GirlHQ: love and our living well philosophy

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Live right. Be worthy. Make a difference. This is the philosophy governing GirlHQ. The definition came about, quite by mistake, when a colleague asked how my daughter and I seem so happy, so calm, so close all the time. We breezed through the teens without yelling, without all the things many others complain about when raising children. I want my daughter to not just be a kid but to also have a road map to living a fulfilled, happy life. That doesn’t mean we zen out over crises. It does mean we keep all obstacles and difficulties in perspective.

Being an aware, active participant in every little decision and every big decision alleviates much of the day to day “overwhelmed” narrative common in today’s culture. Social media blurs the lines between public, private, personal, and emotional space. I am exceedingly private about certain aspects of my life. When I share something publicly, it’s generally well known already by the people who matter most to me. As in: my daughter is awesome and I am – yet again – proud of her character, her work ethic, her devotion to being a great human being. Or: my bestie makes life better. Or: love matters and I’m humming a happy tune like a Disney princess today. Life is good. Or: I almost died (ICU for my life) and really want women to know that getting your checkups, fighting for yourself, and for better healthcare, is really important. Life is tenuous at best, leave everything on the table. Remember to tell everyone you love that you do, in fact, love them.

Live right. Forgiveness plays a huge role. Forgiving ourselves for mistakes matters. Forgiveness of others does too. Not punishing people who we choose to keep in our life is difficult. Forgive and keep them in your life, or forgive and cut them loose. Pick one. Don’t string yourself or anyone else along. That is cruel laziness. Forgive and let it go. Once you get the hang of forgiveness, a lot of emotional space is freed up on your heart’s hard drive. Forgiveness frees up time to express devotion to our loved ones, our communities.

Living right is about self-discipline. Love, forgiveness, volunteering, and setting an example are core principles. It means accepting people for who they really are. Accepting moments of great connection for what they are: moments. We spend a great deal of time wanting things to be different. Let it go. That is a waste of time and treasure. Spending an afternoon with someone you admire doesn’t mean it has to evolve into a forever kind of thing. Maybe, it’s just an afternoon. Make the most of it. Put the memory someplace special and revel in the happiness. Take the good from every moment in your life and meditate on it. Learn from the heartbreaks and disappointments but discard the pain. Pain serves negativity, not your soul.

Be worthy. Know your worth and live it. Whatever your talents, passions, and gifts are: embrace them and grow from there. We can’t all be polymaths, or cutting edge publishers of digital content, or human rights advocates, or builders of globally recognized hubs of justice and peace, or musically gifted prodigies. We can all be masters of goodness. Of capacity building in our families and relationships and communities. We can live interesting and worthy lives. A couple who devotes their entire life to each other, their home, their friends, and family with grace while privately fighting with nature and biology and infertility are living worthy lives. The men and women serving in our military too. Aid workers in war torn countries. Teachers who inspire. Mothers and fathers who choose their family over status. The kids donating time at a soup kitchen and listening to the stories of a homeless man or woman. Listening to a stranger in their moment of need. Whispering to a stranger that they have toilet paper tacked to their shoe, or lipstick on her teeth. Whatever. No act of kindness is too small or too big.

Doing the right thing is always worthy. Sometimes it means walking away from someone or something that doesn’t work in your life anymore. Remove emotional, spiritual, professional clutter from your life. Work with colleagues and for causes, companies that represent the kind of person you truly are. Understand money is just money, it isn’t everything. Don’t be defined by money or other people. Define yourself. None of this is easy but it is worthy of you, your inner peace, and certainly a worthy lesson to teach your children, interns, and others you influence. Love and goodness are the legacy we build every day.

If you live right, be worthy – then you will already make a difference. Choose activities, whether intellectual or physical pursuits, that increase your appetite for life. For love. For intellectual and spiritual stimulation. That spur you on, inspire you to do more with every day. Laugh out loud. Cry out loud too. When you need to grieve: do it. Wail. Sob. Yell. Curl up with your blanket and a photo or whatever you need. Let it go. Whatever you cannot control, let it go.

Finding a place less busy, more focused on love and goodness gives us a chance to be better. To do more. Make more money. Be our best, most authentic self. No one has a moral obligation to stay in a place where your beliefs, your values are compromised to the point of being unrecognizable.  We have no obligation to hold on tight to that which does not work.

Anne Lamott says it best:

You own everything that happened to you. Tell your stories. If people want you to write warmly about them, they should’ve behaved better.

After waking up in ICU last September, the urgency of living right, being worthy, and making a difference was fierce within me. I knew I would live and be safe. When I close my eyes, I still feel the warmth and presence of our Creator I felt before the blood transfusions and heart monitors and surgery. All the love I ever experienced was there, all in one place, in one moment – peaceful and serene, without want or question.

