Monday, December 27, 2010


When I was eight years old, my dream was to become a world-famous actress. To this day, my 3rd grade teachers remind me of my aspirations to excel in “movie star college”. I’m sure I am typing to a crowd of former astronaut hopefuls and prospective Presidents of the United States, and I think I speak for all of us when I say we were willing to do whatever it took to achieve our dreams. The sparkle of our exciting futures gave us the passion we needed to become whatever we wanted. Unfortunately, as I grew up, my sparkling dreams began to fade as passion became a distant concept in my crazy high school life. Luckily, on an everyday coffee run, I met a Starbucks Sparkler that brought that 3rd grade sparkle back to my dreams.


AHHHH, Winter Break, I thought. It was after school on the first day of my winter break, and I was looking forward to resting. After a stressful semester of applying to colleges and searching for scholarships, it was nice to finally have some time to just hang out at home.

As I walked into my house and dropped my backpack in the kitchen (hoping to forget about my homework during my two week vacation) I could only think of the hours of sleep I would be recovering. Sinking into my couch, I fantasized about the five hour nap I was planning to take until I realized I had promised one of my friends to meet for coffee. Oh five hour nap, we were so close, and yet so far away! I thought. Well, at least I’m getting to see an old friend, so sleep can wait….for now. So, grabbing my keys and sliding on my red sunglasses, I hopped into my car and drove to the nearest Starbucks.


“Oh my gosh, it’s been too long!” I exclaimed when I saw my buddy. He had just returned from college, and I couldn’t help but be excited to see him.

After ordering our drinks and asking each other the usual questions (“How’s school? What are you doing now? Are you so excited for break?”), we started talking about college. My friend described to me his experience as a college student. While listening to him, I realized that in the hustle and bustle of senior year I had not been enthusiastic about my future in college. Don’t you remember how excited you were freshman year when you realized college was only four years away? I asked myself. Now, here you are, three months from decision day, and where’s the excitement?

As if he was reading my mind, my friend asked me what I was looking forward to in college. “Well, I’m pretty excited for the independence, new environment, and new things to do,” I responded unenthusiastically. Whoa there, Abi, don’t be too excited now, I thought. “I guess it seems a bit too far away to seem real to me.”

Enter my Starbucks Sparkler, a woman grabbing a midday coffee, into my deflated expression of my emotion toward college. As my SS was adding sugar to her coffee, she overheard my conversation and jumped in, saying, “Excuse me, dear. I heard you say you were going to college next year, and I want to encourage you to pursue whatever dream you have. Honestly, if you are lucky enough to have your dream at your young age and have the means to achieve it, go for it!”

My SS continued to tell us about her own experiences as a young woman attending college thirty years earlier. She told us she was passionate about studying astronomy, a field that had been previously untouched by women. Her passion motivated her through society’s pressures and even the pressures within her own family. SS advised us as young people today to use our passion for our dreams to propel ourselves to success.

After sugaring her coffee to perfection (and returning to our table a few more times to give us more advice), my SS left Starbucks. That was a pretty interesting situation, I thought. Why did she insist on telling us to be passionate about our goals?

Now, significantly more rested and eagerly awaiting my future university life, I realize my SS wanted us to understand that passion, a true desire and commitment to something, can motivate you to achieve your dreams, regardless of what obstacles may stand in your way. SS taught me that anyone, from the eight-year-old dreamer to the slightly unconventional astronomy student, can have the passion needed to make any dream come true.

Lesson Learned: Just like an actress cannot star in a film without a script, no one can truly achieve their dreams without passion. Passion is the point of reference to which you can look when you are discouraged, stressed, or even exhausted with your lives. When the wildly emotional scenes of your life’s movie threaten to pull you from your dreams, it will be your passion that reminds you to stick to the script. Take it from the almost-premiere actress of our time, having passion will help you win the Oscar of your dreams J.

If there is no passion in your life, then have you really lived? Find your passion, whatever it may be. Become it, and let it become you and you will find great things happen FOR you, TO you and BECAUSE of you.” T. Alan Armstrong

Monday, December 6, 2010


I don’t know about you guys, but when I get a compliment, I feel my ego inflate a little bit. Come on, you can’t tell me that when someone congratulates you on a job well done, you don’t feel a little more special than everyone else J. But in my efforts to be humble, I always try to remember that every decision I have made has been shaped by the actions of someone else. Giving the credit to whom it is due is an important part of demonstrating humility. Yet, after experiencing one of the most exciting events of my life with my Modest Miracle Maker, I have learned the important second component of being a truly humble person: the ability to support someone else in achieving her dreams.


“WHAT???” I exclaimed into the phone. Wait, wait, wait, I think you’ve got it all wrong, I thought. The Young Humanitarian of the Year is supposed to be some incredible kid that cured cancer! There’s no way they can be talking about…

“You, yes, you! You’ve won the nomination!” the joyful voices on the phone said to me. “We’ll call you in a couple of weeks to help you prepare for your speech at our formal banquet, but until then, congratulations!”

Oh my goodness, it really is me! I thought excitedly. I can’t believe this!!!!

I received this amazing news in early June, so I had until late September to write my acceptance speech (and allow the shock to wear off J). The first week after I had received the news, I felt like I was floating on air. Not only was I excited for the experience, I was also really glad that I would be able to present my reasons for volunteering to members of my community. I get to be a voice for the all my friends who are involved in community service….YAY!!!!

