Clarity in 2016

This week I noticed a lot of postings on social media about the 365 days ahead of us and how we should make it great, better than last year, write a new chapter and accomplish all of the things we didn’t due to lack of focus for the past 365 days. As we progress into the first week of 2016 there’s usually a great deal of clarity for me starting out but then once the chaos

Back Camera

of work, school, and activities that accompany these are in full swing again, the clarity slowly diminishes and I’m back to the “take one day at a time” mode on Monday and “Thank God Friday is just around the corner” mode by Wednesday.

I know many of you refuse to make formal New Year’s resolutions and while no one likes to set themselves up for failure, I still enjoy making my new year’s bucket list so here it is:

I vow to complete at least 3 writing and several painting projects that I started and didn’t complete no matter how awful I may think it is. I’ll allow others to be the judge.

I plan to take more family photos this year regardless of how much kicking and screaming I receive in return from my pack.

I will focus more on my career goals this year.

On a daily note, I will plan out meals so we don’t eat out during the week at all saving us both money and added calories.

I will focus on one of my bucket list items made years ago and take my written pilot exam and devote more time to learning how to fly-One of my lifelong dreams.

I will make the world a better place for others in some way.

Above it all, I will enjoy the gift of family and friendships we’ve been blessed to have through the years and make plans more often with those we only saw once or less in 2015.

So, there it is. Yes, my list is always longer than it should be with only 365 days to achieve all of the above so with that said, time management will be my challenge-something we can all improve. This is my first blog entry in quite some time so I’m off to a great start on this 4th day of 2016.  Cheers to all of you in 2016 and hoping each of you find clarity in your list of resolutions not only this week but throughout the year!

Today We Pray

"Never Forget"We can all recall where we were that day. You can probably still recall every sight, feeling and thought you experienced. You probably thought of a spouse, mother, father, brother, sister or friend that morning. For me, September 11th still seems like a snapshot ago. I was working for one of the major airlines that went down that day. I stayed in NYC the night prior. It was a gorgeous, sunny morning. We had a spectacular view of the city as we took off and headed west. We didn’t make it to our intended destination. Instead, we were directed to land in Little Rock, Arkansas, along with more than 75 other aircraft ranging from FedEx to Southwest, Delta to Northwest, American to United. There we sat on the tarmac, waiting in apprehensive silence. We were told to observe all passengers and determine if anything seemed “suspicious”. We had no idea what that meant or the magnitude of the horrifying tragedy in progress. Then, slowly, the news filtered in. Like everyone else, we were in shock. The news media arrived at the airport as we were taken into private employee areas and debriefed. We weren’t going home that day. Not a single airplane could be heard around or above us. I couldn’t get a cell call out for what seemed like hours at first. Finally, my phone lit up. The first was a call from my Dad who had awakened early on the west coast to witness the beginnings of 9/11. My parents knew I was in NYC so the time between breaking news and hearing my voice on the phone was terrifying. Every thirty minutes afterwards calls from family and friends filtered in. I felt sick to my stomach. None of us knew how to cope with such devastating news. The same feelings return every year on this date. The sights, sounds, emotions, and the memories of so many empty facial expressions.

Today We Remember. Today We Never Forget. Today we Vow to Never again allow our GREAT country to become complacent. Today, we are thankful for the men and women who perished trying to save others. Today we bow our heads and PRAY that we never experience another 9/11.

Peter’s Journey Published for the World to Read

The article I wrote about Peter Deng and his journey living as a ‘Lost Boy’ is now available for the world to read! If you have not read it yet, you can now view it at the link below. Thanks to all my loyal readers! My inspiration to write has always been there but my courage to publish is continuing to grow. I appreciate all of the encouragement and support!

Peter’s Journey on Yahoo News

Lost Boy Finds New Home in Texas

Peter was seated in the last seat in the back of the classroom. A gentle silence resonated around him. He didn’t ask questions but I knew he was listening by his constant eye contact and contagious smile. I was often left wondering why he always appeared so happy. I strained to understand his dialect, often asking Peter to repeat his questions. As the semester progressed, so did my understanding of not only his language but the core of who Peter Deng was. It wasn’t until the students turned in their first papers at midterm that I began to learn about this extraordinary young man’s journey from South Sudan to the United States.