For each of us, the journey is different. I don’t know what feeling God’s presence is like for others. To me, it was about discovering pure love and peace and optimism. Take the wins as they come. Discard negativity daily. Persevere. Choose love.

—Media Lizzy

Rich Williamson, A Giant Among Men

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There are few in this world with the character and integrity and giant heart of Rich Williamson. He left this world night before last, after complications from a cerebral hemorrhage. There are many who will miss him. His wife Jane, his children, his colleagues, and to be sure advocates for human rights – especially in Sudan.

Josh Rogin has an excellent piece in The Daily Beast. The Sun Times does too. The US Holocaust Memorial Museum released a moving statement, as did the Chicago Council. Rich worked for three US Presidents. He attended Princeton and the University of Virginia’s law school. I shall leave it to others to list and detail his many contributions to governance and policy.

I will remember him for being a friend and mentor. He always made time to help with writing and editing and helping to guide a statement. He was a great collaborator. He was generous with his time. He was generous with his wisdom. He was a teacher and a true believer. He was practical. He was a realist and an idealist. He was always rushing to get home. He loved his wife and family and his life with them. He was exceedingly kind, and gave great advice to my seventeen year old daughter about learning, inspiration, and being true to self. His actions saved lives in Darfur, and his policy prescriptions would save even more lives if President Obama and his successors implement them. He was a Republican, and the kind of partisan that this world needs. He understood the nature and necessity for what is known as the Responsibility to Protect. He believed eradicating poverty was a moral challenge for us all, and in our individual ability to do just that. He believed in humanity’s capacity for goodness. He was the very definition and embodiment of a good man.

There seems only one who understands the depth of loss, W. H. Auden. His Funeral Blues has been ringing through my ears since I heard the news yesterday morning:

Stop all the clocks, cut off the telephone,
Prevent the dog from barking with a juicy bone,
Silence the pianos and with muffled drum
Bring out the coffin, let the mourners come.

Let aeroplanes circle moaning overhead
Scribbling on the sky the message He Is Dead,
Put crêpe bows round the white necks of the public
doves,
Let the traffic policemen wear black cotton gloves.

He was my North, my South, my East and West,
My working week and my Sunday rest,
My noon, my midnight, my talk, my song;
I thought that love would last for ever: I was wrong.

The stars are not wanted now: put out every one;
Pack up the moon and dismantle the sun;
Pour away the ocean and sweep up the wood.
For nothing now can ever come to any good.

Requiescat en pace, Ambassador. We will miss you, Rich. Every day.

29 Years Later: Do They Know It’s Christmas?

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Twenty-nine years ago this song was released. I was twelve. I had been carrying the little orange UNICEF box around for most of my life. Today, the famine in Ethiopia may be over but in Sudan, Congo, Uganda, and across the world, war and natural disasters still ravage innocent people. Whatever struggles we face here, there are those who have little more than love or hope. Be grateful. Give, even if you can only afford a smile or a kind word to a stranger. Compassion matters and it gives us all strength.

 

All Men Are Created Equal

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One hundred fifty years later, President Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address resonates as a fundamental truth. There are few texts, few speeches that so clearly articulate what it means to be an American. President Lincoln’s message revealed an intrinsic truth – that freedom is not free. But it is necessary nonetheless.

Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.

“Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battle-field of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.

“But, in a larger sense, we can not dedicate — we can not consecrate — we can not hallow — this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us — that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion — that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain — that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom — and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.

—President Abraham Lincoln, 19 November 1863

 

 

ICU for (my) Life

The nurse did not ask for my identification. She did not ask how she might help me. She lifted her index finger, flicked her wrist, and declared “Let me get you a wheelchair.” Her name is Linda. She works in the emergency room of a hospital. Along with physicians and multiple blood transfusions, Linda saved my life on September 17, 2013.

This summer was busy, full of changes. Plagued by fatigue, I trimmed my calendar. I assumed the problem would ameliorate itself. It always had before. Women’s health is a focus of my work and yet, I often neglected my own. My regular physician and I worked on a pretty holistic program. Improving my diet, adding iron rich foods, getting more rest, eliminating stress, negativity, toxic people and unnecessary projects from my life became a priority. Over the course of the summer, the fatigue came and went.

