Saturday, October 20, 2012

The Cycle of Life and Dodging Bricks to the Face

It’s been a long week starting with Wednesday, there were 250 lay-offs at the University of Phoenix based on an 5-year auditing by an independent company of each position within all areas of the work force, nationally. (I don’t like surprises and I hate to feel like a statistic.) All in one day, I lost friends, managers and learned 56% percent of my colleagues/me were being dispersed to all the college divisions (10 Schools), only 19 would remain with our department. It was also announced another 550 individuals were losing their jobs before 2013 because 112 campuses and/or learning centers were being closed and all students transferred to online.

My job classification within my department got a band-aid, “if your new (unknown) manager or Dean allows telecommuting, you can get one-day of telecommuting as compensation if you continue your employment with them after 90 days. If you decide to stay with IDD, you will also receive the same opportunity.”

However, there was no mention of where the mysterious 32 laptops for those “non-senior employees” would come from. I am 1 of only 12 people who have a laptop and I’m not handing it over like it’s a piece of bread. I became a senior employee over two years ago by earning it through countless hours of giving 300% and I’ve maintained the top being in the top 25% for over two years… you are going to pry this piece of plastic from my lifeless fingers. In fact, you can only have it, if you hand me something better.

I digress.

Next, was the instruction to fill out a preference sheet #1-11. You have to decide your “preference” based on which college division you thought would pick you or if you really wanted to stay with our department. It’s hard to consider doing this without knowing which college division values your work enough to pick you for as their preferred #1 or #2 new positions allocated to their teams (and they could only pick 2-3 people out of 44… without contacting you directly.)

I should have called my dad on Wednesday when I first got the information, but it coincided with my mom’s death, I was overly emotional and I just didn’t want to make his day even more of a burden. At least I had Zach’s birthday to be happy about, right? Well, except I was so demolished by the day, I didn’t sleep that night and just worked through the night because I need to not obsess about impeding doom.

I won’t lie… Thursday morning, I went into strategist mode like it was survivalist mode. I qualitatively surveyed random samplings of my competitors/non-threats, just to figure out that the advice my dad gave me at 6am that morning was the best strategy. Sigh, I wasted four hours determining I just needed to be straightforward. I have tip-toed around Deans and Executive Management for 4 years and that was not who I am. I know who I want to work with and they are the best, or it’s not worth the risk of losing what I already have. Should’ve done what dad suggested that morning, because 35+ years at General Electric playing the politics of being a smart and experienced man, without a piece of paper, makes you a darn good strategist.

So sent an email, met with the director, met associate director and said the truth. I got truth back, they already had a list from the college divisions who their 2-3 picks were and their placement is based on when the numbers are a match. With the email already sent, the play was in motion.

Then wait, anxiously.

I got an email at 7:51am Friday morning confirming a match in numbers. So, all I can say right now is if it’s true: my life, my daughter’s life and my husband’s life, got a whole lot better overnight. I will still contribute the same, spend the time, and even work harder... but be in an environment, where I will be respected and trusted based on my performance. I won’t actually say anything officially until Wednesday when it is announced because… I am sort of in disbelief and feel like it’s too good to be true.

My Brookline class felt a little more secure that they would still see their Professor every Friday, same time, same place.

So being high on life, chanting for it to be true,
I get a brick to the face out of the blue.

A former student calls my phone, I answer knowing the number and he is screaming in the phone at me (now I haven’t seen him or talked to him months) and only continued to answer his calls because I was trying to be pay forward the favor, similarly as one Professor did by just believing in me, when I hit rock bottom. So I know he has several severe “emotional disorders” and at first, I was more worried about what he might do to himself… so I tried to talk to him.

He goes off on a rant, saying he is going to blackmail me… but couldn’t answer the question – what is it I did? or exactly how blackmail would work? (When you know you haven't done anything wrong it's kind of impossible to get blackmailed and more impossible for someone to logically answer the question.) He was seriously talking crazy and in circles (without me even able to speak) then hangs up.

So I call him back, calmingly asking him, please talk to me, tell me what’s going on. Then he says, he is going to call the cops and tell them I sell drugs. At this point, I was so confused and alarmed because the law enforcement in Arizona is intimidating even when you know you are innocent… because I was speechless, he hangs up.

So again, I call him back and proceed to try to get the screaming, raging, lunatic to stop and ask him to please just tell me what’s going on. He starts bawling over the phone, saying that I needed to call his girlfriend and make her let him in her house. So I persuaded his to disclose his location, he is apparently outside of his girlfriend's house, found her with some other guy, and she won’t let him in and somehow this is all “my fault… not hers, not his. Mine.

At this point, he threatens to hurt me and my family and... hangs up on me again. So, I relocate myself and my daughter to our “safe room” because the student does knows where I live. Then, I start searching online to find out what the official policy is for Maricopa Community Colleges if the professor receives a threat. At one point, before class a year ago, I had to talk him down because of the emotional disorders, so I didn't call 911 because I believed that I could do it again.  However, I went into accountability mode - I didn't want this lunatic showing up or hurting anyone, so I try to contact Maricopa Community College Safety.

I called six different numbers including Maricopa Emotional Safety’s number……… over twelve times. No one ever answered. Glad I am so safe as a faculty member. (Sarcasm.)
Zach is aware of the situation and decides to go buy smokes. (He is seriously never alarmed by anything, with I was that confident.)

My phone rings again, it is the student again. Now I am directly pissed because he's affected my evening with my family (after obviously a long emotional week).  So he got an unexpected verbal whiplashed, I proceed to tell him how he has two choices to make on how the rest of his night is going to go. 1) He’s going to stop acting like a crazy person, leave that location immediately, shut up listen to me and apologize to my daughter for ruining her night or 2) I’m call 911, the cops are coming for you, not me, and your going to jail for threatening me. Concluding with, choose what you do next wisely, because a Professor with no criminal record is a lot more reliable than a person who is screaming crazy talk in the middle of the damn street.

There’s silence.

I say, “well…” He says ok I will go home.

So I say, “I will call you in 15 minutes and you better be ready to listen and fucking apologize for this shit.” I hang up.

10 minutes later….

He calls me, says he’s home, and proceeds to bawl and apologize a million times… he had biked to his girlfriend’s house, where he found her not alone, she wouldn’t let him in because there was another guy there and he thought if he could get me to call her I could persuade her to let him in her house.

He bawls some more. I am silent.

