Category Archives: Love

“Amazing Grace” and a Life of Forgiveness a message from two funerals

Amazing Grace is a Christian hymn written in 1779 and is one of the most recognizable songs in the English language.  With the message that forgiveness and redemption are possible regardless of sins committed and that the soul can be delivered from despair through the mercy of God, the message has crossed over from Christian hymn to more popular folk music.

The author of this hymn, John Newton, lived a life that vacillated between sinner, soldier, sailor and Christian.  At one point, he deserted the British Royal Navy and began a career as a slave trader.  Newton rebelled against his captain and shipmates by crafting dirty songs and poems.  This insubordination landed him in chains, imprisoned at sea and eventually led to his own enslavement and was forced to work on a plantation in Sierra Leone.  Harrowing circumstances brought near death experiences to Newton, during which his faith in God grew to overshadow his propensity for debauchery and profanity.  He showed a new commitment to God and Christianity and began to craft poems and hymns. Newton’s poems emphasized his love for Jesus, the concept of eternal salvation, a wonder at God’s grace, and joy in his renewed faith.

“Amazing Grace” was a song that we sang at the opening of our dear friend’s funeral this weekend.  No one needed to read the written lyrics, the entire congregation sang the song from memory.  One of the amazing things at a Samoan service is that almost everyone in the church, from the Pastor to the attendees, can BLOW.  The song sounded beautiful, I think I even stayed on key throughout the verse, save for the times when tears were flowing down my cheeks.

The lyrics of the first verse are simple:

 Amazing Grace, How sweet the sound
That saved a wretch like me
I once was lost, but now am found
T’was blind but now I see

The original song actually has multiple verses that emphasize a message of losing and regaining faith in God or living a less than pious existence throughout one’s life.  It talks of renewal.  It reminds us that no matter what our sins or or bad traits or less than holy actions have been, we can repent and accept God into our lives, for ever-lasting life in heaven.  I write these words as a person who took CCD classes throughout elementary school, not as a woman who attends Catholic Mass regularly.  The messages of living as a Christian are so pervasive in Western society that even receiving whispers and hints of the Word from when I was only six and seven years old have stayed with me.  And the notion that accepting Jesus into your life as Lord and Savior means going to heaven after death on this Earth.  I think one of the speakers or the Pastor said that our time on Earth is just borrowed and only God knows when we will be called.  Dear Pam was called very early from this Earth.  Her death leaves a hole in so many people’s lives and hearts.  And the testimonies and Pastor’s sermon stay with me, after attending the family service last Friday.

A theme that resonated throughout the speeches was one of forgiveness, don’t let petty disagreements fester, especially amongst family members.  The Pastor suggested that a wise thing to do would be to squash any fights or heal bad blood with your brothers and sisters.  No one intentionally wants to leave words unsaid to a loved one who dies.  Imagine the guilt and suffering that may grow out of that.  No one should hang on to petty disagreements, especially with a family member.  The Pastor’s words were to call your brother or sister and just say, “Let’s let that shit go.  Life is too short.”

In the last two months, I have attended two funerals.  Each service included testimonies from attendees and family members.  One service spoke to how the deceased a life in full service to his faith.  The other preached the message that life is short and we never know when God will call on us to leave our worldly existence on Earth.  Both messages have been playing in my head, over and over on a loop.

I have no resolution to these messages as of yet.  I am chewing on this idea of squashing petty shit with siblings and loved ones.  Maybe in a few days I will have worked out a game plan…

 

Amazing grace! (how sweet the sound)
That sav’d a wretch like me!
I once was lost, but now am found,
Was blind, but now I see.

‘Twas grace that taught my heart to fear,
And grace my fears reliev’d;
How precious did that grace appear
The hour I first believ’d!

Thro’ many dangers, toils, and snares,
I have already come;
‘Tis grace hath brought me safe thus far,
And grace will lead me home.