As the weeks progressed and my excitement began to wear off, I started to feel a bit uncomfortable about receiving the honor. If I were a genuinely humble person, I wouldn’t need to be recognized for what I do, right? I thought. I can’t misguide my community into believing that I deserve all the credit for my passion for volunteering. I felt like embracing my honor as the Young Humanitarian would mean I was abandoning my humility as a community serviceperson.

This feeling festered inside me, and after a little while, I felt so guilty about receiving the honor that I did not want to accept it at all. After my once sky-high spirits had been weighed down by worries I shared my concerns with my MMM.

“What are you talking about?” my MMM said to me. “Of course your community knows you are grateful for this honor! If you were not a humble person, you would not have achieved anything they are recognizing you for!”

Of course you have to say that, you’re my friend, I thought. “How can I let them know about all the things other people have done for me? You of all people should understand what I mean, MMM. You are one of the main reasons why I am even being honored!”

“Oh, I haven’t done anything. You won this award based on what you did. Your heart guided you, okay? Other people have helped you, but you had all this in you from the beginning,” MMM said. Although I still felt a bit uncomfortable about receiving the honor, my pep talk with MMM boosted my confidence.

As I began writing my speech for the banquet, I realized it was possible for me to relate my personal service successes to the impact others have had on my life. When I presented my speech a couple of weeks later, I thought about all the amazing people that had contributed to my achievements, including my MMM.

A few weeks later, I thought about what MMM had said during our pep talk. There is no way I had accomplished everything I did simply because of who I am. MMM knows that just as well as I do. I thought. Then, like a beam of light shining through the clouds (cue the angelic voices), it hit me. Even though MMM knew it wasn’t just my efforts that contributed to my success, s/he was trying to give me the confidence I needed to write my speech. If I didn’t chat with MMM, I could not have given my genuine message to my community.

Although my MMM has made a huge impact on what I have achieved in my life, s/he set aside any desires for personal recognition to guide and support me while I was being recognized. Instead of seeking a place in my Oscar-esque speech (right after my director, but before my fans), my MMM was focused on lifting me up to achieve the most I could. I thought I was learning humility by recognizing others in my own achievements; little did I know that every influence others had on my life had been teaching me humility as well J.

Lesson Learned: An important part of humility is helping others achieve without seeking any credit. Acknowledging the influence others have had on your life allows you to think you are humble, but selflessly helping others succeed is how you prove it. Everything from being recognized in front of your community to an ordinary compliment is an opportunity for you to demonstrate genuine humility. The next time someone congratulates you on a job well done, don’t just think about your humility, prove it. J

Humility does not mean thinking less of yourself than of other people, nor does it mean having a low opinion of your own gifts. It means freedom from thinking about yourself at all. ~William Temple

Sunday, November 7, 2010


Most teenagers today are masters of juggling, and I don’t mean flaming swords or tennis balls. We teens manage to juggle school, athletics, after-school clubs, friends, family, church, volunteering, sleeping, and so much more every single day. While some of us have become quite good at this insane circus act, most of us do not realize that juggling a million things will quickly tire us, and everyone knows the tired flaming sword juggler always gets burned. A little while ago I was in the same position, trying to juggle everything in my life and failing miserably, until my Sophomore Sage taught me that the real trick to this circus act is to balance all my activities.


*BEEP, BEEP, BEEP, BEEP!* my alarm clock greeted me at 5 AM. As I angrily hit “Snooze” on the clock, wishing I had more time to sleep, I realized I was taking my midterms that day. The stresses and worries that had flooded my mind the night before were returning in waves of anxiety. AHHH, midterms!

I got out of bed and started getting ready for school. As I was brushing my teeth, I realized my bathroom as a total mess. Walking into my bedroom to make my bed, I noticed that my room looked like my backpack had thrown up all over the place. Wow, I thought, I haven’t had much time to clean up, I guess. Well, I would have cleaned up yesterday if I didn’t have to study for the history mid-term. I really should have studied for my science exam, though, that’s test will be more difficult…..

As I reentered the stress zone, I absent-mindedly threw on the cleanest pair of sweats on my floor and, carrying my three hundred pound backpack, ran downstairs to grab a quick bite for breakfast. Ugh, sweats again? I thought as I was sitting down at the table. Where are all my other clothes? Man, I have really been out of touch with myself.

Seeing my dad slide an egg on my plate at that moment made me realize I had been out of touch with my family too. “Good morning, stranger,” he said teasingly to me. “We haven’t seen you around here in quite some time!”

He’s right, I thought as I ate my breakfast. I haven’t had dinner with my parents, even seen them after school, since the beginning of the week. What the heck is happening to me?

This thought wormed its way through all my mid-term stresses into my head. As I was driving to school, I could only think about how I felt totally helpless to control my own life and that I was losing my grip on the world. I had realized I had missed numerous club meetings and my little cousin’s dance recital. Everything I did for fun was eliminated from my schedule because of my mid-terms. There is no way I can take my midterms now, I thought. I am a total nervous wreck!

I walked into school with this anxiety, which seemed to grow with each step I took. As I entered a teacher’s classroom to ask about the mid-term that day, I realized he was advising my SS about school, and stood by to wait for them to finish. After a couple of minutes, my SS thanked my teacher for the help and approached me to say hello.

It’s pretty cool that I get to see SS this morning, I thought. We hardly see each other anymore! “How are you, SS?” I asked. “Is everything going well for you?”