I tell him what he needs to hear “If you ever do this shit unprofessional again, I will call the cops on your crazy ass because I have only ever tried to help you with kindness and respect. If you need to talk because shit happens, you manage your damn rage and make a civil phone call because I am not your enemy... but pulling another stunt like this, will make me your enemy. 

The only reason, I continue to give you guidance, is to help you through your problems in a positive way. You do not want me as your enemy. You get what you give, your actions are mirrored, when you involve others. Negative actions will only ever get you a negativity response.

I will not tolerate you bringing me or my family, into your personal matter. I will not tolerate threats of violence or whatever you lie you rationalize during your emotional rage, in an effort to blackmail me because you think I can convince someone to take action.  I also will never take action on anyone over anything on your behalf, especially when I know you are emotionally enraged and unstable.

He apologizes to the room while on speaker and says he knew it was wrong.  (This lasted for 30+ minutes, while I listened with bleeding ears.)

So after the craziness, Zach went to bed, Nina and I watched tv… I decide to vent through writing until 2:30am because I’ve dealt with a bit too many surprises this week and I am a little shaken.

I just hope that everything next week goes better than this week, because I'm not sure how many more bricks to the face I can take, without having to take a time out for sanity.

Monday, October 8, 2012

My Faith Experience and Lessons Learned at the Florida Nature and Culture Center

My faith experience begins with the seeking spirit for confidence, but that was not necessarily realized at the beginning of my journey.  It’s relevant to start my experience at the beginning of the story, for you to truly understand my takeaway, from my visit to the Florida Nature and Culture Center.   
My story started really about two years ago, searching for the correct Buddhist path.  My colleague, Stephanie Thomas, shared her mom practiced SGI Buddhism, along with another one of our colleagues named, Susan Brewer.  Even though, I thought asking about religious views at work, could be interpreted very taboo. I was genuinely interested in SGI practice after reading some of President Ikeda’s writing from the SGI-USA website. 
By coincidence, (the mystic law, really) within a week, I shared the elevator alone with Susan Brewer.  We were both leaving work for the day and I thought, this is definitely the best opportunity to inquire about SGI with the least amount of potential workplace conflict.  Susan and I sat outside the building, talking for at least thirty minutes and she promised to locate a district near my home and invited me to be her guest. 
My first meeting at Red Mountain District, I also brought my daughter, Nina, who was only 3 years old at the time.  Our visit gave me insight that I could not ignore. There was an obvious connection that Nina and I both shared with the surrounding environment.  I was given the freedom to ask deep questions about the practice, received deeper responses, and listened to shared personal experiences of actual proof, specifically from Susan, Sally Marks, Tomo and Alicia White. Based on the knowledge from that meeting and the intense gut feeling that of the environment feeling so right, I joined SGI and began practicing immediately. 
Shortly after I began practicing, I made my first determination to shakabuku my close friend, Morgan Le Seth and her son, Danero.  Morgan and I both shared general Buddhist perspectives and had previously talked about going to a Buddhist meeting together.  Based on my personal experience, I was confident that if Morgan visited a Red Mountain District meeting, she would see the same value as I had.  Only one month later, Morgan and Danero were my guests and joined the practice during their first visit, just as I had. 
For most of the first year, I read a lot of study materials, participated in planning and district meetings, and attended Sunday with Sensei as often as I could.  Nina and I chanted together at home and though skeptical of organized religion, my husband, Zach supported our practice of Buddhism. At this time, he had not attended any SGI meetings or activities because there was no interest or proven benefit in his eyes.  It was just something he respected as my personal view, and he supported my perspective. 
This past winter when it was announced that the Youth Division would be singing a song at New Year’s Gongyo Nina insisted on participating. I gladly brought her to practice each weekend necessary, even though she was only 4 years old at the time, she loved learning the song and dance moves and did perform during the 2012 New Year’s Gongyo.  We also attended the event as an entire family because Zach would never miss out on an opportunity to watch his family shine with happiness doing what they love. New Year’s Gongyo really inspired my decision to increase my participation in another SGI activity, after watching the beautiful dance performance by the members of United Colors for Kosen Rufu group. 
It had been thirteen years, since I had danced or performed on a stage, but I was inspired by Nina’s high life condition while participating in the Youth Division activities.  I too loved to sing, dance and participated in many drama performances when I was in high school.  Recalling those moments, I remembered the sincere happiness it brought to me and the pride it brought to my parents.  So I believed joining the dance group would reignite that sincere enjoyment and create even more happiness in my life.  I attended the first dance group meeting in January and I was overjoyed to learn that both my daughter and I could be part of the group.  Emmanuelle remembered Nina from teaching the Youth Division the dance portion of the song they performed at New Year’s Gongyo and said, “I would love for you to bring her next week.”
Truth be told, when I went to the first dance practice, I realized it was a lot harder than I remembered it was.  Even though I was confident in all the other aspects of my life, I just couldn’t bring that confidence out during dance practice.  I couldn’t understand why I was having so much trouble learning it, but I didn’t quit.  In fact the opportunity to help the group in a different capacity occurred.  I was very proud to help the dancers by capturing the moment through recording their submission video for the First Annual Ikeda Youth Ensemble.  These ladies have all inspired me in so many ways, and when they were selected to represent our territory; I was so genuinely happy I knew they would have continued success at the Ikeda Youth Ensemble in May.
Even with individual dance lessons from my close friend, Khushboo, I was unable to learn the dance in its entirety prior to the conference and also was not able to perform it for Sunday with Sensei.  I felt very defeated by not getting the opportunity to attend the Ikeda Youth Ensemble.  So I asked Alicia White for some guidance and she suggested, we meet with Lori, the Women’s Division inspiration in the dance group and to my complete shock, Lori gave it to me straight, “You don’t have any confidence when you dance, you don’t believe in yourself. You always doubt yourself, so you are never going to get to dance with that attitude.” 
Ok, that was officially the first reality check, I had experienced in the practice.  Unfortunately, my initial internal feelings were self-denial because I felt so confident in every other aspect of my life.  But after discussing the conversation, I had with Lori and Alicia with Zach, he reworded Lori’s intended message in a slightly more gentle perspective.  He said, “She wasn’t saying you aren’t a confident person, Lori was saying you needed to apply that confidence to your dance practice or you will never really get it.” 
I realized they both were completely right.  I was no longer the confident stage performer I was in high school.  I did doubt my ability to remember the dance moves, to stay in rhythm with the group and I felt like I stuck out like a sore thumb. As the dance group continued to practice for the Ikeda Youth Ensemble, they group were asked to dance at Daisaku Ikeda Week and planned to learn a Hawaiian dance number from another SGI member, Dolly Abad. 
My first impression of Dolly was her genuine Hawaiian spirit, energy and confidence.  Dolly taught us more than how to dance; she inspired true Ohana spirit in the dance group.  (Ohana is the word for family in the Hawaiian culture.)  With that same spirit, I made the determination to learn the Hula dance, no matter what, even if it took private lessons, a deeper understanding of the Hawaiian culture and chanting more daimoku than ever before.  I was going to do it all. 
While researching the Hawaiian culture, I began to seek a deeper understanding of the significance of sensei’s choice to visit Hawaii first.  I was inspired to learn how President Ikeda was immediately welcomed as Ohana from the very moment he arrived by the Hawaiian people.  I was most inspired by Dolly and her daughter’s Ohana spirit, each week during dance practice.  I remember after every practice, which often lasted for an hour or more, when we were all sweaty, Dolly insisted every dancer hug and kiss each other’s cheeks, because it was Hawaiian tradition.  This was definitely Nina’s favorite part of dance each week for sure.  I think she even received two rounds of kisses and hugs sometimes.

