International Day of Women : The blessings that come when you show up! ūüíô #strengthsourceproject

Browsing through my Facebook feed I come across a notification that a friend tagged me in someone’s post. As one who is both a businesswoman and artist I know a diverse group of people and am a bit picky about what I’m tagged in with the permanence of social media. Much to my surprise I saw the photo taken of me last year posted on the photographer’s Facebook page and appeared both digitally and I’m print on page 5 of the Philadelphia Inquirer!

The #strengthsourceproject is this beautiful collage of photos and stories capturing the moments that built the character and resilience of women of all colors, ages, shapes and class. It’s a brilliant compilation and I’m honored to be a participant.

If only you knew how sad I felt that day. I had just found out my daughter was diagnosed with dysgraphia, a severe learning disorder that makes it difficult and frustrating for her, an advanced reader to process writing. The same exact day my son’s school counselor called about him exhibiting signs of anxiety and depression (the dance partners of a highly gifted and intuitive brain), avoiding teachers and classes as a result. As their sole caretaker l was overwhelmed with the decisions I had to make on my own knowing I would also not receive the financial support.

I was going to cancel the meeting I set with Carrie for the photo because I just wanted to go somewhere and cry. I wore bright colors on purpose to lift my spirits. She was so warm and compassionate when I met her in Fishtown by Franny Lous Porch and reading the other women’s stories really gave me the strength to deal with it all.

And oh the blessings that have come because I showed up! Aside from this acknowledgement in the paper, since that day my children have benefited from angels in the form of teachers and therapists. My daughter has been tutored by a retired teacher for free and my son’s therapist only charges me a tenth of his normal fee because I was transparent and unafraid to speak my truth and ask for help.

My strength is my truth and I’m grateful that my transparency is able to help other women. The stories on the blog are powerful. I hope you get to read mine too. Please share your favorite in the comments. It’s okay if it’s not mine. I’m every woman ūüėä

Blind Faith;heart lessons at a rest stop

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The kids look forward to our annual beach vacation all year. It’s an opportunity to get away from the day-to-day pressures and routine of school, home-life and chores and simply sleep, eat and play! I look forward to it as well. It’s the only week of the year that we are all home at the same time with no obligations and I am not the only one in the house they can go to for whatever they need. Here they have other adults and older cousins who can drive and are responsible enough to take them to the beach,the local recreation center or keep an eye on them at the house. It’s also a gift to spend quality time with my youngest brother, my god-daughter, nephews and their friends. So much laughter shared among us and I take the opportunity to inject some elder wisdom into our conversations when the subject permits. To have all of this goodness occur at the beach is the icing on the cake!

I plan and save all year. This year, right before our scheduled trip my largest client fell behind considerably on the payment of my monthly retainer. As a precaution I always keep a reserve in my savings but I reserve it for emergencies, and a vacation does not fall under that category. I thought for a minute about cancelling the beach trip but I knew how disappointed the kids would be and I was looking forward to and deserved a break before the school year began. I was angry and frustrated but I moved some money out of my savings, made sure the bills were paid and the fish was fed before I packed up the three of us, and prepared my mind for the six-hour drive ahead of me. Six hours with three anxious and excited kids, and I couldn’t stop worrying that this could be our last trip down here for a while. If my client couldn’t bounce back from their financial problems, could I manage until I found more work?¬†I was supposed to be relaxing but I have to admit I was a little on edge and still wondering if I made the right choice to continue with the vacation.

At about the four-hour mark, my bladder insisted I pull over at the rest stop in Virginia. Stuckey’s is famous for their variety of nuts. Anything from fajita almonds to honey salt cashews; most travelers stop for their fresh pecans and peanuts. I walked in and was instantly reminded of my grandfather Jabez (Pop Pop we called him) known to bring a bag of fresh peanuts home every time he went south to visit his Southern Baptist church family. He grew up near Jimmy Carter’s family peanut farm and founded a Southern Baptist Church nearby Bainbridge, Georgia. I grabbed a few cans of cashews to snack on for the remainder of the trip, handed them to my daughter for safekeeping and hurried to the women’s bathroom.

