Cookies and Dreams: Why You Should Leap

By Stacy Hawkins Adams

Last week I decided to bake homemade oatmeal cookies for my son, but it was cold and dark outside and I didn’t feel like driving to the store to buy the brown sugar and raisins that the recipe called for and my pantry lacked.

Rather than give up, I pulled an “old school” cook’s move and substituted with what was on hand.

The all-purpose sugar and pure vanilla extract worked wonderfully, and though the cookies weren’t as “tan” as usual, the way they quickly vanished were proof that they were a hit. (He asked for more this weekend.)

So what’s the moral of this Monday Morning Musing? This right here:

Conditions won’t always be perfect. Everything you think you must have to succeed won’t be on hand.  But leap anyway.

Make trial-and-error tweaks as needed. Operate in excellence.

Embrace imperfections that arise as your unique offering to the process.

Believe. Press on. Enjoy the journey.

Birth that vision. Give hope to others who are watching you.

If you’ll just get started, the rest will unfold when needed – or turn out better than you could have imagined.

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Hope for My Drunk Driver

A journey from anger to grace

By Stacy Hawkins Adams

Last weekend I had a headache that wouldn’t abate, and it led my thoughts back to Melissa – a woman I’ve never met whose choices on a summer evening long ago forever changed mine.

Melissa, you see, is the drunk driver who slammed into the car in which I was a passenger 25 years ago.

That night in Albuquerque, N.M. left me with an injury that to this day prevents me from sleeping with pillows. Which brings to me to reason I was thinking of her this past weekend.

I did a simple thing: dozed off on a few fluffy pillows as I propped myself up in bed to watch TV. When I awoke the next morning, my consequence was a throbbing pain above my left temple and behind my left eye.

I don’t get migraines often, but I recognize them when they arrive, and I could tell immediately that this one was connected to the pain radiating down the left side of my neck and to the knot of muscles that had formed just below.

Ah, the pillow. How could I forget?

Ah, Melissa. How could you drink and drive?

The summer that Melissa’s car rammed into the one in which I was a passenger, I was a rising college senior in the middle of a newspaper internship in Albuquerque, simultaneously honing my journalism and independence skills.

I had two awesome roommates, including one who was (and is) a professional singer. When an opportunity arose to serve as one of her backup “artists” in a karaoke performance (the only way I’d be asked to do this, mind you), how could I say no?

A group of us had just pulled into the Air Force base where our dining spot debut would take place. As our driver paused to check in at the security gate, Melissa’s vehicle plowed into the back of us.

Thankfully, I and my fellow passengers survived the crash, which, in Albuquerque at that time was no small feat.

According to prevalent news reports that year (1992), more alcohol-related traffic deaths per capita occurred in New Mexico than in any other state. Thank you, God.

Melissa’s actions knocked the car in which we were riding several hundred feet from its resting position and left it totaled.

I was the most severely injured – receiving a fractured nose from having the driver’s seat break loose on impact and slam into my face and being tossed around like a ragamuffin. I left the hospital with two black eyes and a severely sprained neck that I would protect with a brace off and on for years to come.

I was angry at Melissa, long before I knew her name. All I knew then was what her actions had cost me: My journalism internship ended abruptly. I spent the rest of my summer alternating between pain-filled periods of rest and physical therapy for the cervical sprain. I returned to my senior year of college still in physical therapy, which continued well into the fall, with lingering pain and forced rest cutting short outings with friends and opportunities to celebrate life before full-fledged adulthood.

I was still angry at Melissa a few years later, when a minor fender bender caused the neck sprain to flare at just the wrong time – days before a friend’s wedding. Ensconced in a new neck brace with my name on it, I spent her special day in bed with muscle relaxers instead of enjoying celebratory fun.

The anger lessened to frustration over the years as I participated in exercise classes and repeatedly sat out on sit-up routines that put too much strain on my neck, because my core wasn’t quite strong enough to lift me.

And as I matured and considered some of my own missteps and mistakes along the way, I thought about Melissa with fewer and fewer waves of judgment.

I was 21 when the accident occurred and so was she.

I had been in a car with new friends that evening, heading to a fun outing. When emergency medical personnel pulled her from her vehicle, they reportedly discovered that countless beer cans had been her companions.

With the expansion of heart that accompanied my becoming a first-time mother at age 27, the judgment ceased. Unconditional love for another will do that to you.

And as my work as a journalist gave me opportunity after opportunity to meet all kinds of people from all walks of life and tell their stories of tragedy, challenge, triumph and resilience, I embraced the reality that life doesn’t always happen for us – sometimes it happens to us.

That truth ushered in sympathy. I began to wonder what had become of Melissa.

At the time of our accident, drunk driving laws in New Mexico were fairly lax, and I don’t recall her serving any jail time. While she was forced to cover my and my friends’ medical and related expenses, she likely didn’t suffer other consequences.