During May Contribution this year, I was not able to contribute in a serious financial way.  So I asked Khushboo to help me by organizing a Summer Youth Division Theatre program.  This was two large determinations to make to further my commitment to kosen-rufu.  Making those determinations really deepened my faith. I obtained actual proof by the success of those determinations.

My first successful dance performance was during Daisaku Ikeda Week in July and I gained so much confidence in myself, I decided to even join Dolly’s Hula School as a regular student.  I loved Hula, the Hawaiian culture, and the deeper understanding of the mentor-disciple relationship I had learned from it.  Only two short weeks later, our Youth Division had their first theatre performance and inspired everyone in audience, which was nearly standing room only with their confidence.  But I must acknowledge, both of these determinations were all made possible with the help of many efforts of many SGI members.  The parents who committed to bringing their youth to practice and helping out in various capacities, inspired me to continue being a leader and I knew it was time to set a more challenging determination.  Thus, I made what I thought would be a nearly impossible determination to attend a conference at FNCC before the end of this year.

I had previously selected the WD/YWD Leadership Conference occurring September 21st-24th and when our YWD Territory Leader, Sophia Chang, asked the question in early May, “Who is coming with me to the Conference?” on the Central Territory Facebook group page, my reply was “I wish I could but I don’t have the financial success I need to do it.” Her response “So we will chant.”  
There was yet another obstacle which was out of my control.  I was only recently appointed a district leader and the conference was intended for Chapter Leaders and up. I realized that this determination I had made was going to be the biggest challenge, I had made to date.  I knew I would face the three obstacles and four devilish functions, also called sansho shima, but I couldn’t be sure how these would manifest in my life. But equipped with actual proof from determinations in SGI activities, had contributed so many unique improvements to my family and this had not gone unnoticed by Zach.  When Nina and I increased our participation in activities, he also increased support and attended SGI activities, sometimes even a district meeting, because he knew how important Buddhism had become in our lives and how important support was to success.
On August 20th, I received an SGI-USA memo from the Southwest Zone Leaders stating there was revised registration information for the Women's & Young Women's FNCC Conference to be held from September 21-24, 2012, now allowing YWD district leaders to attend. My initial reaction was to forward the email to Zach and just wrote, “I want to go.”  When I returned home an hour after my email, I was greeted at the door by Zach and the first thing he said was, “I fully support you going to the conference.” Within the hour, I had posted on Facebook, “I am finding a way to get to this conference.”
The next day, I was unexpectedly paid early by one of my teaching jobs, the exact amount for the conference registration fee.  I couldn’t help but to feel this was the mystic law making it attainable. The next day, I called the Central Territory main office in Chicago and told the woman that I was mailing a check from Phoenix and asked is there anyway you can hold a seat for me until you receive the check.  She confirmed my attendance over the phone at that very moment.  But at this point, I still had to figure out the flight arrangements and I didn’t want Zach and Nina to be left alone the whole weekend, while I was off at an SGI Conference.  I felt that wouldn’t be fair.
Luckily, with the help of our family, we were able to secure flight arrangements for Zach and Nina to visit our family in Pennsylvania, while I was at the conference.  Oddly, the conference coincided with Zach’s dad’s birthday, how amazingly perfect right?  In that same timeframe, I was also able to secure my roundtrip flight to Ft. Lauderdale from the closest airport to my house.  The next thing obvious obstacle was to find someone who we trusted to faithfully, to care for our two dogs.  Thankfully Alicia and Tomo took on the responsibility, the moment they heard I was confirmed to go to FNCC.  So it seemed everything was lining up to be perfect, or so I thought, but I had forgotten about sansho shima.
If I only knew how many times sansho shima would face us as a family that month.  But every time I would question my intent to go, Zach would reassure me, “Everything is going to work out.” About two weeks before the conference, I was faced with a demon of the past, which made me question my readiness to be able to attend such a fundamentally life changing event because if this demon could persuade me for the second time in my life - how could I possibly expect to attain success with a faith based opportunity, if I couldn’t face one single demon of the past with confidence.  Then, sansho shima struck again, only with my work. The load had tripled. I was assigned a major project which required, double the time of a normal project along with numerous meetings.  Shortly thereafter, it was clear that my other two projects, had to be completed before I could left for the conference or it would affect my annual review. 
As if my increased workload during the day was not enough, it was followed by having to prepare semester-long curriculum for two new courses.  The courses were on ground, so I also had to begin instructing them immediately.  It was seriously, one thing after another, on top of being casually sick throughout the month.  I was beside myself in piles of work, which kept me from my regular Buddhist activities, consequently my determination dwindled. 
Then, only one week prior to the conference, I became seriously ill (coinciding with my own birthday) to the point that my birthday meal was merely mashed potatoes.  I was really ready to throw in the towel.  It took me nearly four days to recover from the sickness, which made it almost impossible to finish my projects at work, but somehow I happened.  The inspiration throughout every, sansho shima I encountered was met with Zach’s continued faith in me, and our family’s ability to overcome any obstacles by working together.  During my serious sickness, he kindly typed as I dictated posts for my online students. 
Even when I began to doubt my confidence to travel alone, two days prior to our departure, his reassurance was unwavering, he said, “You are going to this conference. You have had your heart set on this unattainable goal for months, now you are two days of achieving it and you have lost your courage? Stop worrying. Everything is going to work out and I already know that when you come back from the conference it will make our lives better. I can already see the change.
Right up until a few hours before my flight departing to Ft. Lauderdale, I found myself crying in front of my Gohonzon.  I was chanting for the safety of Zach and Nina’s flight because they had departed several hours prior.  This was the moment when I realized that all of the challenges leading up to this event had already made it an accomplishment.  Surely, something that makes you jump over every hurdle, has more than just a little value, it must have life altering potential. 
I received a text message from Zach acknowledging their safe arrival, as I boarded my plane, I felt more secure with my own travel just from that one message.  When I arrived at FNCC, for some reason I thought, I had already passed any sansho shima coming my way.  We were welcomed by the staff and volunteers at FNCC like queens, I was excited to be on the first bus and shared that bus with both of our Central Territory Leaders, Women’s Division, Barbara Jenkins, and Young Women’s Division, Sophia Chang. 
The first thing Sophia said as she introduced me to Barbara was, “Barbara you can’t imagine how inspirational her daughter, Nina is, she lights up a room with her bright Buddhist spirit.  She always contributes during meetings and loves to lead sancho.  I’m pretty sure, Nina is going to take my job.”  Obviously, my smile was ear-to-ear because Sophia knew my daughter by first name and remembered her questions at our Kayo-Kai meeting in Phoenix from earlier this year.