On the evening of September 16th, I hemorrhaged. After convincing myself that I could handle the bleeding and the pain, I went to bed. Faintness consumed me when I laid down, then I felt an incredible peace descend. Warmth enveloped me and I was carried off to a deep sleep. I dreamed of being with my grandparents, swimming in the small irrigation canal along the edge of their property, breathing in the smell of the pasture. I dreamed of sitting on the ottoman and laying across my grandmother’s lap. For the first time since March of 1996, I heard her voice. She was telling me it was time to go back, that it was okay to want to go back. I dreamed of the tree house in their backyard and the sound of the willow branches swishing in the wind.

Then came the dream with my late husband. We were nowhere, sitting together bathed in light and warmth. He held my hand. He did not speak, only smiled as I told him about our daughter. We sat in silence. After some time, he was gone and I was alone. I felt total peace for the first time since I was a child playing in the backyard waiting for fireflies to make their magic. I felt a flood of love, or forgiveness, and tremendous letting go. When the letting go began to feel like separation, I asked and prayed for God to help me. A moment later I was awake.

I stood and went to my mirror. My normally pale skin was almost ghostly, the whites of my eyes were milky white. My nail beds had lost every tinge of pink. The bleeding slowed. I went back to bed, knowing I would be okay. The warmth and sense of peace were still within me.

After a cup of coffee and breakfast with my daughter, I assured her I was going to the emergency room. I would call and text her. The look of relief on her face, the too tight hug, was all we needed. Love communicates with honesty, not always with words. Never have I been so grateful to wake from a dream. I did not realize how accustomed to fatigue and menorrhagia I had become.

Linda took my identification and wheeled me into the emergency room, immediately nurses and doctors flooded the room. A young man appeared and with some frustration was finally able to insert an IV into a vein in my hand, draw blood, and begin intravenous fluids. A rush of tests, ultrasounds, exams, and consultations between the emergency room physicians led to a terrifying moment. Consent forms for blood transfusions needed to be signed, as my hemoglobin and hematocrit were dangerously low. Stress and average grade anemia were not at work here. I had hemorrhaged. I had been hemorrhaging on and off all summer. I was not superhuman. I was human. And they were moving me to the Intensive Care Unit.

The gynecologic surgeon met me in ICU. She introduced herself and we went through my results. Two large fibroid tumors were at the center of my drama. One, a pedunculated fibroid, was dilating my cervix and starting to prolapse. It was time for some real talk. It was time to consider a hysterectomy. It was time to prioritize my health. This inspiring woman assuaged my concerns about my immediate situation and left me to my own thoughts. Before anything else happened, there would be five blood transfusions.

The body is one big miracle. Mine had compensated mightily but the window was closing when I arrived that morning. I called my daughter. I called my mother. I texted my two closest friends. And nobody else. I tweeted as if I wasn’t afraid that my life was hanging in the balance. I replied to emails. I wondered what to say in my email’s vacation responder.

With nothing to do but wait for the blood to drip, drip, drip into my veins, I rested. The warmth and light came again, and I was alone with what I can only describe as God. In that space, the sounds of life support machines down the hall disappeared. My body began to heal. A stranger donated blood that saved my life, as much as Linda or my surgeon or any of the skilled, loving people in that hospital. An act of kindness that will never be taken for granted by me, or those who love me.

I live in a country where experienced professionals provide superb healthcare services. Gratitude seems inadequate but it will mark every day of my life. 

This was a reality check. Not only personally, but professionally as well. My work often straddles human rights, women’s health, foreign policy and politics. The women of Congo, suffer traumatic and obstetric fistulas. The women of Sudan are often forced to bear the children of genocidal oppressors. Women held in bondage in Cambodia or India. Forced labor. Forced marriages. Poverty. Hunger. Illiteracy. Women across the globe enslaved by poverty and evil. Basic health services, let alone services for complex medical situations, are scarce where oppression and impunity reign. The voiceless, the vulnerable deserve equality.

Tomorrow, I will have a hysterectomy. The power of unconditional love and the power of science and skill, will give me back my health. New adventures await. 

Prayers and good juju are welcome.  It is time for rest.

— Media Lizzy

A Noble Man: Dr. Denis Mukwege

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This column originally appeared in The Huffington Post:

Systemic mass rapes of innocent civilians, deployed as a weapon of war remains almost inconceivable to Western audiences. In Congo, there are 48 rapes per hour of girls and women aged 15-49, according to a study published by the American Journal of Public Health in 2011. This does not include girls younger than 15, or women older  than 49. Nor does it include the rape of boys and men, which occurs with terrifying regularity. The United Nations refers to Congo as the “rape capital of the world.”