I wondered, however, did her conscience bother her? Did she treat that serious accident as a wake-up call?  Did she give herself a second chance?

I began to hope that just as I had changed and grown and sought to embrace my best self over the years, that she, too, had managed some measure of metamorphosis.

Today, as I lay here writing this reflection, with a heating pad on my neck and shoulder and pain meds nearby, I hope and pray so.

Like me, I hope she has gone on to have a full and meaningful life – one in which she shares the story of that night as a lesson learned, as a place from which she transformed.

I hope that the recurring pain I still experience every so often isn’t for naught, and that she is still alive and well somewhere, advising others to never drive while under the influence, because it can lead to real suffering for real people, other than oneself.

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If I had the chance to encounter Melissa again and officially meet her, I’d tell her that while I hate the flare ups and radiating pain I sometimes experience and I hate her long-ago choices, I don’t hate her. Doing so would require too much energy and too much heart space.

Instead, I’m thankful to have been one of the ones who survived when so many victims of drunk drivers didn’t. My hope is that wherever Melissa is and whoever she has become, she feels that same humble gratitude – for my life and for her own.

Your Choice Matters

By Stacy Hawkins Adams

Because we’re all imperfect beings, we’ll all make mistakes, take missteps or get off track. But even in our imperfection, we can choose who and what we want to be and how (or whether) we’ll serve up some goodness in this world.
We can choose integrity even when it isn’t convenient; love when hate threatens to swarm; loyalty when the chips are down, grace when grudges are warranted, and hope when all seems lost.
Choosing the best way forward, individually and collectively, equals choosing a life that surrenders to joy. What will you do? Practice living a story you’ll be proud to someday call your own.

 

Remembering 9/11: Beauty for Ashes

By Stacy Hawkins Adams
Today I’m remembering 9/11/01 and honoring the lives lost and the heroes who stepped forward in the aftermath of that tragic day. Where were you on that day 16 years ago?
It was my first day back in the Richmond Times-Dispatch newsroom after giving birth to my son. He was 12 weeks old and in the care of his loving sitter, “Nana.” I had scheduled an interview with the leader of a local Muslim worship center for an inspirational column I wrote at that time. (Talk about “coincidence.”)
After the planes hit the towers that morning, we reporters leapt into action. The Muslim worship center (mosque), which was filled with children attending classes, went on lockdown as fearful parents showed up to claim their students; but the Imam trusted me and still allowed me to come and enter. He shared how heartbroken he and many others were over this tragedy.
As we remember the devastation of that day, let’s also remember the humanity that was birthed from the ashes. May we continue to seek and serve the humanity in others, trusting that love really is the antidote to all hate.

Officer to My Son: “Let’s Both Get Home Safe.”

By Stacy Hawkins Adams

I took my teen son to an empty school parking lot on Sunday afternoon to practice driving and a police officer pulled him over.

I was in the passenger seat, and the officer asked my permission to chat with Mini-Me #2.

Sgt. Hugate (who gave me permission to use his name) had watched my son practice signaling and turning and parking for about half an hour before motioning for him to stop, with a smile and a welcoming gesture.

With my consent, he spent about 10 minutes sharing his perspective as a member of law enforcement about how Mini-Me #2, as a teen driver, could stay safe if/when pulled over.

Before he launched into the advice, he led with his heart, telling Mini-Me #2:

– He spent the day before driving around a similar school parking lot teaching his own son how to drive, so he knew how meaningful and memorable the task at hand was.

– Everyday when he goes to work, he wants to be sure to make it home to his family; so the advice he was prepared to share was designed to keep both my son and him safe.

Then he walked through how an officer typically approaches a vehicle and explained that an alert officer is always on guard because he never knows who or what he may encounter when making a routine traffic stop – regardless of race, gender, age, etc.

Next, he told Mini-me #2 a few things that most parents of color often share already with their adolescent sons and daughters, during what we call “The Talk:”

– Keep your hands visible at all times. (He demonstrated where to position them on the steering wheel and suggested that placing them on driver’s side windowsill would be another option.)

– Over-communicate about every single move you make, from shifting to reach for your license to reaching to open your door.

– Stay calm and respectful and respond to all questions when asked. (Most people actually talk themselves INTO getting tickets, he said, because they can’t manage to stay calm.)

– If the situation permits, before placing your hands on the steering wheel or outside the window, call a parent and put him/her on speakerphone, so that there is a “third party witness to keep both of us safe.”

My son appreciated the feedback, which reinforced messages he has already heard from me and his dad and others in our “village.”

Sgt. Hugate, who is Caucasian, looked Mini-Me squarely in the eyes while informing him that yes – there are indeed some cops who shouldn’t be wearing badges or in the law enforcement field, because they don’t do what is right or good; but he is not one of them.