Next, we received our room assignments and I had hoped to take a nap before orientation that night.  However, the excitement of being at FNCC propelled me out of my room for photos.  I also needed to discuss my unique dietary constraints with the chef, and of course, visit the gift shop because I that’s what girls’ do.  As I was walking back from the gift shop to my room, sansho shima struck again. 
I had neglected to consider I was in Florida and sometimes the sky just opens up to dump a torrential down poor of rain.  Unfortunately, prior to my trip I had neglected to acknowledge how busted up my sandals were mostly because it doesn’t rain in Phoenix.  This was the point in time I really acknowledged that more challenges were going to continue to present myself right as the leather tops began to separate from the sole of the sandals.  In an effort to keep them in one piece, I quickly removed them and ran barefoot to the nearest building.  I arrived at gymnasium, where buses of women were still arriving in the pouring rain with their luggage.  I investigated the damage to my sandals. It became quite obvious my sandals wouldn’t make it through anymore rain and definitely wouldn’t survive the weekend.
My first question to one of the staff members was, “So how does FNCC feel about me being barefoot during this conference?”
The woman replied, “My dear, you can’t be barefoot, that wouldn’t be safe.”  So I asked her if she knew of a potential solution, I had no form of transportation and only three dollars cash on me because I hadn’t anticipated the need to bring cash.  She returned me barefooted to my room via golf cart and she said, “Don’t worry, I will find a solution for you.”
So there I was stuck in my room for quite some time, I placed my sandals on the air conditioning unit and hoped for the best.  To use the time wisely, I began to unpack my bag, in an effort to ignore the elephant in the room.  Again, sansho shima, I realized had completely forgotten to pack pajamas but remembered my bathing suit?  I won’t deny at this point, I was just starting to ask myself, “Really, come on, why me?”  I did not know who my roommate would be as she was still on her way from Northern California, and all I could imagine was how I was going to communicate that I had no night clothes to a perfect stranger.  My anxiety kicked in because of the anticipation of awkwardness and that was when I started to feel really discouraged by the continued sansho shima.  Followed by the overwhelming feeling of being completely alone, really sank in deep. I felt beyond broken without the presence of my little happiness spirit, Nina, and desperately alone without my emotional support from Zach. 
It’s not that I haven’t ever traveled alone. I did it during college for conferences all the time, but I had my mom who persistently called me everyday.  This time though, was very different.  From the moment that Zach and I had met, we had never been separated for an entire day, nor had I ever gone a day without seeing Nina.  That was the moment I broke down, all I could do was cry.
Not much time passed and Zach called, sansho shima had affected him, he was very emotional about not being with me as well.  But all too quick, I had to end the call, and head to evening gongyo and orientation. The orientation included a video message from Danny Nakashima, National Men’s Division Leader and an email received earlier that morning from President Ikeda and Mrs. Ikeda, part of it read, “We are earnestly praying that your conference will be most meaningful and enjoyable. […] I hope that, while respecting and encouraging one another as sisters of the Mystic Law, you will establish a life state of eternally indestructible happiness and total satisfaction. Where there is harmonious unity, the flowers of benefit will blossom magnificently. My wife, Kaneko and I are earnestly sending daimoku every day for your ever-greater health and success, our dearest and most cherished friends – champions of noble mission.”  After the orientation, I returned to my room inspired by the amazing words, but deeply missing the presence of Zach and Nina.  We used FaceTime to say goodnight, everyone in tears, but with the determination that tomorrow would be a better day.
Our first session was a gosho lecture “On the Treasure Tower” with Linda Johnson, the National Women’s Division Leader and Amber George, the National Young Women’s Division Leader. The particular part of the study, I connected the most with was “To find enjoyment in every obstacle because conquering them makes us limitless.” Followed by, “Don’t ask yourself “why me?” make the change through sincere daimoku.” They reinforced that everyone must “own their own karma because it doesn’t just affect you, it affects your family.” Obviously, I felt a very shallow since I had let Friday be a “why me?” day.  It was obvious after the lecture I required deep inner resolution and some serious daimoku to determine what my lesson from this conference would be. 
Ironically though, the moment I remember the clearest out of the session was not merely the lesson.  It was when Linda described her previous day.  Before her flight to the conference, she was required to go to work to finish a serious case, which required immediate attention.  For those of you who don’t know, she is a lawyer for criminal cases which often result in life or death convictions.  She shared with us that in the 25 years she has practiced law, she did not have any direct links to any death executions, which was more than inspiring.  She explained how her previous day started when her secretary brought in documents requiring her signature and accidentally dropped her pen under Linda’s desk.  Linda proceeded to pick it up the pen and somehow managed to dip her hair in her morning coffee at the same time.  And of course, she realized this after her travel clothes were covered in coffee.  I couldn’t help but to connect completely based on my previous day’s experience.  But her reaction to sansho shima was definitely not “why me?” she shared that, at that moment she knew this conference was going to be very significant to all the participants in some way. Her conclusion was the presence of sansho shima was actual proof of the definite success for every participant.  I thought to myself, “Wow what a better attitude towards sansho shima. That’s a woman of true faith.”
After the session ended, we signed up for personal guidance.  There were so many leaders attendance, that everyone at the conference who wanted personal guidance received at least an hour with the leader of their choice.  I signed up for personal guidance from Sophia Chang and since I was one of the first people in the line, I specifically selected the final dinner we would share together.  I knew that would be when I needed the most guidance.
The conference sessions were truly enlightening in perspective and definitely deepened my faith.  When I visited Ikeda Hall, I felt an overwhelming urge to cry because I was so touched by the items included there.  The most significant piece, in my eyes, was from the This Beautiful Earth photo essay series titled A Path at Windsor.  It read, “There are those who build a path, and those who tear it down. There are those who continue to walk the path, and those who stray from it.  I wish to be a person who forges a path; a person who persists in walking a path… No matter what; until the end, I will keep running.  Even if I should fall along the way, and return to the dust of the land, because I believe in youth who will succeed me along this path, I will have not a single regret.”
I thought to myself, that’s the person I want to be.  The rest of the conference really seemed to fly by so quickly, the staff in the FNCC office went to Old Navy and bought me, not just one pair of sandals but two. Each meal I ate was hand-crafted with kindness for my dietary limitations. I had received genuine inspiration, over and over again, significantly during the memorial service gongyo. I couldn’t help but to be overly emotional because many of the women I had met that weekend had unknowingly shared the same significant loss in our lives: our own mothers.  As the women lined up, many of them still in their youth, they acknowledged the loss of their mother’s by name.  This created sheer amazement and instant respect for each of them.  Their strength, spirit, faith and courage to not share gave me the courage to share my own mother’s name without breaking down in tears. 
It was all too soon for me that our final dinner arrived and it was time for my personal guidance with Sophia.  As I waited for her at the table, I was overwhelmingly anxious because of what I realized I had to share.
Sophia first said, “I am so happy you were able to attend this conference.” 

