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!
I watched an interesting movie the other night entitled, “Limitless”, about a writer (starring Bradley Cooper) struggling with years of writer’s block who stumbles upon a wonder pill allowing him to unlock ALL of his brain’s potential, not just the ceiling of 20% that a majority of the human race supposedly utilizes. I won’t give the entire story line away in case some of you are planning on watching it, but by the end of the movie, his future supplier (played by Robert DeNiro), owns the key to this writer’s future (or so you are led to believe), however the movie may leave you wondering if he had the ability to unlock his brain’s potential all along without the assistance of the little clear pill. It left me wondering what we are all missing out on within ourselves. I’m quite certain that if in our lifetime most of us only access 20% of our brain’s potential then I was most likely accessing only about 2-3% during high school and maybe 4% during my early college career. I may have spiked at about 15% during my latter college days while making the dean’s list. I’m sure my capacity has dwindled over the years. As a writer, I’m curious about the other 80%. I wonder if the secret is simply sparked by pushing and motivating ourselves beyond what we typically believe we are capable of achieving. Like the writer in the movie, I store all sorts of great story ideas but channeling it all onto paper must take at least another 30% of my unlocked potential. I wonder what my other friends and family are storing away, having yet to let the rest of us in on their internal greatness? I have a friend who has challenged herself over the past few years to run her first races leading up to some pretty intimidating triathlons. Maybe all of that negative talk in our minds is part of our inability to open and express our most treasured gifts. So as you embark on your next goal, I wonder what your key will be to unlocking some of that hidden potential. Remember, there’s at least 80% of your brain just waiting to be unleashed!
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.
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)
Technology has forever changed not only changed the platform of learning but how we will view the “old” way of communicating with others—The Handwritten Letter. Over the years, I’ve stored away letters from family members and friends that I felt were special, funny or significant to a place in time I knew would be interesting to read years later. Some are stored away so well that I probably won’t find them unless I go digging around in the depths of boxes stored in our attic. Faded with time, many won’t even be readable in the next few years. I’ve held onto the idea of publishing a collection of old letters that tell a story. Now that I’m spending more time on my hobby with hopes that you will all be downloading one of my books on your kindles one day, that project is underway and I’m hoping that some of you might be willing and interested in contributing. So, while you are spring cleaning and de-cluttering, please consider donating or sharing your antique letters with me. As I embark on this project, I’ll be open to any letter that you held onto for all of these years–maybe a correspondence with a friend or from our own parents to one another. I want to know the story–why have you kept it so long–was there an ending to that story or was it left without an ending? I’m already off to a great start thanks to my Mom who struggles with tossing out anything with family history attached to it. She’s held onto letters from her parents, grandparents, friends of grandparents and friends of her own from her young adult years. I can’t wait to see what you might have in store for me! I cannot accept anonymous letters but it will all be kept confidential and names can be changed to protect the innocent!
It’s not often that I listen to the television during the day, but this morning, I just happen to have it on while catching up on some work and a familiar topic immediately caught my attention. I was almost stunned at the timing of this report based on the most recent article I posted on life balance. Erica Hill, a reporter on the CBS Early Show decided to try living a healthier lifestyle by setting goals to sleep at least 8 hours per night, prepare healthier meals for her family, work out at least 30 minutes per day and consume at least 9 servings of vegetables per day. While she has the benefit of working with a trainer and nutritionist, even with help she is not finding it easy to balance young children, her career and achieving her new health goals. Here is a video clip from her segment this morning. I thought it was worth sharing.
Nature versus Nurture
Motherhood has been the most rewarding quest I’ve ever had the opportunity to experience. But the title of “MOM” also brought something into my life I had never truly understood—Balance—and I’m not referring to balancing in gymnastics (although it may feel this way at times). Family/Work balance was something I thought I understood as I prepared information for employees at the American Heart Association years ago during a summer long internship program. I look back on that now and realize I had absolutely no clue what I was talking about. I recall thinking to myself what’s so hard about this—you work, go home and prepare a healthy meal, work out and get a good night’s sleep, right? I laugh now at the naïve young lady who thought she had it all figured out while preaching to those working moms. I’m certain they must have walked away with some eye rolling and head shaking hoping that one day I would realize I didn’t get it. Time management, prioritizing and controlling my tendency to over-commit is what my life looks like now. Although technically I don’t work full time, I do when you consider that I teach part-time, instruct a fitness class two evenings a week, run a household and work extra hard to prepare as many meals at home as possible to keep it healthy. In between all of this, I’m spending more time on writing. This week, I talked with several other moms that are struggling with this whole life balance thing. Without coming out and saying it, I could tell they were frustrated with not devoting more time to themselves health-wise. I’ve been thinking of what to write about next on my blog and there it was right in front of me. I recently spoke to a mom’s group at my church about health and fitness. Although initially the discussion was focused on this topic, in the end, we were talking about taking care of ourselves—taking time out—nurturing ourselves emotionally and keeping our stress levels in check. One of the most frustrating parts of motherhood is not spending enough time to decompress. It’s part of a mom’s nature to nurture her family first by taking care of the house, laundry, errands, meal preparation, managing after school activities—where does the list end? So, I will say here what I have said in my wiser mom years, take care of yourself FIRST! By taking care of you first, everything else will gently fall into place.
For me, working out has always been my own form of stress relief and decompression. By the 30 minute time marker, I normally take the deepest breath during the day and I can physically feel my body more relaxed. This may sound strange but I’ve always turned to fitness as a relaxer—physically and emotionally—I need it. If I don’t get my workout in during the day, it’s immediately obvious that I don’t feel good and my happiness monitor on a scale of 1-10 (10 =happiest ) creeps to a number somewhere between 1-5. My husband has learned over the years when I haven’t had my workout fix and he is more than accommodating when I need to shut down and have my own time. Get your workouts in, set a goal to eat healthier, and take some time each day, even if it’s 15-30 minutes to take a bubble bath, read a good book or just sit outside and enjoy the fresh air in peace. Remember: If Mom goes down, the entire ship goes down! You are not being selfish—you are placing your family first by placing MOM at the top of the “To Do” list!
3 John 1:2 ESV
Beloved, I pray that all may go well with you and that you may be in good health, as it goes well with your soul.
I don’t remember what year is was, but I remember buying Stephen King’s, “On Writing” in an airport one day. I was struggling to find my voice, and although I had not ever made it through a Stephen King novel before then (his stories scared me silly) , I LOVED this book. It motivated me. I realized that he was just another human being with great stories stored away waiting for the right time to come out–and once they did–he was sensational!
So what is it that keeps us, the ones with those stories locked in our minds, from achieving that same success? Why is it we allow our characters to be locked away without the freedom to finish their stories? Can you imagine how sad it would be for our favorite characters to be locked away and for those great stories to never be told? What separates great writers from writers who are yet to achieve greatness? Is that separation a distraction of a phone call? Or the hundreds of forwarded emails we actually take the time to read everyday? Or the facebook status updates, twitters, tweeters, and texts? It’s time for us to focus writers! To cut out the distractions (except for my blog of course) and to allow our characters to come alive on paper! So get writing!