We didn’t discuss Charlottesville, Trayvon Martin, or any of the senseless violence that has occurred in many instances in between. In those few minutes in that high school parking lot, the olive branch he extended was an aha moment that even some officers are willing to be real and honest about the realities of what it takes to stay safe in this day and time.

Everyone wants to make it home alive.

Note: This post first appeared on Stacy’s Facebook page, on August 13, 2017. Due to the tremendous response it has received, she is posting it here and also on her Huffington Post blog.

Why Talk Is Cheap and How to Get Moving

By Stacy Hawkins Adams

Ever heard the phrase Don’t just talk about it, be about it?

It offers a nudge to stop explaining what we would do if there weren’t obstacles and to start doing something – anything – that moves us in the direction of our dreams.

A guest minister at the Virginia church I attend delivered an electrifying message yesterday that reiterated the importance of growing past one’s comfort zone. Her tone wasn’t fiery, but the truths she delivered were, and I thought they were worth sharing.  Here’s a paraphrased summary of the wisdom she imparted to encourage each listener to get up and get moving:

– If you really want something different, act like it.

– Don’t talk about wanting a change while settling comfortably into your longtime (uncomfortable) status quo, and don’t expect anyone else to do your heavy lifting.

– When you get serious about growing as a person and enlarging your territory, your desires can direct you to your destiny.

– Exceptional desire yields exceptional results.

– Every inch you take toward a new destiny moves you closer to actually achieving it, no matter how small your movement and no matter how long it takes. Your effort, multiplied by God’s grace, will get you there in His perfect timing.

– Do what you must in order to thrive, not just survive.

As the guest minister advised in her closing, we each must find the courage to stop living where we are not challenged, because in challenge comes change, and in change comes growth and opportunities to live out our unique purpose.

Are you up to the task? Are you ready to shift – to actually receive what you’ve long claimed you want? If so, now is the time. Today is your day. Go seize your victory – one prayer, coupled with one step, at a time.

(Note: The guest minister’s sermon was based on John 5:2-9.)

Writing from and for the Journey

By Stacy Hawkins Adams

I haven’t turned on my creative fiction juices in a while, because although I absolutely love manufacturing interesting characters and breathing life into them, I also have a deep love for nonfiction writing. Over the past year or so, I’ve focused my attention there.

I recently entered my 10th year of penning a parenting column for a daily newspaper in Richmond, Virginia; I launched this inspirational blog a few moths ago, and I occasionally write commentary for the Huffington Post.

Beyond those outlets, my “day job” of serving as Director of Communications for a private school in my community affords me an opportunity to do all kinds of writing – from marketing and advertising copy to social media posts to letters and other messaging that share the “how” and “why” of this school and its mission to produce service-minded leaders who make a difference locally and around the globe. All of this excites me.

And yet….the ideas for a new novel still rise to the surface every now and then, teasing me to consider what my 11th book could and should be. I’m not sure yet when that one will be birthed, but I already have a list of character names, a few potential plot ideas and even a tentative title.

I’m not ready to start writing the first draft because the ideas are still “baking.” I’ll know when the plot is just firm enough to put pen to paper, and then move those handwritten notes to my computer.

In the meantime, I’m doing my writer’s “homework”: Leaning into the gifts and opportunities that come with daily life, enjoying special moments with family and friends, overhearing compelling conversations or intriguing names that might make their way into my story, and taking in the scenery, sights and sounds around me, so that when I need these things most, they are a finger tap away in the notes section of my iPhone, or stored in my mental image bank.

I recently had the pleasure of joining an award-winning children’s author for dinner, and during our conversation, Newberry Medal winner Rita Williams-Garcia announced that she no longer writes under deadline. When the manuscript is ready – however long that may take – she intuitively knows, and she only writes The End at that point.

While many of us scribes may not have that luxury – or be disciplined enough to know the difference between being stuck and accepting that the project is substantive enough to move forward – learning about her method left me thinking that more of us should find the courage (or be extended opportunities) to give our words, ideas and stories the space to grow and mushroom into something fantastically wonderful.

If and when you can, I encourage my fellow writers to let your story marinate; let the words come on their own; let the characters show you who they are in their own time.

Because I’m not on deadline or under contract with a publisher at the moment, this is exactly what I’m doing. I’m also reading some great fiction, and books about the art of writing, along the way.

It’s an unsettling experience in some ways – especially when my readers say they’re ready for another book-  and I hate to keep readers waiting. Yet, in another way, it’s freeing, because I’m allowing the writer journey to unfold before me.

I’m confident that when my new characters are ready to meet the world, they’ll let me know. When they start nudging, I won’t be able to get them out of my head unless I tell their stories! Lol

Until then, I hope you’ll continue reading my current novels, the few fictional short stories I’ll be penning soon, and also my body of nonfiction writing. The mission of all of my work is to enlighten, uplift and inspire. I hope my fictional characters and my intriguing true-to-life subjects do just that for you.

Note: This essay was originally published on the Black Christian Reads blog, in July 2017.