I replied, “I agreed it was indeed a great benefit.”
Then I paused awkwardly, “But what I had learned was not what I had expected. I realized I can not truly feel the joy and inspiration without Nina and Zach. Over the past three days, both Zach and I realized how significant we were to each other, and the time apart had diminished both of our spirits.  Without their love, support and presence, I have missed them so deeply. It has prevented me from being in the best mindset to appreciate all of the benefits of this conference. The reason I am so troubled by this realization is because ever since Nina and I joined the SGI practice, I vowed to never force participation of the practice on Zach because I have always appreciated his genuine support.  I do not need him to become a member on paper.” 
I concluded with, “So now I am not sure what to do because I know I need to bring them both here to experience FNCC for a family conference, but I am still committed to my vow, not to force the practice on Zach.”
I was surprised by her response, “Jennifer, why don’t you think that maybe exactly the lesson you were supposed to learn?”
Dumbfounded, I replied, “But how can I attend a family conference if my husband isn’t a member?”
Sophia smiled, “Jennifer, Zach doesn’t have to be a member of SGI to attend. He only has to be a member of your family. And to me, it is quite obvious he is a significant part of your family based on the feelings you shared. What you learned here was the importance of the sincere love and unity that you already have in your family. They are the most important element in your life.” 
She continued, “You should know, there isn’t a specific lesson anyone is required to learn here. Everyone has a different takeaway, which will continue to show them benefit in the rest of their lives.  Your lesson was how important your family is to you and that you must attend a family conference together at FNCC, which is truly a great benefit to realize.  Plus, you are leaving here with fresh appreciation for your family and when you go home, that benefit will continue to be there.”
In conclusion, my takeaway from my FNCC experience was: Everyone’s individual experiences should never be compared, only shared, because each person’s unique experience is important to them at that particular point in their life. Every obstacle I encountered was completely worth conquering, because I am now sincerely aware of how important Nina and Zach are to my faith.
On a final note, based on my experience at FNCC, I am sincerely confident my family will have SGI in our lives forever. I am most happy to share with you that Nina and Zach have already agreed to attend the next family conference at FNCC together.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Making Self Improvement a Priority with Love and Support