If you met Peter Deng by chance, he would appear to be like any other hard working college student, earning money through a full time job at Lowe’s while devoting every other second of his time to a full college course schedule. But Peter is in a class that only a designated few can claim. Peter tells his life story with a brilliant smile, and overwhelming gratitude for his life blessings today. It’s difficult to understand where his gentle nature comes from after learning about his harsh and turbulent past. Peter’s soft spoken voice silenced the classroom while he told his story of survival. The mere fact that he survived his horrific childhood is nothing short of a miracle. He begins:

“It is a dream for me to be in America. You are all so lucky. I never imagined I would be standing here talking to you like this.” The room fell silent. “I am from the Sudan. I am one of the ‘Lost Boys of Sudan.’ I wrote in a journal and I will read you my story.”

 Wondering where I can begin without parents and friends around me. Looking confused and wondering where to go—east or west; north or south? Where can I begin here in the jungle of Africa full of aggressive, hungry wild animals and snakes? I am thirsty but nowhere to get water for drinking. The soil is hot and cracked, but I have no shoes on my feet. The desert atmosphere shimmers like a flame of fire. The blue sky seems to touch the end of the earth. I try to suck tree leaves to moisten my mouth, but they make my tongue dry. I walk overnight to avoid dehydration, but the night sky is dark and there is no light to guide my way. I fear being kidnapped by an evil hunter or our enemies who are traveling in the desert. Where can I begin with my empty stomach growling like an old engine refusing to start? I fill myself with leaves and fruit of unknown plants to fill my hungry stomach. Some plants taste sweet, sour, bitter, tasteless or nasty. Thank God almighty because I did not swallow poison.

 Peter was only nine years old when he began running. He was out in the field helping with the village livestock when fire broke out. Rebels from the Muslim North Sudan attacked his village in Bor and the only way to run was away from the fire into the jungles of Africa. His country has endured decades of fighting over religious and ethnic issues. Peter’s roots are embedded in the Christian Southern Sudan whose people have endured years of attacks by the Muslim North. Peter was one of 20,000 young boys escaping with their lives and the clothing on their backs. Some were separated from their families as young as five years old. The boys who were older looked after the younger ones taking on the role of big brothers and parents. Peter and thousands of other “Lost Boys” who survived sought refuge at the border of the Sudan and Ethiopia.

Peter continues:

Crossing the Nile River there are dangerous animals-crocodiles, hippopotamus, and turtles. Where can I begin? I do not know how to swim. I need help. Luckily the natives of that place manage to help. On the side of the river there is the last destination. I have met many lost boys of my age under the care of UNHCR (United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees) relief. Unfortunately, there is no shelter; we have to build our own houses. There is no medicine. If we are cold, there are no clothes to keep us warm. We are afraid and confused, but no security to protect us. There are no counselors or advisors to help. Not enough food. We survive with one meal a week or sometime there is nothing.

 Once in Ethiopia, there wasn’t much time before the war found them again. They were on the run, but this time, they were able to cross the border of Sudan and Ethiopia into Kenya where they walked thousands of miles on bare feet. But once in Kenya, life was not comfortable. Living as a refugee was described by Peter like living on death row. People survive, but not in a healthy state. There was once again, not enough food, limited shelter, poor sanitation, poor medical care, a lack of medication and little security or education. I looked around the classroom as Peter paused. Several students had wiped tears from their eyes. Peter takes a breath and begins again:

 Sometimes I ask myself what life I am in. I wake up in the morning, go to school while hungry, sit on mud benches under trees: Nature’s classroom. Wind blows away papers and tears my book, but I do not have a choice to quit because education is my weapon.

 Peter knew education held the key to not only his chance for survival, but to finding a more peaceful life. While in Kenya, he completed high school requirements in 2001. Afterwards he found enough self encouragement to train as a nurse and work with an international rescue committee helping others who were victims of this unforgiving war. For the next two years, he continued looking over his shoulder, escaping more rebel attacks.