When I came out of the bathroom my daughter had both cans and a piece of wood shaped like a heart in her hands. She smiled and began to say as if reading my mind “don’t ask Mommy, just buy it..you have to trust me.” I gave her a look that translated into “what are you up to now, Janai and how much is it going to cost me?” I asked her if she could at least tell me the price. She wasn’t sure and again she said “Mommy, just buy it.” My daughter has such a kind heart. She is always giving or creating something to give to a friend or family member, usually at my expense. I love her compassion but it sometimes comes with a high price tag. I finally gave in figuring it must be important to her and I could always return it if it’s too expensive.

Somehow the woman at the register figured out what she was doing because she didn’t say the name of the item, just the price and smiled behind me at Janai. I had to chuckle and was relieved that it was under three dollars and not another high-priced souvenir. When I turned around to go to the car she ran in front of me saying “just wait a minute Mom, I have to do something, just wait.” and shooed me to the passenger side of the car. I still hadn’t a clue what she was doing until she gave me permission to open my car door and reveal her gift. I saw this beautifully painted heart hanging from my rear view mirror with the words “Mom, you are a blessing”. I had to hold back the tears. It’s a special moment when you feel that your children understand all of the strain, struggle and sacrifice you have to go through to make their lives more joyful and take the time to show you how much you’re appreciated. It’s a rare moment and I had to sit there a moment and take it all in before I grabbed the wheel and continued to drive two more hours to our destination.

Later that evening, as I sat back on the balcony with a glass of wine enjoying the sounds of the crashing waves heard from the nearby beach and children’s laughter coming from the pool below I thought about that moment at the rest stop. Not only was my daughter being her sweet thoughtful self, but maybe she was also being used to send me a message from a higher source. I know that there are often times in my life where I am fearful of taking a step and doing something because I can’t see the outcome and I don’t know what lies ahead for me. I want to know what I’m getting into. I don’t trust what I don’t see. Then I’m reminded of one of my favorite anonymous quotes. “God’s gifts put man’s best dreams to shame”. The blessings I often blindly receive are such a powerful statement of love that I never know they are coming. And they are always much more than I could ever have thought to ask for.

This was yet another reminder to trust the process and have faith that something greater is going to be revealed to me. All I could see in my daughter’s hand was a piece of carved wood, but when she was ready to present me with my gift I found it to be more beautiful than I could have ever imagined!

Encouraging Young Writers in Philadelphia Today

received_10209380157758316My father loved to read and wrote a multitude of songs and essays yet published only one song in his lifetime. Today in his memory I am excited to be hosting a fundraiser for Philly Youth March and Voice4Justice. The event featuring Grammy Nominee Ursula Rucker and the extraordinarily musical Monica McIntyre begins today at 3pm at Alma Mater, 7165 Germantown Avenue in Philadelphia. The suggested donation is $10 and children are free! Please come and encourage our young writers. And prepare to be blown away by the collaborations and energy in the room. 

Check out the Facebook event pageVoices for Justice Event for more details and I hope to see you there!

Peace and blessings and Happy Father’s day!

Toni Love #loveistheanswer

The Balancing Act: You can have it all, just not all at once.