First I have to say, when I hear from other people “It will change your life.”  Just that statement alone makes me skeptical.  I’ve heard it many times before, let me list a few. 
In college, from a Walt Disney World interviewer (for the internship I was applying), “If you are offered this opportunity, you better take it, because not only is it a paid internship, but it will change your life.” Results, I changed my major from Art to Writing because being a Disney Animator is nothing but some “creative think tank” coming together and telling you what and how to draw or animate.  In this particular instance, the change in my life wasn’t as positive as I had hoped.
The first day at my first job in my field of study at the Albion News, one of the part-time writers said, “Well, working here will definitely change your life.”  Sure did, made me never want to trust people, never work in Journalism again and I was subjected to writing my own mom’s obituary at the age of 22.  Still not seeing the positive from that situation.
When I hit an ultimate low in my life, after my mom died, I was offered drugs to help me deal… again, with the tag-line, “It will change your life, you will feel so much better.”  False again, no further description necessary.
So after hearing from others who practice SGI Buddhism, who have attended conferences at the Florida Nature and Culture Center say “It will change your life.” You can see why, I might be skeptical.  But after everyone you talk to, all ages and races repeat the same thing, “It will change your life.”  You can’t help but to wonder, could it really?
I made the determination at the beginning of this year that I was going to do one major thing for one simple purpose, self-improvement so I could help others improve as well.  I didn’t know exactly what that was going to be, and trust me, I’ve tried several things, three new part-time teaching gigs, a mentorship certification, and becoming a stronger member of SGI by joining the dance group, stepping up to be the Young Women’s Division District Leader in our area (with very little experience), and helping to produce the first Future Division Theatre Performance at the August World Peace Prayer at the Phoenix Cultural Center.  Out of all of those things I did for self-improvement, several things stood out, everything I did for others at SGI (and for myself) made me sincerely happy inside.  (Happy, like a kid again, happy.)  So by April of this year, I had my heart set on trying to attend an SGI Leadership Conference because I wanted to indeed “change my life” for the better.
But the series of events unfolding as we reached the deadline for the conference I had my heart set on, made me think, I had set an unattainable goal for myself.  But then the mystic law took it from there.
First, the conference was announced only for Leaders at the Chapter level and up.  (For a few months, I pursued becoming a Chapter leader in order to go, but with the new reorganization that was out of the question.)  But then out of the blue, I received an email from SGI-USA announcing (one month prior) that the conference was open for Young Women’s District Leaders.  Within an hour of reading that email, I had posted on Facebook, “I am finding a way to get to this conference.” 
The next day, I was unexpectedly paid two weeks early the exact amount for the conference fee.  I couldn’t help but to feel this was the mystic law making it attainable.  When I proposed the idea of me going, I was met with the most positive encouragement from my husband, so my mind was made up.  I was going to the conference.  I called the next day to the Central Territory main office in Chicago and told the woman that I was mailing a check from Phoenix – is there anyway you can hold a seat for me until you receive the check.  She confirmed me over the phone at the moment.  But at this point, I still had to figure out the flight arrangements and I didn’t want my husband and daughter to be at home alone, while I was off in pursuit of self-improvement and changing my life.  (That wouldn’t have been fair.)
Luckily, with the help of our family, they were able to secure flight arrangements to visit Pennsylvania while I was at the conference.  Oddly, the conference coincided with my husband’s father’s birthday, how amazingly perfect.  In that same timeframe, I was also able to secure a flight to Ft. Lauderdale from the closest airport near my house.  The next thing we had to figure out was who would watch our dogs?  We’d had some issues with previous caretakers in the past and luckily, someone from my district graciously agreed to do it.  I was relieved I knew it was someone who I could trust.  So it seemed everything was lining up to be perfect, my husband and daughter would get to visit our family in Pennsylvania and I was going on a mission for self-improvement.
If I only knew a month ago, how many more trials there would be to come…. (not to say the decision would’ve changed but it was questioned repeatedly).  First, was the struggle financially… could we really afford to go?  But, every time I would question my intent to go, Zach would reassure me, everything is going to work out.  Zach doesn’t practice Buddhism with Nina and me, but he attends all the activities that include performances by us and fully supports the positivity Buddhism brings to our house. 
About two weeks ago, I was faced with a demon of the past which made me question my readiness to be able to attend such a fundamentally life changing opportunity because if this demon could persuade me again in my life - how could I possibly expect to change my life if I can’t confront a demon of the past?
My workload tripled, I had just been assigned a major project at work which required double the time a normal project would, numerous meetings, only to realize that the other two projects I was working on had to be completed before I could leave for the conference or it would affect my annual review tremendously. 
This was followed by having to prepare semester-long curriculum for two new courses, which I had to start teaching immediately.  It was seriously one thing after another, on top of being casually sick.  I was beside myself in piles of work, which kept me from my regular Buddhist activities, in turn my determination began to dwindle. 
Last week (only 1 week prior to the conference) when I found myself seriously ill (on my own birthday) to the point that my birthday meal of the day was merely mashed potatoes, I was really ready to throw in the towel.  It took nearly four days to recover from the sickness, which made it almost impossible to finish my work in time for the conference.  But somehow I did.  And through it all, Zach continued to reassure me of the opportunity I was being given, he told two days ago… you had your heart set on an unattainable goal for months, now you are within days of reaching it and you have lost your courage, stop worrying. Everything is going to work out and I know that when you come back from the conference you will see things better and it change your life and make our lives better. I already can see the change.
Somehow, he could see how much Buddhism has helped me become a better person and he knew (without being a member of SGI, the value it has in my life).
So here I am, on my laptop, only a few hours from my departure to Ft. Lauderdale and FNCC (having dropped off Zach and Nina over five hours ago for their flight to Pennsylvania) crying my eyes out in front of my Gohonzon chanting for the safety of the flights in the sky tonight, chanting for the change and self-improvement. 
This is when I realized that all of the challenges leading up to this event have already made it an accomplishment.  Surely something which makes you jump over every hurdle has more than just a little value, it must have life changing properties. 
One thing I’ve learned in my 31 years is anything I ever struggled to do, was worth the lesson I learned from it.  I’ve already learned I am strong enough to make one single determination for self-improvement and even though the first three attempts didn’t get there, I haven’t given up the spirit to seek for the right cause or opportunity.
I realize now that whatever this conference yields will be a positive experience because of all those hurdles.  Sometimes you don’t appreciate things without fighting all the challenges; this has to be one of those times.  I find irony in the fact that the name of the airline which will take me to and return from Florida is Spirit Airlines.  But most importantly of all, I want to thank everyone who has supported me over the past month in believing I was ready and this was the right time for me to go.  But more than everyone else, I have to thank my husband, Zach, for the constant reassurance and support over the last month of challenges, it was because of your confidence in me, that I am able to go and appreciate this conference. 
Yes, I do believe that this conference isn’t going to just change my life, but it will have influence on everything I do, from teaching students to developing curriculum, to being a better mom and a better wife.  Because with the support of my family and the influence this practice has made in only a year and a half of my life, I am a better person than I was and want to continue to pursuit happiness even in the midst of darkness.
It’s time to be the change.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

"Winning When You Are Not Sure You Are Winning"