The Lord has promis’d good to me,
His word my hope secures;
He will my shield and portion be
As long as life endures.

Yes, when this flesh and heart shall fail,
And mortal life shall cease;
I shall possess, within the veil,
A life of joy and peace.

The earth shall soon dissolve like snow,
The sun forbear to shine;
But God, who call’d me here below,
Will be forever mine.

John Newton, Olney Hymns, 1779

 

 

December: Two funerals and a Wedding.

Thirteen days ago, we boarded an early morning flight to Las Vegas.  Sounds like a fun way to spend a Friday and Saturday night, right?  The glitz and glamour of Las Vegas:  five-star restaurants, A-list nightclubs, first class casinos, that all sounds like a decadent way to pass the time with loved ones.  But no, our trip to Las Vegas was all about family.  We travelled there to support our hula ‘ohana who had lost a family member.  And we planned to take time out to visit our dear friend and Uncle who were in the hospital.  Needless to say, I didn’t pack the red stilettos and body con dress.

We arrived before 9am on Friday and were greeted at the airport by our Aunty.  She brought us to the house to pick up our Uncle who had just been released from the hospital.  His health has been shaky for a few months and he was admitted to the hospital for MRIs and other tests.  Uncle felt frustrated about being in the hospital again but the doctors feared that he had been experiencing strokes because he was passing out at work and falling down while on duty.  He is getting up in age and definitely needs to slow down but trying to tell a Grand Master in martial arts is not an easy feat.  This time, it seemed that slowing down was no longer an option, Uncle understood and had accepting it as his new reality.

Because we arrived so early, Uncle was sleeping when we walked in the house.  It took some time for him to completely wake up and his speech was slurred.  When we offered to take him and Aunty to their favorite casino for a buffet breakfast, that woke him up!  We all piled into the van and drove to Arizona Charlie’s, a local casino.  The breakfast buffet was simple but Uncle got his fill and more.  We caught up on our lives to date and shared plans for Christmas.  I was happy to share that Kanoe and I visited with Uncle Joe in Seattle and that he sent his love to them.  It is always nice to have time alone with the elders in the family.  They always share so many stories of training and tournaments in the past, we have to hold on to the values that they founded our martial arts schools upon.  Dojos aren’t supposed to be money machines.  We have a duty to teach our art to students and hopefully grow students who will continue to pass along the knowledge.  Tournaments and belt ranks are fun and somewhat flashy but we need to hold fast to our core values.  The martial arts are about Respect, Humility, Discipline, Leadership, Confidence, Self-Defense and Family.  Family is our foundation.  We are obliged to support our family in everything we teach.

And family was the main reason why we arrived so early.  After breakfast, we brought Uncle with us to the hospital so we could visit our dear friend and her husband.  She had been in the hospital since November because she needed to have a heart valve replaced.  The surgery went well but there were unexpected complications.  We wanted to visit her to show her that we love her and to see if there was anything we could do to support her husband, who is a lifelong friend of Butch’s.  It was such a nice visit, her husband’s daughter was there and Uncle stayed with us while we chatted.  She looked beautiful, the nurses had just washed her long, gorgeous black hair and she was sitting up in the hospital bed listening to music and chatting.  The men, except for Uncle, went for a walk to bond.  Apparently, that is code for going outside to smoke a cigarette.  We stayed in the room to talk.  Uncle shared that he had just gotten out of the hospital and that he just knew that she was going to going home soon.  Our friend’s daughter cracked jokes as she attentively tended to her needs – water, suction, all the little details and needs that pop up when one is recovering from surgery and a long hospital stay.  The nurses came in to check on medications, fluids, etc.  The doctor came in to make an adjustment to one medication and follow-up on tests that were being scheduled.  Everything seemed to be in order and we left to check into our hotel after a couple of hours.

That night, we just had a big dinner and hung out near the hotel.  The funeral was the next morning across town.  We definitely didn’t have a “what happens in Vegas” kind of Friday night that evening.

