The Chicken Mama Blog

Life lessons of a faith-based, lawyer/philanthropist/entrepreneur mom.

January 7: Week One is in the Books!

We started our own family law firm this week. Once you get over the fact that no one is going to hand you a paycheck at the end of the week and stop panicking, you settle in to doing work that you are used to doing. For us, it is practicing family law.

My husband and I graduated from law school one year apart and have never practiced together until now. This year, we had an epiphany. Most of our work complaints had to do with other people being in control — of our financial situation, our workload and our calendar. With two kids in middle school, these factors, which we did not have control over, impacted our lives in so many ways, from our day-to-day schedule, our vacation planning and our long-term goals. For me, it also impacted the type of work I had and how I was expected to do it.

Although I have been a litigator for the majority of my legal career, my epiphany included that I wanted to change my legal practice to collaborative law, or handling legal matters for clients outside of court. Hunt will continue to be a fierce litigator but I don’t want to identify myself in this way going forward. Perhaps my philanthropy through The Lunch Project, teaching law students, or being a mom has made me “soft” as some people may see this; whereas in reality I think these aspects of my life just opened me up to different skill sets and a different approach to problem-solving.

The way I see it – if you find that your strengths are different than the traditional methods of your practice, then adopt a non-traditional approach to your practice. I believe using your strengths will make for a more successful practice and will make you a happier person. It will also make you more authentic. I am able to change my approach in part because my husband’s strengths are different from but compliment mine. The hope is that this will make for a happy marriage in our law practice similar to what we have experienced in our actual marriage. Time will tell, but we are definitely open to the possibilities our epiphany and hard work may bring.

January 2: Hanging Diplomas on the Wall

Today we hung our diplomas on the wall of the big conference room at the Woffice. There they were announcing our undergraduate degrees and law degrees. They have hung on other walls before but not in an office where we were the partners in charge. We got to place them in a public space, not behind our desks where no one would see them.

We are proud of these diplomas. Coming from small towns, education was a ticket to something bigger. I announced I was going to law school to become a corporate lawyer, although I did not know what a corporate lawyer did. My mom announced to people for many years after I graduated from law school and began practicing that I was a corporate lawyer although I never practiced corporate law for a single day of my career.

Now we own a family law firm. My husband and I will be practicing together for the first time ever and we will also celebrate our 20th wedding anniversary in 2017.

This year we decided to take on this new challenge together and I hope to blog about running a law firm as a married couple with a teen boy and tween girl and all the ups and downs we face and overcome with God’s help. Perhaps I will document this year for myself or for my family or maybe it will become something that helps others who want to make a big decision for their family but are not sure. Either way, documenting the journey will be helpful.

Tomorrow will be our first day of actually working together. I say let’s get after it and start living the life we are meant to live!

2017: A New Beginning

“When nothing is owed or deserved or expected; And your life doesn’t change by the man that’s elected; If you’re loved by someone, you’re never rejected; Decide what to be and go be it.” The Avett Brothers

At the end of 2016, I noticed that the skin around my jaw line was drooping. That’s not good I thought. It may be a bi-product of age or weight gain but more likely it is the bi-product of a year not well-lived. I spent a year working at a firm where I did not belong. I spent a year not making my own decisions. I spent a year pretending to be someone I am not. And it hurt me physically and emotionally. It is a year I will not repeat. If you cannot live honestly in your own skin, you need to make changes so you can.

Jobs are important and necessary. They bring in income so we can live. Because of this, many of us make our jobs our idol and what I knew about my job in 2016 was that it was my idol. I worshiped the rules other people made because I needed the income. I dedicated myself to working hard and lost myself in the process. There is a time for work and a time for play and rest and when work doesn’t allow a time for play and rest, there is an imbalance in your life that cannot be sustained without a negative consequence.

Introducing the Woffice, the Wofford Law office. A place of light and warmth where Hunt and I can work and be a team. A place where we can be who we are and represent clients in a way that meets our values. A place where we can co-exist with our children and be present in their lives and have them safely within our sphere. A place that we can leave each day knowing we have worked hard but that it is time for play and rest.

The stress of starting something new, especially your own business, can be overwhelming if you allow it to be. Most people have said they are not brave enough to do what we are doing. Each day we have to say to each other, “You’ve got this” and “We are built for this”, work hard and trust God that this is God’s plan for us. We know this because God gave us the Woffice, and this is the start of our new beginning.

