Billy!

Juan and I were having a conversation yesterday. Billy McKillop’s name came up and my immediate response was “He is one of my favorite people in the world!”, to which Juan answered, “Mine too!”

This is my 6th entry in the Tribute series, and I’m so glad to dedicate it to this awesome person, my friend Billy.

I know Billy from my days at Pinelands Presbyterian Church, in Miami. When Juan and I first started attending that church, we came in as a couple in great need of support and spiritual strength. Billy, more than likely, does not know how big of an impact his life and leadership was for us. In all our years in ministry we had never met a person quite like him. He showed us what true humility looked like. He demonstrated real love for people and a genuine concern for their souls and well being. Billy was not boisterous nor seeking accolades, but he served quietly and wholeheartedly. I remember many days when God’s grace surprised me through Billy’s life. All I had to do was watch him at work or have a conversation with him, and I would often learn something new about compassion and evangelism. I had not fully understood how God’s grace could be so evidently displayed in leadership, until I met Billy McKillop. I am so grateful for the work God did in my heart through him.

Billy has a sweet, thoughtful, and supportive wife by his side, and together they have raised three passionate and loving children. The McKillop family has served in ministry both in local churches and abroad. Wherever they go, they display God’s goodness for all to see. Their commitment to the expansion of God’s kingdom is evident in their life choices. Many have come to the knowledge of the gospel through their labor of love. Thank you Billy, Sherry, Caleb, Zachary, and Gabrielle, for your service to the Lord. I am one of those people whose life has been deeply enriched by yours.

After Billy's installation service at New City Fellowship (Billy and Sherry are second and third from the left)

After Billy’s installation service at New City Fellowship (Billy and Sherry are third and fourth from the left)

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For Laura

Entry No. 4 from the Tributes Series

I have so much to say about my dear friend, Laura. I’m having a hard time condensing it all into one reasonable post. She is just that amazing!

I met Laura many years ago through homeschooling. She was the one who introduced our family to speech and debate, which ended up becoming a huge part of our lives. Laura is persistent and persuasive when she really believes in something; Thus, she insisted that we attend a conference. We did, and the rest is history.

Laura is one of those women who seems to know everyone and loves to connect people with people, as well as people with causes. I discovered this early on in our relationship, so whenever I organized a speech and debate tournament, I delegated all the PR to Laura. Let me tell you, no one can recruit judges like Laura can! The politicians who came to her door promoting themselves for the next elections, had no idea they would end up judging a round of debate the next day. But she had her way of persuading them, and sure enough our beginner debaters were being adjudicated by congressmen and mayors!

Laura has strong convictions and pours herself out wholeheartedly for the things she believes in. She is a strong believer and loves Jesus passionately. She believes that the Gospel saves and that people need to hear it. She unashamedly pursues unbelievers in order to share her faith with them. She was a missionary in Guatemala many moons ago, and now a missionary in her own city. I just love that about her.

Her love and service of others is simply outstanding. Yes, she is a loving mom and a wonderful wife, but more than that, she befriends anyone in need of friendship and nurses anyone needing care (oh yeah, I didn’t mention she is actually a nurse and she has helped me a bijillion times with all my health consultations ๐Ÿ˜‰ )

If I ever need a friend, I know Laura is just a text away! She will lend me a listening ear, and she will also tell me her opinion plainly and simply. She’s a no-nonsense, down to earth counselor, and she’s not afraid to speak the truth. Her love is evident, and she follows through with much grace.

Laura endures hardship with strength and optimism. Auto-immune disease, loss of job, career change, and other difficulties she face are not enough to sway her from her steadfast joy and hope in her God. She doesn’t crumble under pressure but becomes a problem solver. She is not only self-motivated, but creative and resourceful. And when she finds something good, she gets everybody to join her! She can’t eat wheat. No problem! She finds a million recipes for delicious gluten-free foods. She discovers a fun way to exercise and soon enough her entire neighborhood joins Zumba classes. She can’t practice nursing any more, so she becomes a great salesperson (something she thought she would never be able to do) and she recruits like a pro! And hey, why not do some Uber driving on the side?