My SS replied, “Everything is great, thanks. How about for you? Is everything okay, Abi?”

“My midterms are really freaking me out, SS. I HAVE to do well on them, I just don’t know what I will do if I don’t,” I said. Although I had been thinking about this all week long, telling someone about my worries opened up a wave of emotion. I blinked back tears as I said, “I just don’t know what to do.”

My SS gave me a hug and the best piece of advice I received that year. “Listen, Abi,” SS said, “You are making yourself miserable. By stressing out over your mid-terms, you have only made yourself less capable to take them! Even if you did horribly on you exams, you can work it out with your teachers so you can retake them. You have got to give yourself a break! Try to balance everything in your life and trust me, everything will be okay.”

After that pep-talk, I wiped my tears and approached that school day with all the confidence in the world. Although I was relieved to learn I had done well on all my mid-terms, I was even more that grateful my SS talked some sense into me. I have now turned in my flaming swords in favor of a triple-beam balance; and I must say, as a senior balancing applications, school, friends, family, and activities, I believe it is working very well J.

Lesson Learned: You have to balance, my dears. Balance your family time with study time, your club commitments with “me”-time, your happy time with your sad time! It may seem scary to focus yourself on different areas of your life, but take it from someone who knows, it is even scarier to be stuck on one thing and see everything else crumble. Retire from your juggling career, and you’ll see that balancing your priorities allows you to truly enjoy your life. J

Be aware of wonder. Live a balanced life - learn some and think some and draw and paint and sing and dance and play and work every day some.”- Robert Fulghum

Monday, October 11, 2010


“A”s on a report card sure do make people feel good. What better way to show you actually know something in this world, right? Unfortunately, excellent grades, as awesome as they may make us feel, do not necessarily indicate how much someone actually understands about their world. The class brainiac may have all the facts memorized, but without wisdom, she’s just a cup that can be filled and poured at will. I was just like any other empty-headed smarty-pants, until my Wise Wonder Woman taught me exactly how to make the important stuff stick in my mind.


SAT, SAT, SAT……My mind was reeling from brutal encounters with various Critical Reading sections and Math section formulas. It was the week before I was going to take the SAT and I was so nervous you could have cut through tension in my bedroom with a knife.

I had been studying in my bedroom since I had gotten home from school that day. Green sunglasses perched on my head, I had been reviewing vocab cards and math problems all afternoon. My stress levels elevated with each turn of the pages in my study books, and by the time my mom called me for dinner that day, I was overflowing with anxiety.

I feel like everything I’m doing isn’t helping me face this beastly test, I thought. Well, at least I only have this test to focus on…

BEEP! My cell phone was receiving a text message, a welcome distraction to my anxious eyes. “Hey Abi, don’t forget we need you to call the office for Key Club and send in that form ASAP.” Ugh, I thought, maybe this wasn’t as welcome a distraction as I wished it was. I completely forgot about that club stuff!

Logging on my computer to print out the forms I needed, I felt extremely burdened in all my obligations. SAT, clubs, what else do I need to do?!

A friendly Facebook update about an upcoming history test added to my mental madness. That’s right, the test is this week. I haven’t read over the notes at all this week! But I have to study for SAT \, oh yeah, and that club stuff too…AHHHH! How is this going to get done???

As I was drowning in a deluge of my thoughts, I received a text from by WWW that rescued me from myself. It read, “Hey girl, what’s up?”

I replied, “I’m okay…=P just really, really busy. How about you?”

“I’m pretty good =). What’s keeping you so busy?” WWW texted back.

Poor WWW heard everything that had made its way into my head that day. After filling a few text messages with all the news of that day, I typed, “And I just don’t know how I’m going to get everything I need done.”

I’m stuck, like a fly on sticky paper, I thought. I don’t know how I’ll make it out of this mess….

BEEP! WWW’s text interrupted my worries. In a clear, simply put phrase of wisdom, my WWW typed, “Abi, you know you can ask others for help, right? Just because you ask for help doesn’t mean you aren’t as strong as I know you are. =)”

That short message penetrated me to my core. Well, yeah, I can ask for help….But I can do it..., I thought. Oh, wait a second, actually I can’t do it all by myself…Why didn’t I think of that? I realized that I never thought about asking for help because I was so absorbed in working hard and doing the best I could on my own. Of course, even though I had all the resources available to me, because I had not asked anyone for help, I felt helpless. WWW’s little package of wisdom truly helped me, and I was so awed by that small but powerful piece of advice that all I could text back was what I truly felt: “Thank you. =)”

Lesson Learned: Wisdom trumps knowledge every time. Reciting the dictionary is not nearly as important as expressing the few words you really need to show someone you truly care for them; being a classroom genius won’t do much for you unless you learn how to apply your facts to the world around you. With wisdom, one can see beyond the stress, anxiety, anger, and disappointment in life and discover the hidden opportunities to realize that every experience truly is incredible. J

God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.” Reinhold Niebuhr

The invariable mark of wisdom is to see the miraculous in the common.” Ralph Waldo Emerson

Monday, September 20, 2010


Karma is the greatest motivator to do something nice for others. We are all taught, in some way or another, that we should treat people the way we would want to be treated. In “Abi Terms”, if I share my piece of cake with you, I should be able to expect you to do the same for me, right? My example shows that kindness these days has been transformed into something we exhibit because we hope others will do the same for us. I myself lived under this impression of kindness until a couple of Secret Samaritans taught me that true kindness is gladly given, with no strings attached.