wpid-wp-1404782549159.jpegI remember the day I started writing again. I was a full-time stay at home mom and business owner, six years into my marriage, lobbying with my son’s school to get his IQ tested and nursing an infant. I wasn’t getting much sleep at night and had to find time to juggle clients, housework and bills, babies and PTA meetings during the day. Needless to say my house never looked like the¬†spotless ones in the Parenting magazines! One day while checking e-mail, I came across one from a dear friend from high school. She came into my life at a time when I was my most authentic self – proud, brave, strong, emotional, nurturing, vulnerable and fearless, and I wasn’t afraid to write¬†about any of it. She asked me if I would consider writing an essay for her upcoming anthology. I thought she was either on medication or feeling sorry for me! I placed¬†writing aside to be mom, wife and business woman and there was not time to sit in my feelings or even sit and write about it. I barely found time to sleep and she wanted me to reclaim some brain cells and write and essay?! We had several conversations about it and I am sure she heard the exhaustion and defeat in my voice. I politely said thanks for the honor but there’s no way I could fit it into my schedule. But she wouldn’t give up on me. I received an email the next day which I will never forget. Aside from reading the uncomfortable praise about my writing and the effect it had on her as a young woman, she told me that it is okay to give my self permission to be more than just a mother and a wife. That I could do all of that and still write. I could take my son to school and still write. I could nurse my daughter and still write. I could cook and clean (well, not much cleaning) and still write, and that I could be the best wife I could be and be a writer too. She also reminded me that my children were watching, and more importantly my daughter was watching. Did I want her to grow up being shown that she could not have it all? That folding clothes and running to doctor’s visits; that caring for her husband and children was more important than sharing my gifts from God?

The next day I agreed to take on the challenge of writing the essay. I spent late nights at my laptop, sometimes with a nursing infant at my bosom and sometimes in-between naps, but I followed her editorial wisdom, put on my big girl pants and dusted off my journals and pens. I can’t say that my ex (husband at the time) was happy about it. As a matter of fact, he rejected my offers to him to read my draft and at the time of my book signing years later, he still had not read one word of my essay. Nonetheless, I¬†had never felt more fulfilled, more proud, motivated and accomplished than when I received the published anthology in the mail. I cried and thanked my Creator for giving me the strength and the support to write such an emotional essay about my mother. She was my mother, my best friend and now my muse.

Five years later, I am still writing and working with new situations to balance. I am reading poetry and working on my first poetry CD. I am still self-employed, I am still home to greet¬†my children when they get home from school, and I still have a home to take care of, but now I am doing it alone. It’s not easy finding quiet time to write. Most nights I am too exhausted to do anything after the kids’¬†bath¬†and bedtime, so I keep my laptop by my bed in case I wake up in the middle of the night with an idea and want to write. I collect journals so¬†there’s always one in my briefcase, bedroom or car for convenience. Thankfully with today’s technology I can also¬†log into¬†my blog from my smart phone and jot down some ideas or save an inspirational quote, meme or picture to my phone that will jog my memory to write. I love getting out at night and I try to support local artists, writers, poets as much as I can in the area, however I have to pace myself because it can be costly. Not only do I have to pay the entrance fee, but I sometimes end up paying¬†a sitter up to¬†$15 an hour to care for my kids, so a night out to an open mic just to get paid nothing can cost me fifty to sixty dollars¬†depending on how long I’m staying out. So I pace myself, and try to get out at least twice a month. If it’s a new venue, I go to check out the energy and the crowd, or I may go to a familiar place to support fellow artists and be inspired. It’s an investment in myself and much-needed “me” time, so I budget for it, find the time in my busy schedule¬†and am blessed to have family and friends I can rely on at times¬†to¬†care for my children (and save me money!). I’ve learned how to find balance between my responsibilities as a mother and business woman and my need to express my life experience with words. It’s never easy to leave my children with a sitter on a school night¬†and interrupt their normal bedtime routine. It’s not easy getting in my car and traveling into the city at the end of an already long day. And sometimes it’s very frustrating when I really want to go out somewhere to read my poems or hear other artists and my sitter cancels on me, or one of the kids get sick. But to quote¬†India Arie’s¬†lyrics to¬†Life I Know.. ” it’s all alright ’cause this is the life I know”.

I just want to spread love, encouragement, passion¬†and healing through my poetry. I’m thrilled when someone hears my words and is inspired. I’m more thrilled and proud of the fact that my children are learning that they can have it all…with balance,

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