I admire you, Laura. I deeply appreciate your friendship and I love you very much. When we are old and… OK, I was going to say wrinkled, but with that Nerium you sell, that may never happen to you ;). Anyway, when we are really old, let’s move to the same community (Cristen, Leslie, and Carmen, you come too!). You can make your amazing chips and salsa, we can go to adapted Zumba-with-walkers classes or stroll together every morning, like we used to do at the lake, except a lot slower. Then we can visit in the afternoons and I can help you practice Spanish so you don’t forget it. Our kids all love each other, so when all 7 visit, we can have parties with lots of Ecuadorian/Guatemalan/Japanese/Cuban/gluten-free food. It will be a blast, I tell you ๐Ÿ™‚

2 years ago when she visited me in RVA and we went to Maymont

2 years ago when she visited me in RVA and we went to Maymont

At Les Miserables :)

At Les Miserables ๐Ÿ™‚

Laura with her man :)

Laura with her man, at my house, in some sort of a party…

Laura and Cristen cleaning the house I was moving into

Laura and Cristen cleaning the house I was moving into

<3

โค

My Tia is The Best Tia

Entry No. 2 from the Tributes Series: To my Tia (aunt) Cristina.

I was a scared teenager when I moved to the United States upon graduating from high school. I barely knew the language, I had no friends, I had never driven a car, much less in such a big city, and I had never fended for myself. Even though I had not grown up close to Cristina, and I barely knew her, she stepped into my life with a bang and helped me survive and assimilate to this new world of mine. She made me clothes that were in style (because styles vary from country to country and I looked like a dork in Miami standards), taught me to speak “Cuban”, and helped me laugh, even in the midst of such uncertainty and loneliness. I knew I could count on her. Her friendship became a life line, and she took hold of a permanent place in my heart.

Cristina is one of the funniest people I know. Last time I saw her in Miami, she greeted me with a joke, as always. She laughs at herself and she laughs at life. We recently grieved the loss of my uncle together. Cristina has the gift of truly embracing difficult emotions, while at the same time pointing out the light and comical. No one can cry and laugh in one sitting like she can. I’m so thankful for that!

Some of the things that I mostly admire about her, are her courage and perseverance. She has faced life and motherhood while single, working several jobs, even three at a time, relying solely on God for strength. When I grow up, I want to be like her ๐Ÿ˜‰

Cristina, I’m so blessed to have you in my life. Though we rarely talk, I am confident that I can always count on you, and that you will rejoice with me when I’m happy and hurt with me when I cry. I am so proud of you! You are a wonderful mom, sister, daughter, and friend. I’ve witnessed your spiritual growth. I know my grandfather would have been so pleased to see you serving God with such passion and love.

I love you.

My 18th birthday, 2 months after I moved to the states, with Cristina, my uncle Aris, and my grandparents.

My 18th birthday, 2 months after I moved to the states, with Cristina, my uncle Aris, and my grandparents.

She was a fashionista and we made outfits for my birthday.

She was a fashionista and we made outfits for my birthday.

Maid of Honor at my wedding.

Maid of Honor at my wedding.

Cristina with her daughter, Gabi, and my son, Daniel

Cristina with her daughter, Gabi, and my son, Daniel

Cristina now :)

Cristina now ๐Ÿ™‚

Mikala

Entry No. 3 from the Tributes Series

She was just the second student I had upon moving to VA. I had left my private voice studio in Miami, where I had more than 30 students whom I loved dearly. Now I was living in Richmond, without friends, connections, or recommendations. And in came 15 year old Mikala. She was the type of kid who listened to every word I said, took it all to heart, practiced wholeheartedly, and did not settle for less than her best. I had a few students like that in Miami. Now Mikala was blessing me by reminding me that I could have the same kind of fulfillment I had left behind, here in my new home.

Mikala and I connected instantly. She had the passion and the determination needed to grow in her craft, and I had the love and enthusiasm to help her in every way I could. Not sure who helped whom the most, but I know the blessing was mutual. She has continued to study with me, every week for the past two and a half years, with the same courage and drive as she started. I admire her work ethic, discipline, and disposition; three traits that will take Mikala far in life, with the help of God.

Mikala is strong. I have seldom seen a young person suffering so many injuries and illnesses, and battle them courageously with the help of her family (hats off to her momma for being a great one :)) She is also strong in her thinking, not caving in to peer pressure, trends, or fads. She has a mind of her own, knows what she wants, and goes for it. She doesn’t like to lose time, but keeps herself engaged, takes her school seriously, and loves to excel in everything she does. I had the pleasure of helping her with speech three years ago when her mom and I ventured out and started an NCFCA club in RVA. I’m very pleased to see that Mikala is competing next week in impromptu at Nationals, and has become an exceptional debater as well.

I am blessed to have Mikala in my studio, but beyond that, I am honored to have her, as the special human that she is, in my life. One day Mikala and I will be in the presence of Jesus, singing praises to him, together. For now, we just practice.

