Mother, sister, friend, survivor, thriver, author extraordinaire, Maya Angelou epitomizes what it means to be perfectly imperfect and to have the courage to embrace every fiber of your being so that you can continue to grow into your greatest self. As I continue to write about embracing our uniqueness, she continues to be my guiding light. Learn more about her by reading her biography and many splendid book. My favorite has always been, I Know Why the Caged Birds Sing.
When and why did you begin writing?
I was a very shy child so the only way that I could express myself was with a pen. I excelled in classes that were graded based on writing skills. I had a vivid imagination and would create elaborate stories. I promised myself that one day I would write them all. Over the years, I have written many stories but Growing into Greatness with God: 7 Paths to Greatness for our Sons & Daughters is the one that I had to give birth to before I could publish the others. It was inspired by my experiences growing up in a small, relatively poor town in St. Thomas, Jamaica. This book is a “thank you” to God; it is an acknowledgment of how he blessed and sustained me in good and bad times, and a testimony to other children that he can do the same for them.Read More
It all started in church. I gained my confidence in a little church in St. Thomas, Jamaica, called the Hampton Court Seventh Day church. That church was where I learned and recited bible scriptures, sung gospel songs and recited poetry. It is where I made some of my best childhood friends, picked cherries from the best cherry tree in town and listened to the sermons that inspired me to keep God the center of my life.
The book, Growing into Greatness with God, was born from those early bible study groups in church. The stories of young David (the boy who defeated the Giant), Daniel (a man who stood without fear among lions), Solomon (the wise judge) and Ruth (the loyal friend), as well as many others, all resonated with me. We were too poor to afford the latest toys and there was no television in our home so these characters became my heroes. We were poor but it didn't define our lives; we were rich in love, faith and community, and we had big dreams.
In the book, Growing into Greatness with God, the words of wisdom that accompany the stories are inspired by all the advice given to me by my mothers, grandmothers, aunts, uncles, cousins and all the "old souls" that entered my early life. I grew up in a house where family, faith, good food and hard work were celebrated. A two bedroom house housed 3 generations. It wasn't unusual for an 11 year old to walk 1/2 mile to fetch water before school, walk home, get ready for school, walk at least 1/2 mile to school, be respectful and attentive, participate in field day, take the long walk home with friends (not forgetting to stop and say hello to all the neighbors), pick fruit or dig yams for dinner, complete homework assignments, and end the day by having dinner and fellowship with family. That was my daily life growing up in Jamaica. I didn't fully appreciate it back then.
In 1982, I moved to Philadelphia to live with my mother and my brothers. I had to adjust to a new country, a new household and the typical middle school anxieties. I was a shy, introverted child and I struggled to find my voice; it didn't help that my voice had a very strong Jamaican accent. For many years, I didn't speak up as much as I needed to - I feared saying the wrong words and getting into trouble; I feared be teased because of my accent; I wasn't familiar with the sound of my own voice. Fortunately, my upbringing gave me a quiet confidence. I was a good writer, a good student and I had a small group of good friends.
I went to Murrell Dobbins High School, a vocational high school and followed the business track. With my typing and short-hand skills, I was prepared to be the best administrative support staff in Philadelphia. That was my plan B. College was not an option for me; it was a requirement. I always knew that I was going and when my older brother, Mark encouraged me to attend Penn State University, I jumped at the chance to follow in his footsteps. I connected with the Caribbean Student's Association, joined a vibrant church and happily settled into life in Happy Valley. It was there that I discovered that, at heart, I was a peacemaker. I ditched my Business major and chose Labor and Industrial Relations - I wanted to help people solve problems.
Why would an introvert go to law school? Those who knew me well were puzzled because they had visions of the typical loquacious courtroom lawyers from all the popular television shows. That was not my path; I wanted a job were I could be quiet, competent and effective. Boston College Law School, a wonderful Jesuit institution gave me the tools that I needed to find the voice that I didn't really realize that I had lost. I gravitated towards small classes with grades based on writing assignments. In a small-group class, I turned in a paper that I was really proud of; the professor commented that it was excellent but it was not in my voice. I hadn't spoken much in class so my voice was really a mystery. That is when I learned that it wasn't enough to let my writing speak for me, I had to let my voice be heard in all areas of my life.