Often I get caught up with my environment, all the visual and audio distractions.  Having Attention Deficit Disorder and having the majority of the associated symptoms, for example, if a person walks by I glance at them, if people are talking, I overhear their conversation and often think they are talking to me.  It’s actually quite a menace.  I would happily trade to be a normal person, who can ignore things.  But then my Obsessive Compulsiveness kicks in and I feel like not only do I need to be the best; I need to always be ready for any opportunity.  This is partially Buddhist philosophy, as popular Buddhist writer Greg Martin would say, after you climb the first mountain, you start on the second and keep going.  Having these two particular types of health issues often makes me forget I am not super person because I am drawn to staying busy and being active.
When I first moved to Phoenix, I had a part-time online teaching job and I built curriculum for the same University.  Over four years later, I’ve grown a lot, not within the University, I went further.  I started teaching on ground Communications two years ago for another two Colleges.  I love being in front of others and teaching them knowledge, sharing personal experiences, and learning from them just as they learn from me.  I have had some wonderful successes, I now teach for four colleges/universities in both on ground and online capacities plus I was promoted to a senior in the curriculum position.  Since I am teaching for four colleges/universities I regularly have around 200 students, who I do my best to get to know personally.  One of the best gifts though, isn’t getting to share my knowledge with random students, it’s having the ability to change the way someone thought about something and inspire others to find their infinite potential.
My husband and I have always taught our daughter to bring happiness wherever she goes.  She is very intelligent, within five days of turning five years old, she was a first grader.  I see myself when I was younger, in her, the spirit, the happiness, the honesty, the heart.  I could tell you a million stories just based on her five years of life that have monumentally changed my life.  Much more than you can just get from teaching students in a classroom.  It’s being able to share in moments with someone who shares your values.  My family is very different from yours and you can’t compare apples to oranges or grapes, but when you are lucky enough to realize that the part of your life you are winning at the most is watching your daughter be more brilliant than you ever were and seeing her changing the world around her.  Then I believe you can really feel a sense of accomplishment.
When I was little I lived in a small town that didn’t have musical troupes, swimming pools, in fact, our music teacher even taught Driver’s Education and there was no soccer team.  All I wished for as a child was to be able to be involved in music, theater, song, dance – I wasn’t the best, but I did pretty well at most of it once I got to be in high school.  Being on stage felt right, perhaps that’s what lead me to the field of education, I spent years of doing and wanted to spend years of sharing.  I had a very good childhood, very kind middle class parents.  I went onto college, first child from both sides of my family and then even received a master’s degree.  But none of all those things compare to how it feels to watch your young child be extraordinary.
Having Nina as a daughter is more than just being the luckiest mom in the world, it’s being a part of a significant person’s life that I know will change the world.  We have always believed in early education and activities and she was in dance when she was three, this past year we enrolled our daughter in drama classes and she really enjoyed it and excelled at it.  But the thing she loves to do the most, outside of drawing is singing, and sometimes those two are simultaneous.  Her brilliance lights the room when she makes up her own songs. 
Just today, we received confirmation from the children’s theatre that she would be permitted at the age of five to train in a music troupe for ages seven to twelve for twelve weeks.  She never ceases to amaze me.   She is really what every parent dreams for.  As much as I would love to have another child, because I know that child would be just as amazing, I don’t because I want her to always be my #1.  I can only imagine what her future holds, maybe a Nobel Peace Prize, honorary doctorates and her turning into a world traveler because she seems to have “really haveinfinite potential. 
Buddhists believe that we can all attain infinite potential in our lives and I will tell you, many people, even those I don’t know have called Nina, our little Buddha.  But the moment I realized how wonderful she really is was when I read the Thank You Note from an anonymous person, posted on the bulletin board at our Cultural Center, it read “Congratulations SGI Future Division “Summer Theatre Camp” that started May 19, 2012 thru July 27, 2012.  Your performance on Sunday, August 5, 2012 “World Peace Prayer” was a Success! Thanks to Jennifer (Nina’s Mom) and all parents/SGI members for your support.”
You know why that note made me shine with tears of happiness in my eyes, because everyone doesn’t know me as Jennifer, they know me as Nina’s Mom and that’s the greatest honor I’ve ever achieved and I know that fact will never change.

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Bringing Performance Arts Back Into My Life

I remember my first performance singing at age four, it blossomed into theater, music and dance performances throughout my childhood/teenager years until 1999. I loved being on stage, I loved that I could inspire others through music, dancing and drama. Between 1999 and 2011, I have kept my love for singing (with sporadic privately paid singing performances) and I have trained my daughter.

While I was at New Year's Gongyo at the Phoenix Convention Center I was inspired by the Taiko drums, dancers, chorus performers. I decided I was going to join the dance group with Nina, I've grown to love dance and my dancing myoho sisters... I have actual proof I have become happier in my life.

My first performance was for Daisaku Ikeda Week and it's changed me... Learning hula helped me to connect my heart with my mentor. Before my performance I chanted sincerely and I could feel the interconnectness of humanity and the universe around me. I will be continuing with dance and continuing to enhance my efforts to "be the change I want to see in this world."

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

A Work In Progress… Me.

"Reality is harsh. It can be cruel and ugly. Yet no matter how much we grieve over our environment and circumstances nothing will change. What is important is not to be defeated, to forge ahead bravely. If we do this, a path will open before us." ~Daisaku Ikeda
Over the past few months, I’ve tried to look at every situation I find myself in, from as many different perspectives as possible.  But the fact of the matter is, when I am alone… my mind floods with all the grief, suffering, and difficulties.  I try to do my best with what I have, I never give up, and I continue to persevere.  My life condition is definitely not what it appears to be on the outside, inside there is a small girl crying who never seems to get things right.
I attend SGI-USA Buddhist meetings regularly; while I am there I feel like I am a bird flying high above the sky seeing everything for what it is.  But then afterwards, when the support network isn’t with me, I feel alone.  I continue to participate in the Buddhist activities because while I’m present, I’m happy.  But I can’t escape the aloneness I feel whenever I am left to let my brain run in circles.
One of my favorite songs, Reflection has always given me goosebumps because I feel the song in my heart very deeply.  I feel this way because everyone who sees me sees someone other than who I am. 
“Our lives only improve when we are willing to take chances and the first and most difficult risk we can take is to be honest with ourselves.” ~Walter Anderson
Well, Walter here you go: What people see= determination, courage, perseverance, inspiration and
What I see= frustration, unhappiness, suffering from a loss almost a decade old....

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Where is Your Value? Can you see past your Ego to find it?

Today’s TinyBuddha blog got me thinking and reflecting about recent decisions I’ve made. Very recently, I got caught up in this conundrum of wanting to achieve success in something based on the happiness of an experience long ago.

Let me be more specific, when I was in high school (and middle school) I was very involved in the performing arts. I sang in the elite singing group, I was cast in major and minor roles in musical theatre and plays. I loved learning the dances, singing, helping build the set, and creating the aura of performing arts. I did everything I could and stayed involved through most of my pre-college career.

Recently, since my daughter has become more involved in the performing arts – it has made me want to participate again. It brought back the passion of dance, music and song. I joined the SGI-Phoenix United Colors of Kosen-Rufu dance group with my daughter in January. We would both go to practice (and even though she is only 4-years old) she would mimic the dancers with all her heart. Somewhere along the line, I confused my priorities. It became more about me learning the dance, than what it was originally intended to be (an outlet that both my daughter and I could share happily).

There’s not really anyone here to blame other than myself, I established unachievable priorities and lost sight of what was really important… spending time with my daughter dancing. When I lost sight of that objective, I also lost sight of my personal confidence. I began to compare myself to the other dancers (even though they had been dancing for over 7 months, I felt my 4 month commitment should compare). I set unreasonable goals because I thought (well if I could do this 10 years ago, why can’t I now?). Needless to say, I ended up realizing after a conversation with several people – my lacking confidence in myself, ultimately seemed to be rubbing off on everyone else.