With Elise at an NCFCA debate tournament

With Elise at an NCFCA debate tournament

Last year's recital. Photo courtesy of Lynn Cloud

Last year’s recital. Photo courtesy of Lynn Cloud

Dueting with Will. Photo courtesy of Lynn Cloud

Dueting with Will. Photo courtesy of Lynn Cloud

Competing at NATS with style and finesse. Photo courtesy of Lynn Cloud

Competing at NATS with style and finesse. Photo courtesy of Lynn Cloud

Mikala singing at last week's recital

Mikala singing at last week’s recital. Photo courtesy of Lynn Cloud

So proud. Photo courtesy of Lynn Cloud

So proud. Photo courtesy of Lynn Cloud

Summer Resolutions

I refuse to make New Year’s resolutions in January because chances are, I will never keep them. They just seem so ominous and unrealistic, usually involving a transformation in lifestyle and habits. January 1st seems like such a random day, to me. Yes, the calendar year changes, but in actuality nothing is significantly altered, other than the fact that we have partied for a month and a half throughout the various holidays, and probably gained 15 pounds in the process. Hence all the diet and exercise resolutions that Weight Watchers and Gold’s Gym take advantage of ๐Ÿ˜‰

But today is different. Today marks the beginning of my summer schedule, which means I’m not working the same type or amount of hours as during the school year. Instead, I will be compacting all my private lessons into two days a week for the months of June and July. Therefore, I am looking forward to having two months of, well, a bunch of free time, and I want to use it well! So here are my resolutions for my summer:

  1. I will prioritize spending time with my family. I will have fun with Gabriel (I anticipate lots of trips to the pool), have plenty of picnics, go to the lake, play games, and have meaningful conversation with every member of my beautiful, loved family.
  2. I will clean and de-clutter my house. I’ll start with closets. I foresee many trips to the donation drop-off at Goodwill. I will, hopefully, tackle drawers and cupboards, and who knows, maybe even the laundry room!
  3. I will deep-clean my house. Once.
  4. I will cook more. My family will definitely appreciate that.
  5. I will take more time to write and compose.
  6. I will start and finish a book to help me grow spiritually.
  7. I will start and finish a book to read for fun.
  8. I will spend more time with friends, which will not be hard, considering I have barely done that lately.
  9. I will venture out more. I will take time to go places around this beautiful city and state, see new sites, and learn more about this culture and history.
  10. I will NOT stress if I don’t achieve the previous 9 nine things I’ve set out to do. Instead, I will be happy if I accomplish 50% of it and satisfied if I reach 75%.

I shall write a follow-up post at the end of the summer with actual, tangible actualization of my resolutions. How’s that for accountability? ๐Ÿ˜‰

These are pictures of my summers during the past two years of our life in VA. I have very good memories attached to every single one of these:

Summer 2013 in DC

2 years ago at Sunday Park

2 summers ago at Sunday Park

Goofing off with this goof

Summer 2013 at Yorktown

Summer 2013 at Yorktown

Gabriel at the pool in Brandermill

Gabriel at the pool in Brandermill

2 summers ago at Jamestown with my brother and his beautiful family <3

2 summers ago at Jamestown with my brother and his beautiful family โค

With Geneva and Daniel at a Flying Squirrels game. Best fireworks in town.

With Geneva and Daniel at a Flying Squirrels game. Best fireworks in town.

Last year in DC

Last year in DC

2 summers ago at Sunday Park

Last summer at Sunday Park

2 days ago on a date with my beautiful mother to the VMFA

2 days ago on a date with my beautiful mother to the VMFA

Ode to Joy

A friend on Facebook shared how she is going to pay tribute to meaningful people in her life, not after they die, but while they are still alive. I deeply appreciate this reminder to give words of gratitude and encouragement to those who have blessed me throughout my life. Therefore, I am purposing to write a tribute a week. If I keep up with this goal, I will have expressed my appreciation to 52 of the amazing people in my life, by this time next year ๐Ÿ™‚

The first person I have decided to pay tribute to is my friend Joy Osborn. She is my boss. And she is a keeper.

Joy is enthusiastic, and her energy and positive attitude are infectious. In spite of pregnancies and babies, Joy doesn’t skip a beat. She compliments me every time I wear my yellow jeans and she answers my emails at 2:00 AM (I mean, really, does anyone else have a boss who does that)? She greets me with a smile every time I see her in class and her bit of sarcasm suits me well ;). She wears miss-matched socks to camp, comes up with crazy games for the kids, and bends over backwards to make sure everything is well planned and delivered. Joy has helped me when I didn’t know what to do, covered for me when I dropped the ball, and even sewn costumes for my students… because God knows that me and the sewing machine do not get along all that great.