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Without Pause

How do you know when someone has empathy for another? When he can walk in the shoes of the other person without feeling sorry for him and with an understanding of his needs.

The Lunch Project supports school lunch programs in Tanzania. Kids are required to “do their part” to make lunch happen every day which includes bringing a cup. Mamas or other students will fill the cup with a hot meal of corn porridge which helps these little guys and girls get through their school day.

Once a little one forgot his cup. An adult did not have to rush in and problem-solve for him. The little boy next to him reached out his cup and shared it with him. Without pause. The cup was passed back and forth until both had an equal share.

Without pause. The child did not make any judgment about the forgotten cup, did not make any comment or even a facial expression. It was simply an automatic gesture of understanding — “you need food and I have some. If I share with you, we will both be fed.”

What if we looked for moments to understand others and acted on our understanding? What if we shared our cup without judgment, comment or facial expression? What if we acted, without pause. Mercy, I don’t know but I think life may be wonderful and the world a good place to live after all.

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The Beautiful Quilt Our Stories Create

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With Valentine’s Day quickly approaching, we start hearing and seeing the word “love” more often. When I think of love, I think of my grandmother’s quilts.

I have two beautiful quilts my grandmother made me. If I had to choose only a couple of items out of my worldly goods and leave the rest, I would choose these quilts. The wedding ring quilt is the more colorful and beautiful of the two. As with many quilts, my grandmother made this one out of leftover or recycled scraps of fabric. There are so many different patterns and colors, I often look at a patch and wonder if it was from a shirt my grandfather had worn or an apron my grandmother donned while baking or canning. When I am reading or watching t.v., I often drape this quilt over me — sometimes because I am cold and sometimes just for comfort. I think about how much love and work my grandmother put into making this quilt for me and how much her tired hands must have ached from cutting and stitching but also the pride she must have felt as each patch was placed perfectly in a circle. She stitched her story into that quilt and then she shared it with me.

I have no such talent. I cannot even sew, let alone make a beautiful quilt. I can, however, share my story. I can also share the stories of those who have shown love to me or others. The first time I saw a child without a cup when it was time for lunch in Tanzania, my heart broke. When I saw another child share his cup of porridge with him without a second thought, my heart broke wide open with love. The first child to hand me change from their change bowl to help make lunch happen for children halfway around the world broke my heart open even wider. Each person has become a part of this beautiful quilt and a shared story. I have no doubt that the ending to this big story of so many beautiful people will be “Love Conquers All.”

May Love Be With You and Ever In You,

Rebecca

Adversity helps connect us.

I often get the question, “Why Africa?” It is hard for me to explain to someone else that I don’t often think about “where” I serve others. To me, I am playing one small role in a much bigger picture that is all connected as if I am one small stitch in an overall beautiful mosaic quilt.

The question “Why Africa?” implies “Why not here?” It is almost always asked in an adversarial way and it almost always pushes a button in me. One, it implies that I don’t help here and that helping somewhere else means less help here. It also implies that I am ignorant of the many problems that face people who live close to me or that I am insensitive to their problems. I immediately want to explain that I grew up in W.V., one of the poorest areas of the country although this sets up a judgment of me that is not accurate because I did not grow up without my needs being met. I also want to explain the volunteer work we do in elementary schools “here” as a part of our nonprofit work. Then, I am trapped in a never-ending cycle of “here” vs. “there” that really doesn’t matter. I have to remind myself to just do my part and hope that I am doing enough. I also remind myself to look for opportunities but not to judge them based on the criteria used by others to determine whether they are worthy of my help. All of this internal work I do to overcome the adversarial nature of this question should not suggest that adversity does not have value. Adversity helps us understand ourselves better and can lead to barriers being broken down so we can connect to others better.

A specific story of when I faced adversity may illustrate its importance. It’s a true story and I have reflected on it for some time since it happened. I was invited to speak to a group of teachers at their annual brunch. The topic was “Global Empathy Education” which relates to the program we offer to local schools. We were permitted to have a table of information about our nonprofit at the front entrance. The table included a beautiful pictorial display created by one of our team members that illustrates how we “give kids the fuel to learn” in Africa by supporting community-run lunch programs. Teachers were filing in and looking at our information. Some were asking Julie, our community services volunteer, and me questions about The Lunch Project and others were picking up information and moving into the area were mimosas were being served. One teacher approached our table, looked at our display, looked us up and down and shook her head “no.” She then told us she taught at a Title I school and her kids were the ones who needed help. Julie tried to explain what we do but the teacher continued to shake her head and said, “this program is not for me.”