Marauding militias foment evil in their pursuit to control Congo’s vast resources of tin, tantalum, tungsten, copper, cobalt, and gold.  The profitable “conflict mineral” trade is lucrative. These raw resources are smelted, processed and critical components in virtually every electronic device and even the batteries in electric and hybrid cars. Mass rapes paralyze and devastate communities. Men, women, and children are enslaved, then forced to extract the minerals under threat of torture, rape, and death. The vicious cycle creates a strategic weapon of war. The survivors bear unimaginable injuries. Guns, machetes, or branches, become implements of rape causing traumatic fistulas. Survivors are often shunned by their husbands, families, and communities as fistula often includes the leaking of urine and or feces through the vaginal canal.

Bukavu, a city situated on Lake Kivu, is home to Dr. Denis Mukwege. The son of a Pentecostal minister, he is a gynecological surgeon and savior of women suffering from fistula. The doctor and his colleagues have performed more than 30,000 surgeries since he founded the Panzi Hospital in 1998. A recipient of numerous human rights awards, Dr. Mukwege addressed the United Nations last year. He called on the international community to focus, and condemned the impunity of those commit the violence – as well as Presidents Kagame and Kabila, of Rwanda and Congo respectively, for allowing it to continue. Kabila feels the pressure mounting as word of Mukwege’s heroic, tireless work spreads beyond the Great Lakes Region of Africa to the halls of academia, human rights advocates, and friendly diplomatic partners.

Just a month later he returned to Congo, he narrowly survived assassination. Gunmen held his daughters against their will. A battle ensued and though Dr. Mukwege and his daughters survived, his bodyguard died in the attack.  The assassins forced Mukwege into exile for a short time but his will only grew stronger. He returned to the Panzi Hospital and resumed his practice. 

He continued, and continues, to be outspoken about ending the conflict. Addressing the needs of the women he treats, as well as their families is urgent to him. Nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize, Dr. Mukwege has drawn the attention of the medical industry, human rights advocates, and those concerned with conflict mitigation and diplomacy alike.

Naama Haviv, a scholar with a MA from Clark University’s Strassler Center for Holocaust and Genocide Studies, observed, “There is a reason the women of Congo promised to protect and support Dr. Mukwege after the assassination attempt. He is their best chance not just for survival, but for restoration of their families, communities and dignity.”

Earlier this week, he visited the University of Southern California, hosted by the USC Institute of Global Health and Jewish World Watch.  We spoke via telephone about his work and the expansion of Panzi Hospital’s mission to include more than just medical services.

“What we are doing is creating an environment for women to know they do not need to feel ashamed. To give them back their dignity, give them back their physical and mental health, give them the power to know they are strong.” Mukwege told me.

“There are four pillars to our approach. First, we provide the necessary medical treatments. Second, we must show them [the survivors and fistula patients] it is possible to recover physically and mentally.  We now have psychologists and social services, to help them adjust. The third pillar, we focus on reintegration. We help them understand their economic capacity, help them develop new skills so they feel strong enough to return to their communities, earn an income, and take care of their children. Finally, we now have a team of lawyers to help create a file for every victim. We must stand for justice.”  When I asked what justice meant for these women, beyond traditional notions of prosecutions and convictions, he continued, “Most of these women, after treatment, they become leaders in their own community. They are the ones who will save Congo. What they have faced is not just rape. It is a problem for all humanity.”

Through the Panzi Foundation, Dr. Mukwege’s vision is evident in the programs at Maison Dorcas. Literacy and vocational training are available, with on-site childcare. This transitional home after the women have completed their inpatient medical treatment is an oasis amid a violent, persistent conflict.

Dr. Mukwege is a hero among heroes, as evidenced by other nominees for the Nobel Peace Prize. The story of 16 year old Malala Yousafzai, an outspoken advocate for education who narrowly survived assassination by members of the Taliban inspires. Malala reminds us heroes come in many – often unexpected – packages.

Alfred Nobel‘s will instructed the prizes be awarded to “those who, during the preceding year, shall have conferred the greatest benefit to mankind.” Unlike the years when winners, even nominees, were controversial, it seems 2013 is a return to that spirit. Dr. Denis Mukwege is a noble man forging a path towards peace in Congo. If the fates see fit, he may also be a Nobel man.

Sinead O’Connor, Miley Cyrus, and Saving Our Daughters

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While I haven’t always been a fan of Sinead O’Connor, this is a terrific open letter to Miley Cyrus – and frankly all young women.  The only addition I would make is the culpability and complicity of parents in this awful trend.

From O’Connor: I am extremely concerned for you that those around you have led you to believe, or encouraged you in your own belief, that it is in any way ‘cool’ to be naked and licking sledgehammers in your videos. It is in fact the case that you will obscure your talent by allowing yourself to be pimped, whether its the music business or yourself doing the pimping.

