I am tired.

And yes, my heart is broken.

And yes, I’m at a loss for perfectly poised words.

But even so, this post matters, and your words and actions do, too.

Please, please use them to help staunch the hate and end the violence.

14 Ways to Treasure It All

I’ve been reminded in various ways these first 90-plus days of 2022 to not take anything or anyone for granted – including yourself.

Treasure it all.

Stop to smell the roses.

Eat the cake without counting the calories.

Exercise not because you should, but because you can. 

Apologize sincerely, regardless of whether it’s acknowledged.

Forgive freely, even when it’s not requested.

Give thanks for your blessings; appreciate the lessons. 

Stretch yourself. Relax yourself. Enjoy yourself. 

Breathe more deeply, more often.

Smile more.

Laugh more.

Love more.

Pay attention, with intention.

For this is the journey called life, and yours is yours alone to treasure.

Trust Yourself

In these final few weeks of 2021, take some time to sit with yourself and just be.

Settle your heart and accept all that has been and

Renew your hope for all that could be.

Seek wisdom and listen to wise counsel; then trust yourself and that muse in your soul. 

Some dreams are so big and some callings so powerful that you’ll be paving the way into unfamiliar territory; so of course everyone won’t understand. 

Trust the seed that God has placed in your heart.

Drown out your fears and ignore naysayers’ worries.

Believe that even in a pandemic you can deliver something amazing.

Envision the future you desire, and even as you keep climbing, start living in expectation.

You’ve got this. Trust yourself. Get ready to receive.

Expecting Less, Caring More = Grace

During a leadership event I attended this evening, a new acquaintance informed me about a trauma-relief organization for adults that she leads in the Richmond region called Robin’s Hope.

She and her staff are running 20 groups, 7 days a week, mostly virtual she said, to help people with all kinds of grief, trauma and mental distress.

That level of need blew me away, yet it is very real, across the land.

Nod to UNC-Chapel Hill for acknowledging the mental health crisis unfolding on its campus right now.

Perhaps it’s time we individually take on the charge. I challenge you to look around you, my friend, and be extra kind to those who seem a bit sad, stressed, withdrawn or even overly chipper.

We may not be comfortable yet giving random hugs, but random messages of “Hello” “Have a nice day” “I see you” “I will help you” and “I’m here for you” matter.

Let’s do our best to see each other through this global health pandemic. As you extend more grace to others, also be open to receiving it, because you matter, too.

What’s In Your Bag?

Nothing can trump my love of being near water, but being in the mountains is a close second.

A recent weekend visit to Carter’s Mountain in Charlottesville didn’t disappoint, and in the days to come, I’ll enjoy some of the fruit of my efforts – handpicked apples that I mostly pulled from trees myself.

The pic below was taken before my bag was full, but I left the mountain with it bulging with some delicious apples and a few gems for life.

For what we choose to fill our bags with can both feed us and fuel us. No one gets the mix right 100 percent of the time – my sweet tooth wins more often than it should. However, just enough filling of goodness, wisdom, love and hope can add weight and substance in our life’s favor.

What will you fill your proverbial bag with today? This week?

I’m throwing in some creative juices for my writing,

some sneakers for the miles I want to walk,

some generosity and fun for myself and my loved ones,

some courage to push past fear and take a few more risks,

some prayer for those who are grieving or angry with the world,

and some kindness and grace for all I encounter.

Be intentional. Make sure you enjoy filling the “bags” you’ll carry along your way.

You’ll be more likely to find them weighed down with blessings and lessons you won’t mind holding onto.

30 Minutes To Success

A friend and I have been challenging each other to get things done this fall, and to take baby steps, if necessary.

We check in once a week with a reminder to devote at least 30 minutes that day to our goal.

No matter how busy I am that day, can I fit in at least 30 minutes of creative writing? And can she accomplish an art-related task or project for at least half an hour?

We both are certainly devoting more time throughout the week to our endeavors, but this check-in at the start of each week is a helpful reminder that if we put our minds to it, we can do it.

Encouragement and climbing together matter.

Consider finding yourself a challenge partner – one who won’t stress you out or condemn you on the days you falter – someone whose gentle belief in you will help you believe in your dreams all the more.

You’ve got this – one step, half-hour commitment, or day at a time.

My 9/11 Story – Love Is The Key

​If you are of a certain age, you’re among the many of us who have a September 11, 2001 “Where were you?” story.