Saturday morning we grabbed a cab to the LDS church across town.  We made it just in time for to see Uncle S before they closed the casket before the memorial.   His students had travelled from Florida, Oklahoma, Texas, Colorado, all over the country to say their good-byes.  A few of my hula sisters from California travelled to the memorial because we had learned Maori songs and hula from Uncle S over the last twenty years or so.  We also wanted to support our Kumu Hula, his older brother, who was devastated by the loss.  The memorial was beautiful, filled with music and singing and testimony.  The family is blessed with God-given talent for music, especially singing and their dedication to their Church was evident throughout the memorial.  We went to the cemetery for a final good-bye and a few songs.  It was a lovely memorial for a very special man.

A week later, my niece/second cousin (as if Filipinos care about second or third cousin categories) married her longtime boyfriend.  They have a beautiful daughter together and they are truly dedicated to one another and their family.  I couldn’t attend the wedding but I felt comforted by the idea that life goes on, despite the loss that we had recently experienced.  Marriage and babies show us that life is indeed to be lived all in, every moment of every day.

And today, as we putted around the house this morning, we received a message from our friend in Vegas.  He said he had appreciated our visit when we were in town and that his wife had passed on to her next life that morning.  I called out to Butch, who was just sitting down to have breakfast.  I asked him if he had his phone.  He walked toward me and could tell I was about to share some shocking news.  I read the message to him as the tears welled up in my eyes and my voice cracked with each word.  I broke down and sobbed in his arms, it was not the sort of news I expected to hear about her.  He quickly called our friend and received a cliff note version of what had transpired.  She had passed away just a few hours before and we were all reeling from the shock.

I didn’t have a purpose for writing any of this down.  There are no breakthrough words of comfort that I have to share.  My heart is aching for her, for her husband and for her family.  She and I were talking in the hospital about how important it is for all of us to be committed to a healthy lifestyle.  She said to me, “Sis, after my husband being in the hospital for heart surgery last year, I never thought I would be here one year later.  This is no bullshit.  We have to be healthy and take care of ourselves.  Take care of your man.  You stay healthy.  Take care of your beautiful daughter because this hospital shit is no joke.”   She and her husband had a fierce love that no one could refute.  All she wanted was to be home with him.  We talked about how she would be home soon to recover and how great it would be for her to sleep in her own bed.  How much easier her recovery would be when she was surrounded by her own stuff and nurses and doctors weren’t coming in every hour to poke her and prod her and wake her up.  She just wanted to go home and be surrounded by her family, that became her goal.  We all need to think about what we really need to be happy and healthy.  The foundation of it all has to be family and at the core of the family it must be love.  Rest in Love, Sweet Pam.  We know you’re up in heaven watching over all of us.

lessons learned from a leadership journeys #diversity #leadership

I’ve been asked to speak at a conference this summer.  It will probably be my last national presentation as a leader at the Japanese car company where I have been employed for almost nineteen years.  As a diversity leader, I can make a presentation and share insights, stories, and experiences with attendees around career development or business strategies.  That is bland and dry as over toasted Wonder Bread.  The sound of the teacher from “Peanuts” would be echoing in my own ears as I spoke on that topic.  Blah, blah, blah, diversity, blah, blah, blah, business impact, blah, blah, blah, leadership, blah, blah, blah.  Instead, I want to tell a story.  I want to share some thoughts on standout moments and lessons learned from my leadership journey as a small business owner, karate instructor and brand-new Shodan.

The conference is by far my favorite event of the year.  It is an event designed to bring together multicultural women from corporations all over the globe.  It takes place in NYC and it provides an outlet for high-achieving and high potential multicultural women to be confident, courageous and take the next steps in paving the way for a stronger, more inclusive, and more trusting environment. The theme for this year’s conference, Race to Trust, reflects an intention to create a conference that inspires higher cross-cultural understanding and explores concerns among women that trust in the workplace is on the decline due to the current cultural and social trends.   My favorite part of this conference is meeting powerful and inspirational women of color from different industries and I have made several friends at the event over the years.