Julie looked at me as if to say, “this may not go well today” and my response, which is one of my mantras, was “we cannot win over everyone.”

I started my talk at this luncheon explaining my background and specifically how I am the product of a good education. I recognize that most of the opportunities I have had in life is because I had received a good education along the way. I then explained what I learned on my first trip to Africa: kids were going to public school for the first time, schools had no running water or electricity, the student teacher ratio was over 100 to 1, and that the idea of red beans and rice for lunch would be “Christmas dinner” and as a matter of pride and respect for the parents of this community, we should do no more for these kids collectively than their parents may be able to do for them individually. I then explained how we use examples from rural Tanzania to set up problem-solving exercises for kids in the U.S. so they will see how a rural, impoverished community solves problems and so they will empathize and learn about the world around them. I explained our goal is to remove kids from their bubble and allow them to walk in the shoes of a kid on the other side of the world for an hour or so and how this makes a tremendous impact on these kids — “here.”

At the end of my talk, I went back to our table out front. A line of teachers came up to talk to us after and their comments were very positive. The teacher who had been so adversarial at the beginning waited until everyone else spoke to us before she approached the table. She looked me in the eye and said, “I did not understand what you did.” She then told a story about a mission group and how they had removed kids from their African homes and brought them here for the summer and lavished them with American stuff and then sent them home. Her negative reaction to our display was based on an assumption that we were like this mission group. She then complimented our work especially how we employ mothers in Tanzania to cook for their children at school. She also said, “This program is for my kids, too. It would be good for all kids to know about.” Adversity eventually led to a real connection between The Lunch Project and this teacher and, for that, I am thankful I don’t fear it.

Game changers? You are. This Mother’s Day, own it.

My son came home from school and explained to me he was working on a “game changer” project. I asked, what does “game changer” mean and he said, “someone who changes the world.” The students were asked to choose a modern-day game changer to research and write a report about. I was thinking this sounded like a cool project to me. Then, he whispered, “Mom, something bad happened.” My heart ached immediately.

So, here’s what happened: When the teacher asked the 4th graders to brainstorm about game changers, my son raised his hand and said, “my mom is a game changer.” (I silently cringed.) The other kids laughed and said he was silly for saying this. Afterwards, when they were choosing who they would research for their project, his friends made sure he knew he could not pick me because I am “just a mom.” I assured my son that it was a sweet gesture but that he should pick someone else because I was sure the instructions were not intended to include me. Although he did choose someone else to write about, that day and still today he insists I am a game changer and has explained to me how my work along with the work of all of our TLP team is changing the world.

I have been reflecting on this conversation. I worry that, because I am a mom, my work for The Lunch Project will be seen as a “pet” project rather than a new, thoughtful way of making sustainable change in the world. And, sadly, it has been by some. On the one hand, I want my kids to understand how awesome TLP is. On the other hand, I want them to see my humility. I realize this desire to do both may give them mixed message.

I have been thinking about “game changer” in a much bigger sense as well. As moms, sometimes we tend to think we are small people whose work, albeit hard, is just what we do as moms unconnected to the world around us. I have heard women define themselves as “just a mom.” I think we need to think differently.

game chang·er

an event, idea, or procedure that effects a significant shift in the current manner of doing or thinking about something.

Every day, as moms, dads and as a society raising the next generation, we make a choice with our kids. We make a choice to shift the current thought process. While we may breathe in the negative air of our surroundings on a daily basis, we choose to breathe out positive words to our children. While our hearts may hurt for the harm and ugliness in this world, we point to silver linings and bright sides for our children. While it may be easier to allow our children to become cynics or bullies, we encourage them to love one another and to be the friend they would want others to be.

Every small choice we make every day to make positive change in a way a child thinks about the world and his or her place in it is a game changing move.

My son was right and I was wrong. As a mom, I will insist throughout his life that he is a game changer. Why would I tell him I am not one, too? Why would I let him believe that game changing is up to other people somewhere out there who are unconnected to us?