Nothing but harm will come in the long run, from allowing yourself to be exploited, and it is absolutely NOT in ANY way an empowerment of yourself or any other young women, for you to send across the message that you are to be valued (even by you) more for your sexual appeal than your obvious talent.

EVERY young woman doesn’t behave this way. And EVERY relationship with teens need not be laced with passive aggressive FB status’ by frustrated parents. If you didn’t want parenting to be hard, to be a 24/7 job, then you shouldn’t have brought a child into this world.

Here’s my open letter to the Snarky Mommies who say not nice things about their children on Facebook and Twitter, brag about drinking away the stress of raising teenagers, especially girls.  I’m not parenting a young man – so I won’t claim any expertise beyond common sense. But hey, if as you read this, the shoe fits… THEN LACE IT UP AND WEAR IT.

Stop acting like victims, stop teaching your daughters these horrible behaviors, and stop allowing others to teach them they are little more than a receptacle.  Yes, you’ll have to make more sacrifices than you possibly could imagine.  Yes, that means money. Yes, it means you won’t be going on “Girlcations” or to industry conferences to drink and flirt, and possibly bed, men you aren’t married to. Yes, it means that all that snark you use to fill up your Facebook and Twitter feeds with the travails of parenting isn’t an option.

Teaching our daughters to love themselves, to be aware of the realities in this world matters more than getting Likes for a “Mother of Teen” status.  Perhaps if you weren’t degrading yourself or your relationship with your daughter, things wouldn’t be so tough. Cultivate friendships with women you admire, be there for each other – really. For personal stuff, for business stuff, for sounding boards on relationships and parenting advice and venting.

Young women are amazing. Ask yourself some questions. Don’t you want to be the one person she thinks to call first when a young man expresses interest? To teach her to drive? Gets her first job? Applies for university? Cries because someone hurt her feelings?  When she fails at anything? When she contemplates exploring her sexuality? When she is offered a marriage proposal? Don’t you want to be the person whose house she comes to with a pregnancy test?

All of these moments and all the milestones along her life’s path matter. Being present at the beginning of her life, all the way through school, and helping her navigate pettiness and heartbreak, jealousy, disappointment, sportsmanship, academic challenges and triumphs, all these make up the beauty in any parent-child relationship. Do not wait to start parenting until your child is 13 or 14. Don’t assume you can buy her stuff or go get lunch twice a year and have a meaningful, trust based relationship. You are raising a precious expression of love. Of your own legacy.

Be the kind of mother you wanted. Not permissive but definitely open minded. Not controlling but with clear boundaries and consequences.  Be the mother that she respects and admires, after all – you are the one who carried her in your belly or prayed for her arrival through adoption. Make sure she knows that she is a wanted child, one who improved your existence.

Who knows your baby better than you do? Nobody, unless you choose snark over love. Our children have the internet too. When you complain and talk about needing a drink, your children know you want to anesthetize yourself. From them, from work, from life, whatever. Is that really what you want your kids to do when they grow up?

A young girl desirous of love and affection will always find it. It’s your job to love her through it. No, dear girl, you are not hostage to your biology. No, my precious baby, this is not what love is. No, he doesn’t love you. Yes, he does love you but ask yourself – do you love him? Dream big, my sweet girl. Hard work creates opportunities, dedication and mastery of what you love will bring you success.

Love is what threads us all together. It should bind us to those we treasure most of all. But love doesn’t happen by magic alone. It happens when we value ourselves, our loved ones, and our shared path – for as long as it lasts – more than Birkin Bags and Girlcations. Take your daughter with you. Relax together. Laugh together. Learn together. As she reaches her teen years, let her take the reins a little – and if you’ve been there for her – you’ll worry less. You will have the confidence of knowing she doesn’t need you as much, she can make solid decisions on her own, and that she is by your side because she wants to be. Let her bring her friends into the loop, bask in the cool factor you created.

When she grows up and is gone, plan for it. Plan for the quiet but know your baby girl will come home. She’ll call with news, bursting to tell you. Know that as she charges ahead into creating her own life – she will prioritize herself and all the values you taught her. She’ll ask for that raise when she knows she’s earned it.  She will stand up for injustice. She’ll be an educated voter and a consumer of news because you taught her to.

Basically, you have to remember how amazing you are. Even if you don’t always feel that way. Especially when you didn’t always have what you needed, or didn’t know what that was. Every mother has her own way, her own story. Find your own path but don’t let your babies fall prey to “everyone does it.”

Because everyone doesn’t.

Live right, be worthy, make a difference.

—Media Lizzy

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