When Peter’s story came to an end, the class was silent. Time seemed to stand still for about 30 seconds. The students sat staring and speechless. I’m fairly certain lives were affected that day by his presentation. Peter’s story is also told by other Lost Boys through interviews, books and movies, but what hasn’t been told is the story after the story. Do the Lost Boys ever reunite with their families? As a parent, can you imagine your 30 year old son knocking on your door after disappearing at nine years old in midst of war?

Peter was interviewed by several U.S. agencies that determined he would be part of a select group invited to the United States. He left his homeland sad but relieved, nervous but no longer running scared. Peter left his war stricken homeland without many possessions. All Peter could think about was how blessed he was to be a survivor headed for safety but he struggled with the emotional turmoil of moving so far away from his village while also wondering if they were still alive. He was determined to one day travel back to find them. Peter arrived in the United States on April 14, 2004.

Peter’s first American experience was in Atlanta, Georgia where he worked his first job as a night processor at Cargill Meat Solution and days at a local county jail. Two years later he relocated to Plano, Texas where he enrolled at Collin County Community College. Peter earned money for his living expenses and college tuition while working full time at Lowe’s. He managed to save enough money over the years to purchase a plane ticket back to his home country. After 22 years, Peter was finally able to return home in search of his family. He was happily reunited with his Mom and extended family members. In celebration, a cow was roasted in his honor.

After a delightful reunion, Peter returned to Texas anxious to complete his Associate’s degree. He then applied and was accepted into the nursing program at the University of Texas at Arlington. Peter’s perseverance in light of the obstacles he’s faced is astounding. Peter has financed his own education while supporting himself with a full time job all while keeping his goal of becoming a nurse constant. His determination and strong faith have empowered Peter to succeed.

In January 2011, the Southern Sudan voted and was officially granted separation from the north. It was a huge victory for Peter’s homeland.

Thinking back to our most traumatic experiences brings to light the fact that although it may have been years ago, time manages to reduce the impact of these incidents. Twenty years can seem like a lifetime ago for most of us. For Peter, however, living lost in the Sudan as a young boy still seems scary, surreal and not so long ago. On the run for more than 15 years after the outbreak of the civil war, Peter overcame the worst of human experiences. His appreciation of life in the United States can be felt when he shares his feelings about living here and knowing that his dreams have already been fulfilled beyond his expectations. My hope is that all Americans who meet Peter and other Lost Boys will welcome them with a kind hand shake and open arms to our country built on the freedoms that Peter’s homeland is only beginning to embrace.

For more information on the “Lost Boys of Sudan” and the war that divided Sudan visit:

BBC News: Sudan’s Lost Boys in America

George Clooney: Endgame in Sudan

Movie: God Grew Tired of Us (Trailer)

Transferring Writing Cells To Paper

On of my favorite topics to write about is people–Ordinary people who accomplish extraordinary things. I’ve had the priviledge of meeting some extraordinary people, but none as impressive as a student I taught two years ago in a health class. His smile lit up my classroom, but when he spoke, he was difficult to understand. When he turned in his health goals for the semester, I had a tough time deciphering the sentences. We’ll call my former student, “Chris” for now. I asked Chris to meet with me after class so I could direct him to the college writing center for some assistance. I learned that day that Chris was one of the “Lost Boys of The Sudan”. Since that day, I have learned more from Chris about human faith and strength than I ever imagined. Chris has become a friend with a family-like connection to us. Chris told me that semester was a turning point in his life. He says that his dream to go into the medical field became a reality for him. I talked about setting goals and accomplishing dreams that semester because that is what makes us feel emotionally healthy. Chris came to the United States alone, not knowing if he would ever see his family again after being on the run for more than 15 years from the age of 9. He found a job in Atlanta, worked hard, saved up some money, moved to Texas and entered college. He completed his associate’s degree and is now working towards his degree in nursing. Chris inspired me to write an article about his life so that maybe he will inspire others who feel hopeless. After learning more about what Chris has survived to pursue a better life, my hope is that kids and adults alike will see a glimmer of hope in their own lives and realize that we have so much in the United States. We have an abundance of opportunity surrounding us. We have gifts that we allow to be buried in all the distractions that life has to offer. Chris’s story might help inspire all of us to stop wasting time and pursue our dreams.

I am working on Chris’s story and I will share it with you once I have completed it. I look forward to your feedback!