Perhaps when we stop selling ourselves short and start believing in ourselves, we will all realize we are game changers and we will realize the change we are making in the world every single day.

You are game changers, friends. Don’t just live it. Own it.

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Mindfulness Makes the Magic Happen

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I was having lunch with my daughter at her school recently. A red-haired girl came over to me and said, “I have been wondering about those kids in Africa. How are they doing?” It had been well over a year since I had presented The Lunch Project Education Program to this child’s class. She had not forgotten the children in Africa. Not only had she not forgotten them, she chose to think about them. She was practicing mindfulness. And, it felt magical to me.

What does it mean to be mindful? Mindfulness is “the quality or state of being conscious or aware of something.” According to research, when we attach emotion to our thought process, the thought is etched into our mind. The more emotion we attach, the deeper the thought is etched.

Adults ask me what they can do to help The Lunch Project. I always offer them an opportunity to donate because lunch happens with money to purchase supplies. Almost immediately after saying this (in part, because I do not enjoy asking people for money) I say, “be mindful of the kids we serve.” What do I mean? Choose to think about them. Choose to attach emotion to your thought about them so the thought of them is deeply etched in your mind. The ultimate goal is that these children and their need to have lunch each day at school will pop into your mind at the right time and you will share it with someone who desires to know about them. And their eyes will light up. And, it will feel magical.

Admittedly, I do not always practice mindfulness. I get distracted by so many things. But when I am being mindful of others, connecting the pieces of the puzzle that makes the magic happen seems easier. My friend April is really good at making magic happen because she is mindful. She is also a risk-taker who is willing to step out of her comfort zone — for the mere possibility of magic. She will look for opportunities to talk about TLP (among many things she is passionate about.) She will follow up with an email. She never gives up even if she does not receive immediate results. She will say, as often as she can, how great our programs are. She loves making magic happen.

Mindfulness allows for the “ah ha” moments we desire to have happen. Be willing to be mindful about the things you hold near and dear to your heart. Those ideas, people or projects that stir emotion in you. Allow yourself to think about them. Let them be etched deeply in your mind. Take a risk and look for opportunities to mention them. And, believe that the magic will happen.

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I may have missed it . . . International Women’s Day 2014 happened here, too, right?

March 8 was International Women’s Day 2014. Did you know it? Did we celebrate it in the U.S.? Did I miss the celebration? I posted something like this on The Lunch Project Facebook page —

“To celebrate International Women’s Day 2014, let’s celebrate girls becoming educated. Our lunch programs are in schools which have equal access for and equal representation of girls. It is what we believe in.”

With this photo —

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Where are we in the conversation about our girls? I am not sure we know anymore. There are so many conversations, it may be hard to follow them or measure their success.  I do know this — our girls deserve better. Still. We have not succeeded in making the world an equal place for women. We are making strides. Girls all over the world are becoming educated. Girls growing into women have voices and choices — in many places but not all. There are lots of debates over what these voices and choices should sound like and look like. Those debates are, for the most part, healthy ones to have.

When March 8 is set aside as a day to celebrate women internationally, maybe we should join the celebration. Maybe our girls deserve the celebration. Maybe the celebration would be one more positive impact we can make in the world for them.

Prostitutes give me perspective.

I have a confession to make. Sometimes, I want to say, “I am done.” I can say that out loud and at the same time say I am a fully committed chicken mama. I will advocate for the 900 children of Lemanyata as long as anyone will listen. Sometimes, they listen and pat me on the back and tell me they love my story. What I need for them to do is make it rain money, so these children can eat while they attend school.

And, a lot of this is happening —

Kids, without missing a beat, will create a change jar for the kids at Lemanyata so they can fill the glass full of love and kindness . . . and actual change . . . that will make a difference in the lives of other kids they don’t even know. That gives me some amazing perspective.

But, what may give me the most perspective is a story about prostitutes. That’s right. I met the Rev. Becca Stevens at a conference once. Her charitable work, with the tagline “love heals”, is about helping prostitutes have a life off of the streets, off of drugs, and with real love. She advocates for prostitutes, who deserve all of our love, compassion and respect. But, that has got to be hard. I can only imagine her meeting someone for coffee and sitting across from them and asking for them to give money for prostitutes. Not that they don’t deserve it. They do. But, she carries a heavy burden. My burden always seems easier when I think of hers.