If I think about this opportunity as my last, I have to consider what my legacy will be.  My biggest accomplishment at the Japanese car company where I have been employed for almost 19 years are employee resource groups.  We started with 2 in 2001, just as pilots, while I worked with HR, Legal, and senior leaders to craft a policy that made all levels of the organization comfortable.  Now there are over 60 chapters across North America, with new groups being created in offices in Canada, Baja, and Puerto Rico.  I was dubbed the “Godmother of Business Partnering Groups.”  Where’s my fairy dust and magic wand???

However, I think that a presentation about 2016 would be more interesting to me.  We discovered that our dojo was operating without a business license or insurance for years, as we were told that we were losing the lease to our old studio.  I elected to become the small business owner created the S-Corp, purchased all the insurance and licenses, found a location, and continue my quest to become an instructor.  During the Summer of 2016, we taught karate in my backyard, on the stiff grass.  It wasn’t until late July 2016 that we moved into the new studio.

Now I am processing all of the emotions that I experienced last year to get the business launched.  All of this happened while I faced the end of my tenure with the Japanese automotive company where I continued to work full time, my daughter started her senior year of high school, and my boyfriend finalized his divorce.  Stress on top of stress on top of change on top of stress.  2016 weighed heavily on my shoulders…  more to come

How Brown Gets Down 2nd Kyu Karate

  
(I never know where my blog postings are going to go.  I wanted to write about my brown belt test and instead thoughts of my two divorces pounded out on my keyboard.  The idea of having two failed marriages sounds a bit humiliating but you know what, it is a part of my life story and I am ok sharing it.  I am definitely not the same person I was 20 years ago when I started karate, fourteen years ago when I got married the first time, or even two years ago when I went back to my martial arts training at Togisala Shorin Ryu.)

December 6, 2015

Today, I passed a test.  It wasn’t a test written on paper.  It wasn’t a compliance eLearning module from work.  And I certainly have no need to take a pregnancy test.  The test I passed consisted of challenging physical exercises, open hand kata, weapons kata, and sparring against two dudes at once.  At my vintage age of 45, I went through a grueling physical challenge to earn my 2nd kyu rank in Shorin Ryu karate, better known by lay people as a brown belt.

You might ask why an old lady like me would want to train in martial arts. My dojo classmates are between the ages of 6 and 35.  I am fairly certain I am the oldest colored belt ranked student on the dojo floor.  Even my Sensei is a year younger than me.  I started training in my 20s, I worked out diligently for a few years, four days a week.  But when birth control failed and I found myself pregnant, I had to stop training.   Unfortunately, even though I was about to test for my green belt, Sensei Rabago had me stop at purple because it would be a huge liability for him to test me while I was hapai (pregnant).  I still trained four days a week until my belly started to show at four months, just like I played softball with my co-ed work team until I hit five months preggo.  They all yelled at me every time I ran the bases because my favorite way to slide was face first.  “Run!  Don’t slide!  Don’t slide!  Don’t’ slide!!!” they yelled at me as I turned toward second base.  Ha.  I still slid feet first for a couple of games.

So why now?  Why am I back on the dojo floor after twenty years?  Simply put, I love karate.  Lessons from my Sensei, the late Richard Rabago, gave me more tips about surviving and thriving in Corporate America as a single mom than any self-help seminar, book, or MBA could have.  Unfortunately, despite trying to go back to Rabago Shorin Ryu intermittently, raising my daughter alone and having a demanding career trumped the hobbies in my life.  While my daughter was very young, dancing in halau gave both of us a sense of ohana.  As she got older and I earned a better salary, I could afford to pay for childcare while I went to outrigger practice.  Now, she is almost out of high school and becoming more independent.  We both dance hula and I feel comfortable and confident going to the dojo three times a week to train now, without feeling guilty about doing something without my daughter.  The best part is, she gets along with the students and parents at the dojo so sometimes she comes to hang out and talk story with everyone while I practice.