So this week I’ve spent a lot of time, trying to figure out where I went wrong. Here’s what I’ve got: first, remembering why I joined the group to begin with: for my daughter and I to share something very special; two, comparing myself to others was very immature of me and three, bringing my lack of confidence and sharing it (unintentionally) was hindering the mission of the group. Finally, I realized that the performance and competition was never about me. (Duh! Right?) It was always about letting my daughter do something she loves: dance.

"Competition has been shown to be useful up to a certain point and no further, but cooperation, which is the thing we must strive for today, begins where competition leaves off." ~Franklin D. Roosevelt

So determining where to go from here, was what I thought about from the moment I realized my priorities had been skewed. First, I’m not quitting dance but I am removing myself from the competition mindset, this was an activity for me and my daughter to share.

I’m reminded of my daughter’s Disney movie called Lilo & Stitch. Lilo (a very young independent Hawaiian girl) says to her new pet (Stitch) after he is playing destructively… “Why don’t you make something instead?”

So I got to thinking and decided, yes that’s exactly what I’m going to do! I’m going to create a Future Division Performance Group Summer Camp. Ironically enough, I asked two people to help and within the hour – both people were onboard. That was my first signal that I was making the right decision. Second, I’ve spent the last few days coming up with ideas of how this production will be, it will be free to all SGI Future Division members (because my daughter and the youth are who I care about the most) and it will let my creative juices run free without the nagging feeling of competition. It is the truest commitment I can make to SGI, which brings me back to Lori’s quote today:

“What we must decide is how we are valuable rather than how valuable we are.” ~Edgar Z. Friedenberg

Monday, April 16, 2012

When Walls Come Crashing Down~

Over the past week since I’ve returned from vacation, it’s as if all of the walls I constructed to protect my heart have come crashing down. I have had too many high and low moments.

Finding out my favorite blog published my post was an amazing experience. Realizing my message reached more than 500 people was amazing, I felt on top of the world. Then it all came crashing down, I lost my keys to happiness.

I’m sure this is a combination of not being able to afford to go to the doctor to treat the lung infection I have, but more so – it’s the heartbreak of realizing as much as I have chanted for the privilege to be a part of the Ikeda Youth Ensemble, I am merely just another person who failed to be selected.

There are hundreds of dance teams who did not make the cut, but my feelings are different. My dance team made it, only I did not make the cut. It hurts the most, because I was the resounding voice who always said SGI Phoenix would go to California. But because I work five jobs, take care of a person with a disability, and a very intelligent four-year-old. I couldn’t make the time to learn the dance prior to the video submission – so I thought I would support the group in the only way I truly could, by recording the dance. All along I knew in my heart, I would master the dance and have a chance to go to California, in fact, this was one of my own delusions.

I spent most of Saturday night, yesterday and today, crying to myself. Crying because I am not strong enough to handle this…. What’s wrong with me? I should be proud of everyone who worked so hard to go and they are getting to go. I guess I just felt like I had worked hard too, but no matter how I devote my heart and work towards goals they slip by as quick as they were once announced.

"A reformer is one who sets forth cheerfully toward sure defeat." -Lydia M. Child

In Ms. Child’s perception, I am the reformer. I offered help by volunteering to video the group instead of focusing on learning the dance to get the opportunity to go. I created this false delusion all on my own.

I am frustrated by my false delusion, now I see myself as the one who didn’t make it because I didn’t have the spirit of a lion. But on the flip side, no one sees what I go through every day. No one knows I work 60+ hours a week, am the sole provider for a family, I dedicate much of my spare time to helping college students find their way, many hours for non-profit organizations and countless others whether I know them personally or not. I become their bridge to happiness. You would think being so many peoples links to happiness would help me find happiness, but as I wrote for TinyBuddha, everyone loses their keys and mine are lost.

I portray a very strong person, but in reality, I am human and I am weak to my own demons. Some advice on this matter I received from a friend was “to make it a cause to learn the dance anyway, to learn it with all my heart and soul.” That’s a given, but learning the dance doesn’t make the heartbreak go away and being a caring person for everybody else doesn’t lead to personal happiness – although I hope one day it will.

I must face reality as did Buddha, when he saw death, disease and dying… it is inevitable… and you must face the reality. Unfortunately, I’m not a part of the team I thought I was. Though I love each and every one of the dancers and will continue to chant for their success. I will unfortunately, probably always see this as a personal failure.

“For every win, someone must fail… there comes a point when you will exhale.” –Whitney Houston.

I am the one person who failed. I guess I have always known that since I never got one of the costumes to dance in. Now if I can just find my way to exhale.

Countless hours of daimoku I am sure.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Imaginations Made Into Reality~*

“The use of traveling is to regulate imagination by reality, and instead of thinking how things may be, to see them as they are.” ~Samuel Johnson

I’m getting really excited about my upcoming vacation. It’s been quite the challenge, saving the money, securing the time off, finishing all my current projects at work (early in some instances), finding subs for my on ground teaching, finding time to pack, managing my leadership roles in advance - so I don’t have to check my email every two minutes, and much much more. Let’s just summarize it by saying: a lot of planning and re-planning came into play.

I already know it’s worth it though, just from watching Nina… and her excitement build up… she’s about to burst I think. She just can’t wait to meet her cousins and aunts on Zach’s side of the family. It’s been a decade since he’s seen them, not to mention Nina and I have never met them (with the exception of Internet connection).

Obviously, she can’t wait to meet the Princesses and Fairies at Disney World as well… I can only imagine how the adventure will be in her eyes. I remember my visits to Disney as a child vividly; I remember all of our family trips… the drives were long… but definitely worth it.
I think it’s going to be quite the journey, taking our dogs, driving 31 hours, seeing my dad in a baseball tournament for seniors.

Then there’s the whole purpose of the trip… Reigniting the vows I made five years ago. Ironically I recall a quote by John Steinbeck, “A journey is like marriage. The certain way to be wrong is to think you control it.” I don’t know if I ever thought I would get married and but once you make that commitment you can’t give up – ever. No matter what... but I have to say if five years seems like forever, forever surely is eternity. I love you Zach.

Listening to: “Romeo save me, they try to tell me how to feel... this love is difficult, but it's real... don't be afraid, we'll make it out of this mess... It's a love story, baby just say yes."

Anyway, I’m scatterbrained with excitement – I can’t wait to catalog this journey. I know I will remember it for the rest of my life.

“One’s destination is never a place, but a new way of seeing things.” ~Henry Miller