“CAR WASH!!!!! Come get your cars washed!” It was a sunny Saturday morning, and, you guessed it, I was working a car wash for one of my school clubs. All morning kids had either been advertising, waving signs and yelling at the top of their lungs, or scrubbing away at dirty cars. It seems like we are powering this carwash with pure enthusiasm and spirit, I thought happily as scraped away dirt from a car’s rims.

All that morning cars had been pulling in and out of our wash station. With a few sponges, soap, and towels, my club was raising money and awareness for our cause in our community. I was so happy to know we were reaching our service goals, but I didn’t have time to process our success right then. My mind was whirling that morning because I was the leader in charge of our entire fundraiser. Cries of “Abi, where should we move this car?” and “Abi, can we switch our jobs?” echoed in my head all day long. Feeling slightly overwhelmed, I had to constantly remind myself that morning that all the craziness was worth it because we were helping out our community. My friends are doing an amazing job with this fundraiser, I thought as I slid on my blue and brown sunglasses. The least I can do is mirror their enthusiasm and hardwork, right?

This thought and the generous donations of all our customers helped me overcome my worries. Although their monetary donations were much more than what we could have asked, the positive energy each shared with us helped to fuel our efforts all day long.

One couple of Secret Samaritans supplied our car wash with enough positive energy to power a small city! They brought an enormous truck with a bug-encrusted windshield that occupied the time of a few dedicated car washers. Our enthusiastic washers could have finished this truck in a few minutes, but unfortunately, because of our limited supplies, the job took us much longer than it should have.

The SS’s were pleased with their tidy truck after we finished, and paid us just as generous a donation as all our other customers. After they left, we continued to wash more and more cars with our one-house, six-sponge operation. We continued for a little while until we noticed that truck with the once-bug-encrusted windshield was pulling into our parking area once again. Wait a second….I recognize that truck, I thought. I wonder why they came back? Oh no, I hope we didn’t forget to clean any part of the car!

Feeling slightly uneasy, I approached my SS’s truck, and saw that, as they got out of their car, they were carrying a hose, nozzle, and hose splitter.

I must have been wearing my confusion like a mask on my face, because one look at me, and one of the SS’s said to us, “Listen, kids. Your operation here sucks, so we decided to give you these supplies to help you out. “

We all started jumping up and down and smiling until our cheeks were sore. Thanks to this lovely couple, who was just running errands on a Saturday morning, we were able to make more money for our cause. But more importantly, this couple of Secret Samaritans taught us that kindness really does not need to be solicited. Their donation had compensated for the fact that we had scrubbed their bug-encrusted windows clean, but this couple, who noticed that we were a group of kids who needed help, truly demonstrated kindness to us by helping us just because they could.

Lesson Learned: Kindness is something given freely and without any expectations of getting it back. Being nice to someone is not like maintaining a bank account, where you pay kindness to satisfy a debt of someone else being nice to you; when you are truly kind, you do something because you know it is right to do so. Kindness, sincere care for others, will make a deeper impact that the indebted kindness of karma any day J.

You can't live a perfect day without doing something for someone who will never be able to repay you. ~John Wooden

Monday, August 30, 2010


I’ll be the first to admit to wanting to be a superhero when I was a kid. Superman was completely the coolest hero out there! The thing I liked the most about Superman was his super strength. In the eyes of elementary-school Abi, nothing was too difficult for Superman to knock out of his way, and no one was stronger than he was. But, as both my taste in superheroes and my perspective changed as I grew up, I began to realize strength is not defined by how much you can push or throw. As my Hidden Hero showed me, true strength is measured by how many people, especially yourself, you can uplift.


“Finally you pick up the phone!” I said. “Wow, honestly, it feels like I have to call a million times just to catch you for five minutes!”

I was talking to my Hidden Hero, a good friend who was not good at answering the phone. We had been able to talk for a few minutes here and there, but it had been a while since we were able to have a real chat.

HH replied, “I know, I’m really sorry. If only you knew how busy things were in my life right now, you would understand.”

I take NO excuses, I thought as I polished my black maroon-lined sunglasses. A few months without real conversations is way too long. “Business or not, we need to talk! I’ve got a lot to tell you, and I’m sure you have a lot to tell me too!”

“All right, well you will be happy to know we can talk for hours if you like ,” HH said.

With that invitation we proceeded to talk about everything that had been happening in life. New movies, clothes, and ice cream flavors were our main topics. Our lightweight chatting continued for a little while, but HH said one phrase that immediately anchored it to the ground: “Oh, and I’ve been looking at some colleges, too.”

I felt emptiness in my stomach as I said, “Colleges? Oh yes, college. An amazing experience achieved only by enduring the monstrous application process.” I said uneasily.

“Tell me about it! I have my heart set on only a few schools, but thinking about if my grades or a few essays are not impressive to admissions offices makes me crazy!” HH replied. “I just really hope the schools I am aiming for see how badly I want to go there.”

“I’m sure they will,” I said, “but I understand what you mean. But don’t worry, I’m sure we’ll both be happy wherever we end up.” I sure HOPE we will be. “Let’s change the subject. What has been new with you?

“Not much is new with me,” HH answered me.

“Really? What about your family, how are they doing?”