Thank you, Joy, for your love for God, your commitment to integrity, and your passionate dedication to your job and the people in it. You have influenced me way more than you probably are aware you have. In fact, I have subconsciously adopted your way of communicating, by often ending my sentences with “You know what I mean?”

I’m gonna miss you when you move away. If it weren’t because your equally awesome husband is waiting for you elsewhere, I would try to sabotage your departure…. somehow.

I couldn’t find a picture of you and me, but I did find this one from the day you made your way into the hair and makeup room to help with Elise’s “White Witch” hair extensions.

This is not my picture, but has been all over the internet. I just “borrowed” it from you, Joy lol. This picture says it all!

My Birthday

The past week or so has been, as it is in the lives of the average person, packed with a variety of circumstances, obligations, and emotional responses. I’ve had a mixture of good news, terrible news, difficulties, and wonderful experiences, all bunched up together. I’ve had news of new births, news of death and abandonment, business at work (which is fun and rewarding), frustration with dealing with Virginia’s service for adult services for the disabled (which are almost non-existent), while going through the fun and difficulties of the mundane. Oh, and did I mention tech week? We are in the middle of tech for the amazing show, Tom Sawyer (opening night is tomorrow). While I must admit that it is LOADS of fun, I also recognize that it has been slightly nerve-wracking to direct a pit band for the first time while making sure that the entire musical/vocal show holds together.

And in the midst of it all, t’was my birthday. Truth is, my birthday has never been a big deal for me. This year, however, I’ve been dreading the thought of approaching 50. I just hate getting old (Lord, help me have a better outlook!). So turning 48 is a painful reminder that I’m almost there and aging is inevitable. While dealing with my heart’s attitude is a topic for another blog post, I do admit that this fear of mine has made this week slightly more tense than it should have been.

So yesterday marked the anniversary of my birth, and I am so thankful that what could have been a fearful, busy, stressful day, turned out to be a happy one. I’m thankful for the family and friends who pampered me and showered me with love and affection, probably not knowing the deep effect they were having on me. My family expressed their love in MY love language: my husband rented a monster cleaning machine and shampooed the carpet, my kids cleaned and blew leaves in the yard, and my mother made the most amazing arroz-con-pollo (cus she makes the best one in the world) for dinner. They did it deliberately and joyfully, for me, because they love me. My friends and students at work brought me cup cakes and fresh-baked cookies and Starbucks drinks and soup and scented candles and gave me hugs and sang embarrassing birthday songs, and my friends from near and far sent me over 500,000 messages (and yes, I answered every one. Boom.)

Today I feel gratitude for my age and the fact that these 48 years on earth have yielded a big, loving family; They have afforded me the time to build lasting friendships, all over the world; They have given me experience and know-how which allow me to enjoy a wonderful job, which surrounds me with wonderful people; They have grown me in the ability to appreciate little things and enjoy smaller moments.

Third and final day of tech week, here I go! The show is gonna rock. Besides the 5 lbs I am sure to gain from all the sugary goodness I received yesterday, this week will be a blast.

Oh, and one more birthday present to me: Today I logged in to discover I have 101 blog followers! Here’s to another year of blogging!!

Like Glue or Peanut Butter

There is an old Steve Green children’s song, which my kids sang over and over when they were little, that speaks of friendship that sticks. The little boy in the video asks: “Like glue? Or peanut butter?” He replies: “Well, something like that…”

This is the song that has been playing in my head the past few days. I have friends that stick. I am so blessed and so fortunate to have women in my life that I can actually call dear friends. They put up with my craziness. They see me for who I am. When I open up to them and speak truthfully and vulnerably, they do not judge me nor they criticize me. When they tell me what they think and give advice, I listen and receive it, because I know they love me. They hurt with me when I hurt and they are happy for me when things go well. They care for me and pray for me.ย 

And I feel the same way about them.

So this post is simply one of gratitude for my friends.ย 

Also, I’m convinced that now that I live in a new city, I need to be a little more proactive about reaching out and fostering new, real friendships.ย If you’re reading this and live in RVA and want to be my friend, hit me up. I’ll do coffee with you anytime ๐Ÿ™‚

Life can be hard, and everyone needs good friends wherever one lands.ย 

So here’s to the awesome friends who stick like glue, the ones I already have and the new ones I’ll make. Mazel tov! ย