Birthday Thoughts

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SpecialBirthdayEach year I take a pause before, on or shortly after my birthday to reflect on the blessings of celebrating another year, as well as where I’ve been, where I am and where I hope I am headed. This year was no different. After quite a bit of travel over the last few years and a little too much movement during what is supposed to be a “summer vacation,” I opted for a road trip to the Midwest. Yes, to the Midwest – through the beautiful rolling hills of Tennessee and Kentucky – and I couldn’t have asked for a more relaxing and peaceful drive. Our final destination was a weekend with family and friends, once again the perfect getaway.

During the drive and a few stolen moments while away, I continued to take mini breaks to journal and reflect on my life up until this point: what lessons have I learned? Am I actively using those lessons? Am I pleased with the choices I’ve made? What will I attempt to do differently in the coming years? Are there people I need to reconnect with? Forgive?

These and other questions such as these are what occupied many of my quiet moments. During most years, I am either actively living my dreams or preparing to make a shift to get closer to them. This year was such a pleasant affirmation of this trend. Although a few things have shifted around in the last couple of years, I can’t say that I am displeased – or perplexed – by the positioning that I find myself in. Mid-year I am on target with my goals for the year and my vision board reflects much of this. I am not only excited about where I am – personally and professionally – but I have made decisions that shape both my immediate and distant future as they relate to me fully using my gifts and talents, embracing and nurturing sacred time with loved ones, and creating spaces to listen and grow closer to the divine forces in my life. I am pleased!

So this year as I share just a snippet of my birthday reflections, I close by asking you if your life reflects the same. Are you currently living or working on living a life that is indicative of your authentic self? Are you making strides to ensure that you’re operating fully in and with the gifts you’ve been granted? When your next birthday rolls around will you indeed be pleased?

My Year Without Alcohol

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NoAlcoholLast year I culminated the celebration of my birthday in Jamaica. It was one of the very first girlfriend trips I’d taken in a long time and I had a blast. Like many other all-inclusive vacations, we were lavished with beautiful – and tasty 🙂 – cocktails and I enjoyed my share of them. While I indulged in island adult beverages leisurely during my time away, I also did so responsibly and for many reasons, including my still very new commitment (at the time) to my weight loss journey. For me, cocktails translated to unnecessary sugar which translated to increased belly flab. Therefore while I enjoyed I did so in moderation.

After I returned from vacation, I knew I wanted to continue my weight loss journey and found that abstaining from alcohol was an easy way to cut back on unnecessary calories. Done. A few months later I decided to stand in solidarity with a very close friend of mine. By doing so, I extended my abstention through the end of the year. By the beginning of this year, I decided to keep going – why not???

This month marks a full year since I have had an alcoholic beverage and while I still don’t have the six pack I knew my abstention would surely bring J, I am 40 lbs. lighter (of course, not exclusively due to leaving the cocktails alone) and have learned a great deal along the way. During this year of turning down drinks, taking glasses that were given without me asking and watching the plethora of responses people give when I decline a drink I have learned:

– While some celebrations can be made a little more enjoyable with a few adult beverages, I have taken issue with an inability to have an enjoyable time without alcohol. I cannot count the number of occasions when I was asked why I was not having a drink and looked upon with pity when I replied that I’d chosen not to. Or how many times someone has said our time together just won’t be enjoyable without drinking. Or even worse, the moments when I was looked at with disdain and my abstinence used as a topic of ridicule and jest.

– It is no secret that there are those moments when foolish things happen as (or after) the beverages are flowing too freely and our inhibitions are a little too low. More times than not these moments are innocent and make for a good laugh later on, but sometimes there are not …

– While I have had some wonderful times partying with friends, having a few beers, wine or some other mixed cocktail, I am much more interested in sharing moments over a grand cup of coffee or tea, engaging conversation and a few ideas to ponder and take away. I have grown to sincerely enjoy my friends and loved ones who find joy in simple pleasures without all the “fixings.”

– And I cannot underestimate or devalue the amount of clarity and focus this time has brought. This is not always the most pleasant place to be when you’re one of few in the room residing there, but it has some value. During times when alcohol was heavily involved, I was able to see parties from a different perspective, public actions with another lens and even how we interact with one another during these times in a new light. All very interesting and almost novel to me.

I am not sure how long this will last, but as I approach another birthday I have committed to continuing my alcohol abstinence journey. Let’s see what the next few months bring. Could you give up a month, a season, a year of something that has become such a norm for many circles?

My Life’s Work

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Purpose1As I prepare – both mentally and otherwise – to embark upon another professional journey this fall, I have often questioned the paths I have chosen and those that have chosen me. Lately, I have asked if I am sure that this path is for ME? Why THIS degree? Why THIS school? Why another 3-4 years? But after spending the holiday weekend at home with my family, I am reminded of why the work I do professionally is so important to me; it is so much more than work, it is my life. It is literally a matter of life and death – for those who I have known my entire life and for those who will grow up in the community that I call home.

This past weekend as I looked around I was reminded of the vastness of my family. I have friends whose parents and grandparents have known college campuses as far back as they can remember. And there are others who are from lines of prominent preachers and pastors, school administrators, political leaders and the like. My family represents a vastness somewhere in between: those who have traveled the world, earned PhDs and are administrative leaders … but also those who have barely left our small town, those who have never flown on a plane and those who cannot imagine a life other than that of which they presently know.

Much of the work I am committed to is for the latter. And although I don’t foresee moving back to my small town any time in my near or distant future 🙂 I am not naïve enough to think that my hometown does not parallel many others across the country: small towns of people who lack access to affordable and quality care; small towns where HIV testing is a foreign concept; small towns where sex and drugs become recreational activities, but these challenges are not addressed in the larger arenas; small towns where people think about “making it out.” The work I do is my commitment to my hometown and those like it across the U.S. And my visits home are not only special and sacred time with my family, but reminders to remain grounded, stay committed to community work and to never forget why my career field is about more than top dollar research grants, numerous publications or the latest replicated intervention … it is a matter of life and death – literally – for so many whom I love.

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