“Oh well, my grandparents aren’t doing too well. They are actually in the hospital right now both caught a really serious infection.”

Oh, that’s too bad, I thought, thinking about the numerous sweet treats and affection I received from those grandparents. “I’m sorry, I really hope they feel better. Well, how are your friends? Everything is drama-free, right?”

HH hesitated a bit before saying, “I’ve actually lost a few friends this year.”

Gossip strikes again, I thought. “Don’t worry, HH, if they aren’t trustworthy, they aren’t worth your time.”

“Not like that, I mean that some people I know have passed away. In fact, last month I attended a memorial service for one of my friends,” HH said quietly.

Oh my goodness. HH’s friends have died. Overcome with sadness for them, all I could say was, “I truly am sorry to hear about that. I can’t even imagine how you must feel. How are you dealing with this?”

HH replied, “It has been pretty difficult, but I’m learning to live with it. Their experiences have taught me to love and value my life, and I plan to live it to the fullest.”

Well said, I thought. “I’m sure that’s what they would have wanted. But are you sure you are ok? I mean, just a few minutes ago we were freaking out about college, but you seem to be handling this so well,” I said.

“I know I probably should be depressed or angry, but I know I have to push through these hard times and keep living my life,” HH responded.

Of all our conversations, this one taught me the most about my friend. I saw HH’s sensibility, courage, and strength. To be able to handle those hardships and deal with the growing pains of being a teenager demonstrated a real strength of will of which even Superman would be jealous.

Lesson Learned: Strength is internal. You may be able to move buildings like Superman can, but if you lack a strong character, you are truly weak. It may be difficult to face life’s problems with courage and strength, but in doing so, you will be securing yourself in who you are and what you are really made of. All issues, average or Superman-sized, can be handled with a bit of courage and internal strength. J

Strength does not come from physical capacity. It comes from an indomitable will.” Mahatma Gandhi

Tuesday, August 17, 2010


A young person in today’s world can afford the luxury of being ignorant of their environment. With our cellphones, televisions, and relatively comfortable lives at home and school, we are never really forced to look at anything except what is immediately around us. I too have indulged myself in being totally focused on my life, without any thought for how life may be for less fortunate people. But those thoughts began to invade my ignorance thanks to an Expert Exposer’s efforts.

Math homework, then I’ve got to practice piano, then eat dinner, then…. My thoughts were an unending stream cascading into the overflowing ocean that was my head. Wait, when am I going to clean my room?! Ok, I guess I have to move my club meeting to…

“ABI! Are you deaf?” my Expert Exposer asked angrily. “Why aren’t you listening to me?”

Dazed from the mental torrent, I looked up and said, “Sorry, I’ve just got a lot on my mind right now.”

EE took no excuses. “Well, forget about it right now, and hurry up. If we’re going to take a walk, we need to do it before it gets too dark outside.”

It was around six in the evening, so I figured we had at least an hour and a half more of sunlight, so I said, “Ok, let’s go,” and started to walk toward the door. That reminds me, I have to get my books from the car door, and then return them….

“Abi, aren’t you forgetting something?” EE asked, pointing at my feet.

I looked down and saw my feet, clad in a set of old flip flops. Slightly embarrassed, I said, “Oh, right, I’ll go get my tennis shoes.”

I need to clear my head, I thought while I laced my shoes and grabbed my white-rimmed black sunglasses. Otherwise, I might lose it somewhere.

We set out on our walk around the neighborhood but despite the beautiful scenery and fresh air, I could not see beyond the musty confines of my own mind. EE could tell I was still distracted. “All right, Abi, what’s up with you?” EE asked. “It better be something good to keep you from focusing on me!”

EE’s question was opened my mind like a faucet that allowed my thoughts to pour from my mind. My responsibilities, my fears, my worries, my life became the main topics of our walk that evening. I kept talking and EE kept listening while the sun slowly began to set.

As we rounded the corner of the last leg of our walk, EE interrupted me, saying, “Abi is this it?”

Confused by the question, I said, “What do you mean, ‘Is this it,’? This is what I am dealing with right now,” I don’t know what EE was expecting, but these are all the things I live with every day, I thought, becoming a little irritated.

After staring at me for so long I felt like I was being x-rayed, EE said, “Abi, you don’t know how good your life really is.”

“Oh really? Why don’t you tell me since you obviously know my life so well,” I responded.

And EE enlightened me about how good my life is. Not with personal issues, but with the issues EE’s community had dealt with. Poverty, discrimination, and ignorance were just some of the real-life difficulties EE had witnessed. EE continued to expose to me the adversity that both people in my community and those in less fortunate countries, like those in my home continent of Africa, face.

EE concluded by saying, “You really live a life of privilege. You have stability and support that most people can only dream about. Because of the lucky life you lead, you, as a privileged person, have a responsibility to care for those less privileged, Abi. Remember that the next time you become absorbed in your own life.”

Since that day, I have remembered to be aware of the world around me. EE’s frankness taught me to focus less about my own issues and to be aware of the problems other people. Over time, I realized that any problem I had would pale in comparison to those of people in my community, my country, or even my world.

Lesson Learned: Ignorance is NOT Bliss. Empower yourself and become aware of the lives of people around you. Whether it is new students in your school or a community of kids halfway around the world open your eyes to their hopes and dreams, their hardships and their difficulties. Although life is comfortable in your secure little bubble, take a risk and step our into the new environment of awareness and action J.