Today, I sit in a very different position in life and at work.  Personally, I haven’t had much success with personal relationships, as I’m twice divorced.  Both relationships were based on strong friendships but not much romance or heat.  The first marriage ended when he decided that drinking the boys was more fun than spending time with his wife and stepdaughter.  He wasn’t going to stop drinking and I wasn’t ‘going to let him hurt me or my daughter.  I sure as hell wasn’t going to let him abuse me in any way in front of my daughter.  But he left without ever looking back so we both knew the marriage wasn’t meant to be.

In my experience, it is pretty much impossible to have a serious relationship while holding down a demanding corporate job as a single mom.  I never had a problem being asked out on a date but having a significant long lasting relationship became an elusive thing for me.  Because of the nature of my work, I am on the road about 25% of my time.  Planning dates and building a foundation of a relationship takes quality time, face to face.  The whole “free time” thing has felt like a luxury to me for most of my life.  Dating without a lot of free time doesn’t work out very well.  And, most of all, being a mother surpasses anything else in my life.

My second marriage looked perfect on paper.   Once we walked down the aisle and signed the actual papers, it all fizzled into complacency and a wonderful roommate situation.  He was neat and kept to himself.  He even bought his own groceries and laundry detergent separately from us.  Has anyone heard of a marriage like that?  Sad.  We had shared friends, and grew up with a common culture.  It should have been an easy relationship to nurture.  But he kept himself separate in so many ways, it was easy to say goodbye.

Why do I bring those failed relationships up?  I learned after my recent divorce that I needed to focus on my own happiness as an individual.  Tying my happiness to someone else or something else wasn’t going to bring lasting contentment or love.  And karate is an individual sport.  Karate taught me discipline as well as self-defense.  In my opinion, karate fueled my independence and nurtured my self-confidence.

When I started training 20 years ago, I worked out four nights a week and would  often stay late with Sensei Travis when his friends would come in to spar or work grappling or just do my kata.  I am quite certain I was in the best physical condition of my life.   I felt great.  Karate became the perfect supplement to hula and the values I learned through both reinforced all the lessons I learned from my parents and grandparents.  Family first.  Be humble.  Work hard.   Help others.  Give back.  Your actions represent your family, your halau, your dojo so act accordingly and don’t be a douchebag (ok, maybe I adjusted that last one a bit).

Sharing personal values with the values that I learned on the dojo floor made it very easy for me to train.  And, the more I studied and developed as a martial artist, the more I felt an obligation to give back.  Quite often, I would train as the only woman on the floor.  It was a rare occasion when I saw a female black belt.  Today, things are different but 20 years ago, I did not see many as many women at tournaments or teaching.

My rank test for 2nd kyu symbolized much more than just improvement in my training and/or martial arts skills.  It brings a large obligation to my life as I learn to be an instructor.  Although Sensei Rabago always emphasized that the color of someone’s belt is less important than their integrity and commitment, the average person will make judgments on the basis of what color a karate-ka wears.  And, research shows that people base 90% of their judgments on others based on the 10% that they see.  So, to gain credibility from one glance, a black belt earns it more quickly than a colored belt.

The rank test I passed on December 6, 2015 symbolizes one tiny step in my training.  My physical condition is excellent because I had trained to run 19.3 miles over a weekend for the RunDisney Infinity Gauntlet Challenge.  My mental condition stays strong and focused.  Much of that must be related to the miles and miles of running that I invested to prepare for both the races and my belt test.  But the best part is, my spiritual condition feels grounded and secure.  And that means my body is healthy, my heart is at peace and the possibilities ahead of me are endless.