Mine involved focusing on things that have long mattered most to me: ​

  • striving to be​ a​ caring​ mother
  • ​striving to ​be a​ ​courageous storyteller
  • ​intentionally ​using my words to make a difference.

That day was my first day back​ at work as a newspaper reporter, after a 12-week maternity leave​.​


I​’d placed my infant son in ​his babysitter’s arms and dropped off my daughter at a ​nearby ​preschool, and was ​settling​ at my desk just before 8 a.m. ​in​ the quiet newsroom.

Suddenly, a photographer ran past me and yelled to turn on the TV – a plane had hit one of the Twin Towers in New York City. Then a friend called to welcome me ​bac​k and to share that she’d just seen live news reports about the plane crash. Together, we watched as a​ second​ plane hit the second tower, and we knew the world had changed.


After reminding myself that both of my kids were in good care, with people who loved them and would keep them safe, I did what journalists do – went right into reporter mode, knowing that I’d have to somehow help make sense of this madness for residents of Central Virginia and beyond.​


​Within the hour, I was driving down a winding road south of the city to visit a local mosque. ​ ​Despite ​growing fears for safety ​in the wake of the terrorists attacks, ​t​he​ Imam (spiritual leader)​ trusted me enough to ​let me inside the building, which was teeming with young children, because it doubled as a daycare and preschool.

There was mayhem. The phones kept ringing with ​death threats​, ​frightened​​​​​ parents ​showed up to pick up ​their children and ​the Imam​ sought to keep everyone ​calm​.


I saw fear and hurt in his eyes, both over the tragedy that had occurred ​in our nation a​​​​nd over the need to defend himself and ​the Muslims he knew and loved​.​ He requested that I use my news article to remind people that not all Muslims are terrorists and that he, too, was grieving.


On my drive back to the ​Richmond Times-Dispatch ​newsroom, the radio waves were eerily silent and my cell phone wouldn’t work. ​I returned to learn from colleagues about the attack at the Pentagon and the crash of another plane that was believed to be headed to Washington, D.C.​


I sat at my desk and wrote about the Imam’s plea ​for people ​to look past ethnicity ​and ​into hearts​,​ and not to harm Americans who looked him or those in his spiritual care because of the hateful and evil acts of others – acts he also denounced.

That conversation with him, and witnessing the distress at the mosque that day, led me to write a year-long series of newspaper columns about people of various faiths – Muslims, Quakers, Sikhs, Buddhists, Christians and more – and to use their personal journeys to educate readers about ​​​​​​​the principles of each religion, so that perhaps we could really “see” our neighbors, colleagues and strangers and find some common ground.


​What my readers (and I ) discovered through my columns is that ​regardless of the different commandments​, laws and practices of the various faiths, the​ primary mandate of ​absolutely ALL of them is to​ LOVE,​ and to use love as a guide to honor God, ​live peaceably with others and​ ​flow positively through this world.

Sometimes ​love must be ​giving.

Sometimes ​love must be sacrificial.

Sometimes love sets boundaries.

All of the time love can heal and produce hope​​.


​This isn’t as easy at it sounds, of course, which is why people of faith are always “practicing” their faith.​ But leading with love never fails and never goes out of style.

Twenty years later, as we remember this significant and painful day of loss and fear, may we also remember the love that followed in the aftermath. And may we continue striving to look past what we see on the surface and give others’ hearts a chance, while having the courage to share our own.

Do The Work

On this Labor Day, may we find some time to pause, breathe, reflect and reset.

In doing so, perhaps we can lean into what we love about having the opportunity to work and the opportunity to live with purpose.

Regardless of whether our life’s purpose intersects with our day-to-day work, I imagine that one feeds off of the other – with our job providing the resources and space we need to execute our life’s calling, and our calling being shored up and reflected in the formal work we do consistently.

So today, my challenge to you is to be grateful for your opportunities to live, work and be.

In doing so, you contribute to your own wellbeing and that of your loved ones, while in many instances also fostering greater good in the world around us.

Whatever kind of work you do, it matters, especially during a pandemic that has significantly altered over the past two years what formal work looks and feels like, and perhaps has led you to set aside your hopes and dreams.

Today, pick them back up.

Consider what pushes you forward even when you’re tired,

what wakes you up before the alarm sounds,

what brings you joy, in season and out.

That thing called purpose won’t be fickle, and when you recognize it and honor it, neither will you.

Do the work to discover the work you were born to do, then give it your all. And even if you’re in a season of retirement or between formal jobs, explore and discover how this new phase or next chapter still can be deeply meaningful.

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