“Let us not look back in anger, nor forward in fear, but around in awareness.” James Thurber

Sunday, August 1, 2010


People are like cellphones: if you expose us to the smallest amount of stress, we can’t function. If we don’t stay home and recharge, we don’t last throughout the day. If you bend us against our will, we snap. If you drop us into orange soda…well, you get the point. While there are resilient ones among us, many more seem to forget the importance of staying strong when the when things get tough. I too had forgotten this important quality, until I was enlightened by my Steadfast Survivor.

“I don’t want to worry you” were the first words that came out of my Steadfast Survivor’s mouth.

Setting my yellow fold-up sunglasses on my head, I thought, Well, I know what this means. I’m about to be worried.

“I don’t want to worry you,” SS repeated, “but there is a possibility I may have cancer.”

My sinking despair anchored itself in both my belly and my heart. Cancer?

Submerged in the depths, I vaguely heard SS use medical terminology to describe ways to determine if the cancer was really there and talk about arrangements that could be made to make its removal as painless as possible.

“If it is cancer, I’m planning to go to the best hospital in our area. I’ll try to get the best doctors to do my pre-op procedures and my operation, and I’ll work with family so I’ll have a support system afterward.” SS explained.

Feeling absolute numbness, I said, “Ok.” And in my numbness, that would eventually transform into restrained fear, I realized there was a possibility SS could be gone from my life.

This sudden realization motivated me to ask, “How are you so level-headed about this? You speak about having cancer like it is business, like all you have to do is ask the doctor to take it out, and everyone’s happy after that!” Angry because SS showed no fear, I started to yell. “Why aren’t you emotional?”

When I looked at SS’s face, for an instant, those eyes betrayed worry. But they quickly recovered their stoic appearance, and SS said, “Being emotional isn’t going to make it go away. I have to be strong to face this thing.”


Time passed from that conversation. Days turned into weeks, and weeks into months. Uncertainty turned into dreadful assuredness, and doctor’s appointments, medications, surgeries, and at-home nurses became commonplace.

SS, a few days after the surgery, looked like a soldier who had just walked off the battlefield. Exhausted and in pain, SS could barely walk, and could have only short conversations. Yet, even in these dark days, SS maintained strength.

How on earth is this person enduring this situation? I thought. Where is this strength coming from?

After a few weeks of recovery, I asked SS these very questions. SS replied, “I simply had to be strong to survive. I found my strength from God and from my family, and those two sources truly helped me endure. I knew that I had to be strong to beat it.”

It was then, months after our first conversation, that I realized the true importance of being durable in the face of danger. Medicine, advice, and therapy could only do so much; in the battle with cancer, my Steadfast Survivor’s will was the most powerful weapon that could be used.

Lesson Learned: Be resilient, and stay strong during life’s adversities. When faced with sadness or stress, try to find one source that can sustain you, and derive your strength from it. Whether it be God, your family, or even your dreams, use this source to make you durable in times of difficulty. Having internal strength can help you endure far more than you could ever imagine. J

"Fall seven times, stand up eight." -Japanese Proverb

Monday, July 26, 2010


Ever notice that when something good happens, the whole world seems to brighten up? But if, God forbid, the tables turn on your luck, doesn’t everything world seem to descend into the underworld of unhappiness? Floating on emotions between the heights of happiness and the depths of despair stressed me out to no end. Fortunately, my Alice “Free-From-Wonderland” taught me how to keep my feet planted firmly on the ground.

“Thanks for having us, we had a really good time!” we said to our host. My good friend, Alice Free-From-Wonderland, and I were leaving one of our friend’s birthday party, and we wanted to let her know that we had enjoyed ourselves (and not just because of the unbelievable amazing desserts she served J).

“I’m glad you came!” she responded. “Hopefully we’ll have another chance to hang out (and in our case, pig out J) together.” She waved to us as she returned to the exciting party in her home.

Once we left her house, AFFW and I began to drive all around town, just to hang out and explore. Of course, I had to have some shades if we were cruising the scene, so I glammed our exploration up with my blue denim sunglasses. While we drove around, we talked about everything: school, family, and anything in between. It was like a Dr. Phil catharsis session minus the drama and runny mascara.

After a while (because unfortunately fun only fuels teenagers, not cars), we stopped to get some gas. While AFFW paid and began to pump gas, my mind wandered back to the party, and all the people that had been there.

I’d seen her, and he was there, and….oh, she was there too, I thought. So many people showed up to this party! It might as well have been a class reunion.

When AFFW returned from the gas-pumping adventure, I commented about all the different people who had been at the party. “Any standouts you recognized?” I asked.

Pulling out of the gas station, AFFW said, “Not anyone specifically. My one friend was there…oh, and that other friend I used to play soccer with…and I saw an old ex of mine…”

Hearing the words “old ex” instantly awakened my curiosity. “Oh really? Who was it?”

AFFW began describing the mysterious ex, and I slowly realized this person was a fairly popular, well-liked person. It seems like AFFW would have had a good relationship with that person. I thought. I wonder what went wrong?

With all these thoughts swimming around my head, I decided to ask, “Well, why didn’t it work out? It couldn’t have been unfaithfulness, right? I couldn’t imagine that person doing that to anyone.”

AFFW responded, “No, it wasn’t cheating.”

Searching for reasons, I suggested, “Was it because of friend drama?”