About 8 years into my legal career, I was blessed to be appointed as an Administrative Law Judge for the District of Columbia government. It was the dream job that allowed me to hear cases, issue decisions, and participate in mediating disputes. My voice was heard in the courtroom and in written decisions but in a quiet, substantive manner that would make any introvert happy. When you find that thing that you are passionate about, it frees you up to live a well-rounded life. I now spend my time raising my three boys, writing and reading inspirational books, practicing law, participating in religious and community life and running as often as I can.
Growing into Greatness with God is about finding the unique talent that God has blessed you with, nourishing that skill and using it to be of service. My journey began in a small town in Jamaica and is being realized in the United States. It started with the wonderful bible stories that allowed me to believe that with God everything is possible. It began with the principles of faith, family, hard-work, community and bonding over good, healthy food. I hope that the book, Growing into Greatness with God: 7 Paths for our Sons & Daughter reflects those principles and that everything that I have learned on my journey, thus far, can help a child realize that he or she was born with greatness. Regardless of your circumstances, you can become all that God has ordained for your life. The journey continues.
Most of you know that I am raising 3 boys but only those who know me well know that I sponsor 2 girls. As a mother of 3 boys, I was happy to add to my family by sponsoring 2 lovely daughters. I grew up in a small house in Jamaica with a large blended family. I understand hard work. I understand poverty. I also understand that if a house is filled with love and a child's basic needs of food, water, housing, love and a good education, they can grow into the greatness that God has already instilled in them.
I sponsored my 2 girls on Compassion Sunday at my church. A member approached me after her testimony about the program and showed me all the beautiful children that were in need of support. When I looked into the eyes of my girls, I knew that I wanted to be a part of their lives. Over the past 3 years, I have watched them blossom into lovely young ladies. I now call them family.
Compassion International organizes many trips so that families can connect. My goal is to visit them soon.
Every child is born with greatness. Adults can help them discover their unique gifts.
by Janet Autherine
I believe in heaven but
if this life ends and there is no mansion in the sky and
I just return to the dirt from whence I came,
I want ashes to ashes, dust to dust to be a song of joy and revival.
In this life
My heart gave more love than it could contain
My soul was a conduit for spiritual and physical love and harmony
My mind expanded beyond the text books to the endless possibilities of the universe
My hands reached out indiscriminately to help family, friends and strangers
My body was a vessel to be treasured but not an obsession
My feet were never too tired to dance or run the last mile.
You see, I have always been in my heaven but now I am one with the earth again.
Grass happily grows on me without the need for fertilizers
Roses and hibiscus plants flourish and bloom beautiful flowers in my soil
Organic vegetables thrive as nature intended and nourish the world
Happy couples sit on a bench over me and feel the love that I carried inside of me
The elderly are comforted even knowing that they may be joining me soon
My loved ones rub me between the palm of their hands and find peace.
A well-lived life on earth is the beginning of my heaven.
Today, empower the child in you to break free and live the life that you have always dreamed. You are unique. You matter. You were born with greatness. Take the hand of a child and remind her that she is strong, beautiful and growing into her greatness. Tell her to be fearless. Every child matters. A key tenet of greatness is service. Uplifting a child is serving and uplifting the world; it is our gift to the next generation, so give generously.
I have been home sick for a few days now. Since I rarely get sick, this was quite unexpected. A few days ago, I wrote the following quote:
That thought popped into my mind as I was laying in bed wondering what I could do while still sick. I sent the family off to church this morning and stayed home to rest. While watching Oprah's Super Soul Sunday, Dr. Robin Smith described the quote below as one of the best advice she had received; it came from her mother.
Lesson learned. I am uncomfortable being still for more than 15 minutes. I meditate and pray in the mornings but that is for a short period. I still have six months worth of magazines to read because I cannot sit still long enough to focus on them. It is challenging to be a writer or succeed in almost any venture if you cannot hear your own voice. I resolve that this week, I will sit still for 30 minutes for a minimum of three days. Since I need to be productive, I will call it "silent productivity." Join me! Think happy thoughts, pray or mediate on your goals and your dreams.