Tuesday, July 16, 2013

YES or NO?

"Yes or No?" A simple answer to a sometimes complicated question.
Five years ago, I asked God to show me the best way to continue my mother’s legacy. She had been gone for two years, and I was still searching.
When it came to serving her community, my mother Shirley O. Nelson was a beast. She started two organizations from scratch while working a full-time job and raising two children. One helped minority students bridge the academic achievement gap. The other was a choral and speech ensemble group that performed all over the DC area. 
Throughout my childhood, my friends and I watched this woman make a real impact in our community. And when we left for college, she did not relax. She kept on working, serving all of Fairfax County through the PTA. When God revealed a need, my mother almost always  said "Yes."
I told myself that my mom’s life of service and devotion was a bar that I could never reach. I spent my early twenties mostly working and spending my money frivolously. I rationalized the guilt away with easy answers.
"Things change!," I said to myself. "Kids are better off. They don’t need me THAT much."
“I’m an urban professional with a high income, just like the rest of my friends. We’re all doing pretty well. Isn’t this why our parents sacrificed?”
Sure, Oprah Winfrey can build schools in Africalook at her RESOURCES! She SHOULD be helping people.
That worked for a while. But after my mom died, there would be quiet moments when I would hear her voice. "What are YOU doing to serve?," she would ask. I had to stop fighting that voice and say “YES.” But I also knew that my service had to reflect my highly social and interpersonal nature. To walk my path, I wanted my friends to walk with me.  The same friends who my mother would recruit to stuff envelopes, pack boxes with trophies, or recite Martin Luther King, Jr. speeches for hundreds. They witnessed my mother’s service, too, and when I asked them to come along on this journey with me, they lovingly said, "YES."

...and BE A BLESSING was born.  
That was the first "Yes." But every step of progress required each of us to say it again and again, sometimes when it was apparent we should probably be saying, "NO." Like:
No, I do not have time to launch a philanthropic effort—insert excellent reason:
...I'm the mother of three children under the age of eight.   
...I'm the VP of a multi-million dollar IT business unit. 
...I work full time, own a small business, and have a family. 
...I just moved to a new city and am starting a new job.
But somehow we found ways to say "YES." For five years, life got busier, but for five years we kept saying "YES." Because at some point we realizedin America, everybody is busy. If "busy" stopped people, who would ever serve?
Our small group kept saying "YES," but we knew we needed to make it easier for others to say it, too.  How could we help make it easy to give back? We struggled with these questions for some time, took long breaks in between focused conversations, (sometimes close to a year), but we kept going, honed in, and are now executing our first effort.
We all hail from Fairfax County, VA and so we have decided to select the Katharine K. Hanley Family Shelter for our first act of collective service. We have developed a relationship with the staff at the shelter andwith your helpwe are well on our way to providing school supplies for the 30 kids currently living there.
Each day as I strive to say "YES," I call upon the tenacity and audacious spirit of my mom to help me do the beautiful and bold work of giving back. And when I tap into that higher calling, saying "YES” becomes more and more simple.

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