Smiling as if friend drama was not a real issue (although we all know it can be), AFFW explained, “Of course not. Honestly, Abi, our relationship ended because I didn’t want it to become too serious. We’re just in high school, and we may think everything right now, with our friends and relationships, is so important, but realistically, we have our whole future to worry about that stuff.”

And with that morsel of wisdom, AFFW had given me a thought to savor for many days to follow. Those words brought all my worries and concerns down to earth, and helped me distinguish between which issues were just blowing in the breeze and which were firmly rooted in reality.

Lesson Learned: Be realistic about your circumstances. It may seem like this relationship or that exam is the most important thing in life, but remember, it really isn’t. For us high-schoolers, we have an entire future of experiences waiting to shape us. So enjoy yourself, and keep your wildest worries and wants in check with a dose of reality J.

“And you do it by understanding the difference between being a good person and being a perfect person. The first is possible; the second is unrealistic.” Harold Kushner

Tuesday, July 20, 2010


“Keep On Smiling.”; an easy piece of advice to follow when life is easy to handle. But is it possible to keep a grin plastered when school is chaotic, when family is going bonkers, and when nothing seems to be going right? I believed positivity was impossible for any realistic person, until I met a Sensible Smiler that flipped my frown upside down.


“The Bell is about to go, so everyone pass your tests forward.” For most of my school, this bell marked the end of one class and the start of another. But for me, and thirty other unlucky souls sharing my fate, that ringing was a death knell. We had just been defeated by one of our exams, and we left that classroom dispirited and defeated.

“I have never felt so horribly about a test before” I said to some of my friends. I was surrounded by phrases like, “Yeah, that was ridiculously hard,” and “I hope this test isn’t TOO important to my overall grade,” in agreement with my hopelessness. It was safe to say that we, who had entered our classroom with a healthily-inflated sense of confidence left class thoroughly deflated.

Throughout the rest of my day, I tried to make that exam seem less monstrous than it was. It was not too bad. And I’m sure I got enough right to get a decent grade on the exam. But my confidence was anchored by a gnawing feeling of gloom all day long. I slid on my red aviator sunglasses in an effort to hide my worry, and tried to survive to the end of my day.

As I was walking to the day’s final class, I saw one of my friends who had also endured that painful exam, the Sensible Smiler, doing what was she did best. That smile, one I had scarcely seen on any other of my classmates’ faces, surprised me. I curiously thought, Why on earth is there such a big smile on this kid’s face?

My curiosity got the best of me. “Hey, SS, how’s your day been?”

“It’s been really good!” SS responded.” I’m so glad the day is almost over. Did you want to go get ice cream with me and some friends after school?”

Ice cream? I thought with disbelief. Did SS even come to the depressing exam in class today? “I would, but I’m really bummed about today’s test, and I think I should go home.”

A shadow of worry covered SS’s face (FINALLY!). “Oh yeah, that exam was really tough. I think I might have failed it.”

“Aren’t you worried?” I asked her expectantly.

“Yes, I am. But I think my grade in that class will be OK. Besides, later this semester I have some chances to boost my grade. So, do you want to get some ice cream?”

I was shocked at how SS had flipped such a negative situation into such a positive light. By blending realism with optimism, SS had avoided having my gloomy day. Sensibly smiling, my friend had managed to turn a painful testing experience into a trip to get ice cream.

Lesson Learned: Positivity is not just for people who are already happy, so don’t write it off as such. Try to look for the bright side of difficult experiences (I’m sure there will always be one.) Remember that if life gives you hard exams, make ice cream trips of them J.

“A pessimist sees the difficulty in every opportunity; an optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty.” Winston Churchill

Sunday, July 11, 2010


Imagine having to constantly watch your back in fear of being attacked from behind. You cannot trust your surroundings, and you cannot rely on anyone but yourself. What kind of dangerous, uncertain jungle am I describing? My friends, I am describing high school. For the longest time, it seemed to me that politics were more important than friendships among my peers. But luckily for me, a lovely Eye-Opener came along to reveal the beauty of a loyal friend.

I’ve had it, I thought. She is driving me crazy. We don’t talk anymore, she acts way differently from a few months ago, and it is to the point where I just don’t like being around her anymore.

I was suffering from the inevitable friendship issues that spring up throughout high school. One of my closest friends, my amazing Eye-Opener, and I were slowly drifting away from each other. I, who had once enjoyed being attached to her by the hip, was to the point of disjointing my own leg just to get away from her.

I know what I have to do. At lunchtime today, I’ve just got to tell her how I feel. Maybe then she will give me peace, or better yet, leave me alone.

First, second, third, and fourth periods flew by in a blur. As the bell rang for lunch, I realized my mental state was just as blurry as my day. In an effort to clear the mental cloudiness, I took a deep breath, slid on my cool blue sunglasses, and headed out to lunchtime.

As I approached the lunch line, I saw EO eating a bag of chips with some friends. Oh dear, this is going to get ugly, I thought.

“Hey, EO, can I talk with you for a second?” I asked her. Luckily, my shades concealed the obvious dread that seemed to be glistening in my eyes.

Sensing that something was the matter, she nervously responded, “Sure, no problem.”

We began to walk around campus, and I decided to just let my feelings flow. “We both have new friends, our interests are changing, and we just don’t act like we used to. As harsh as this may sound, I don’t think we can be friends like we used to be.”

I sensed my Eye-Opener absorbing what I had said. I saw her sadness, I heard her heart break, I could feel her disappointment. After she had digested what I had said, she responded with possibly the sweetest thing I have ever heard: “I understand. If this is how you feel, then I cannot change it. I just want you to know that even if you no longer regard me as your friend, I will always think of you as mine.”

At the moment, I did not think too much of what she had said. But as the weeks went on, I realized in allowing me to remove myself from the tightly bound friendship I was in, she gave me room to grow into myself. She also promised to be there for me if I ever wanted to return to our friendship. (I am happy to say she is now very much in my life, and my inspiration in many ways J)

Lesson Learned: Loyalty is not just a myth in books. It really exists today, in relationships of all kinds. Value your friends that will remain loyal to you despite what you may do to them. And, most importantly, be loyal to those you love.

“I believe that I don’t have to change friends if I understand that friends change.” Unknown

Tuesday, July 6, 2010


Gratitude is the Best Lens Cleaner J

“Thank you”. Two simple words. Two simple words that express possibly the most common sentiment in any human language. I thought I understood the depth of emotion these two words could convey, but I soon discovered that these two words can mean the world to someone.


High School had gotten to me. My junior year, chock full of stressful standardized exams and complicated relationships, had effectively freaked me out. Panicking to the point of ridiculousness, I realized I needed to vent to someone who was kind, understanding, and straightforward. That someone was my personal Sweet Treat. ST always was patient with me and offered, if nothing else, a set of ears that were always open to my voice.

One day, ST and I were driving along the freeway, spending quality time together. Donning my classic Browns, I relaxed in the calming presence of ST, and for a while, had been able to suppress my need to talk about my worries. But as our trip progressed, my concerns clouded the crystal-clear lenses of my sunglasses and burst from me in a wave of conversation.

“I’m so concerned! I don’t think I’ll do well in school this year, and I’ve got so many commitments, and I have to finish this, do that….I just have so much to do!!!” To say I was overwhelmed at this point would be the understatement of the century; I simply did not know how to approach all I had going on in my life.

ST, as wise as ever, tempered my panicking with a personal experience. ST had met a young woman who, at my age, was expecting a child. This young woman was facing poverty, a lack of support from her family to continue her education, and the social sting of being a pregnant teen.

ST told me, “My dear, you think you are lost, but you know where you are going. This little girl, she’s the one who is really lost.”

Pondering on what I had just heard, I realized what a blessing it was to be worried about my education, to even have the opportunity to achieve an education. I realized the supportive family members, teachers, even friends like ST from whom I benefited were not necessarily available to everyone. I realized how grateful I should be for my life.

Lesson Learned: Be Grateful. Be thankful for your abilities to read what is on this screen, to understand what it says, and to act upon it in any way you choose. Be appreciative of those in your life who guide and support you. And remember, a sincere “Thank You” to one of your loved ones can truly express your gratitude to them J.

When you are grateful, fear disappears and abundance appearsAnthony Robbins

Monday, July 5, 2010

Guide to my "Shades of Gray" Blogs :-)

I want to start off by saying thank you to all who have taken the time to look through my blog. I hope what you have seen is enough to keep your eyes on my blog for many weeks to come J.

That being said, I am sure many people in the wonderful land of the Internet are asking themselves, “Who is this girl and why on earth does she think she can tell me about life lessons? How many genuine life experiences has she had?”

My name is Abi Mariam, I am seventeen years old, and no, I have not had many intense life experiences. I do not claim to have a wealth of knowledge or wisdom beyond my years. But what I have learned about life comes from the wise, mature teachers with which I have been blessed. Everyone from my friends to my parents to even my youngest family members has taught me a thing or two about life.

As much as I love to be right in the center of all the action, I have always considered myself an observer of life. Being an observer, one must be prepared with the proper equipment, don’t you think? My tools of choice are my sunglasses, including all from my classic browns to my crazy paint-splattered frames. Each pair of sunglasses in my collection allows me to see life in a slightly different light; each reveals to me a different Shade of Gray. Equipped with these sunglasses, I can enter into any everyday situation and emerge from it with a new perspective on life J.

You may notice that I do not use recognizable names in my blogs (unless you really are named something like “Sweet Treat”, in which case, you are automatically my hero J). These nicknames are used not only to protect the privacy of whomever I am describing but also to make these stories relatable to everyone. Anytime you see one of my ridiculous names, fill it in with someone important to you, and you will be surprised how easily one of my experiences could be one of yours.

I encourage all who read my blogs to make comments. Please do not feel like I am above criticism; one of the lessons I have learned in life is to accept criticism and use it to grow (which you will be reading about soon enough J). All I ask is that comments are respectful and are relevant to the blogs themselves. If my blog gives you any ideas of how you can individually express yourself to the world, follow them! Start your own blog, write a book, make a movie, do whatever you would like to show your community that you have a voice and you are ready to use it. If you are a high school student like me, I hope you remember one important fact: your age does not determine the impact you can make on your community; effort is a much better measure of what you can do J.

So now, we begin the guided tour of my mind (I understand how unbelievably scared you must be right now, but don’t worry, I’ll be here to protect you J). You don’t have to read every one of my entries, you don’t have to agree with what I say, you don’t even have to like me. There is only one thing I ask of all my blog-readers: Remember that the world is not only seen in black and white; we can see it through all Shades of Gray (and blue, pink, polka dot, cheetah print…)