Day 5 - Wearing the Same LBD for One Week

Whew… It has been an impactful 5 days of wearing the same little black dress. People noticed, people wanted to know more, people shared their personal story of living in poverty, people wondered if it was really the same black dress, people sent my data and articles, people were inspired, and people gave.

 

This morning I looked in my closet and realized this won't be my reality tomorrow. YET those I am advocating for do not and will not have this choice and many others that I will have.

 

At this moment, I have raised $887 – more than tripling my original goal of $250. I am so grateful to each person who donated to this cause.  I am touched by your generosity and support. If you want to help, please donate here.

 

One of my donors shared that she used to live in poverty. And, I asked her how she got out of poverty. She said, “It started with a mindset change. I had to renew my mind about money.” She went on to explain that she was raised by a single, teenage mom and it was hard for them. Fast forward a few years and her and her husband bought their first house at the age of 25 (wow). It was not an easy journey for her. It was work. It was deciding she wanted more. It was stepping outside of her comfort zone and giving new ideas a try. It meant learning a new way of life.

 

Learning a new way of life can be EXTREMELY tough. I am living proof. I am so grateful to so many people who were patience with me and helped me break the mental cycle of poverty that existed well beyond my physical place. My little black dress meant more than a blog could explain. Growing up I was blessed with clothes. Yet because of my mindset, and fear of not having enough, I would keep clothes for years. Some I never wore or had only worn once. I kept them because I told myself, ‘what if’ I need it. I had kept my prom dress from 2005 until last year when I husband told me it was time to give it away. I had kept it so long because I told myself there could be an event I needed for it. Crazy thing was I always found a new dress for formal events. I kept the dress for 11 years because I was afraid of not having what I need. One of my dear friends challenged my poverty mindset with this thought, “What young girl could you have already blessed by giving it away?” The thought made me think, and continues to.

 

I also struggled with understanding the value of money. I had to learn there was a difference between thinking with a poverty mindset and being frugal. A fine line yet one worth learning because it can affect the career you chose, the person you marry, and life decisions you make.

 

This is just my story.

 

A poverty mindset can mean something different for each person you encounter. This is one of reasons why we must create sustainable solutions for those in poverty. Living in a constant survival mode can wear on you mentally, emotionally, and intellectually. I also encourage community leaders to have patience and grace when ‘teaching a man to fish.’ Yes, there has to be a want-to on their part, yet there also has to be willingness to walk through the process of a new lifestyle with the person desiring to leave poverty. It is not an overnight process.

 

I sat tonight sharing with my husband how this week has impacted and inspired me, and how I want to use my knowledge and motivation to help others. I told him that we must find additional ways for our young adult ministry to partner with those in need.

 

As a person of faith, I believe the timing of this initiative was perfect. I needed to be reminded that my childhood experiences have a place in where God has me now and what He has for me in the future. Do I know exactly what that is? No! But I tell you that I open and ready to go.

 

Why? I believe advocating for those who grew up like me is apart of my calling. I have run and won elected office, I have graduated law school and passed the bar, I have studied overseas … I have accomplished a few things I am proud of. And, they have been some of the best moments of my life. But, accomplishments have come to mean very little to me if they are not aligned with my purpose. Fulfillment comes with purpose.

 

As I end this week’s journey with you, I encourage you to dig deep about what participating, donating, or observing this initiative means to you. Poverty may not be the issue you are passionate about. You may not have been able to donate. You may not have been able to wear the same black dress for one week. BUT you do have a purpose that is tied to helping those around you. Find it! Pursue it! Keep learning! Stay strong! And, never give up!

 

From the bottom of my heart, thank you for allowing me to share parts of my story, be transparent, and hopefully, inspire you to do your part in your community.

 

Humbly serving,

Chelsi B.

 

You can still donate here.

Day 4 - Wearing the Same LBD for One Week

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Imagine being at a business breakfast and feeling out of place. There I sat this morning watching other women come in their best suits, full face of makeup, designer jewelry, and confidence on high. I sat there with no makeup and the same dress and shoes I have worn all week. Poverty can not only affect what you can purchase, it can also affect your confidence and self-esteem. It can affect you putting your best foot forward. I felt it today as I sat in the Grand Ballroom of The Jefferson Hotel surrounded by six businessmen who wanted to talk and learn more about my work. Not to mention, in a room with some of Richmond’s top movers and shakers.

 

It was challenging. Ironically, while not wearing makeup this week, I received some of the nicest compliments. (I wonder if they had been reading my blog.) Yet it made me feel like a billion bucks because I was not confident in myself. The crazy thing is that the compliment only lasted a few minutes. Then, I went back to remembering that I do not want to get to close to anyone while not being rude. Then, I remembered that I still have another day of wearing this dress before it hits the washer. Then, I remembered that in two days I will go back to having full access to all of my favorite things.

 

Outside of being questioned whether I would wash my dress during the week, I was also told, “Women in the hood don’t wear the same thing.” I remember pausing for a second when this comment was made to me. This initiative is about a person living in poverty having a lack of access to resources that others may not have considered in their daily lives. This initiative is to bring attention to the fact that not knowing that others live in poverty does not change the daily lives of those in poverty. This initiative is to show advocates how what may seem as a small contribution or inconvenience could be life-changing for someone needing resources. This initiative is to raise funds to have a substantial and long-lasting impact on the lives of Richmond Public School students.

 

The Little Black Dress Initiative is about MORE THAN A DRESS.

 

You see we decided to do ONE week because we knew it did not take an entire month to show those around us of the effects of poverty. Yet, you watch a family in poverty and you may see them wear their same black dress or black pants several times in the same month.

 

I remember learning a few years ago that someone I knew had just gotten a new job and only had one pair of black pants and black shoes to wear. I did not believe it. I guess I had not really paid attention to it. I enjoyed their presence and food so that much that I had not given much thought to what they were wearing. But I tell you that even though I may not have recognized it, they knew it. They knew that after amazing events they would head back to their apartment in the hood.

 

So, how do we affect the self-esteem and confidence of those living in poverty?

 

First, we must remember that poverty can happen to anyone. No one is exempt because of their pedigree, connections, or profession.

 

Second, we must go into serving opportunities with a heart AND mind to learn. This is not a call for pity but a call to seek understanding. Learning is continual. Anyone helping those in need of resources and knowledge can attest to the personal growth they have from just serving others.

 

Third, we must do more than make a one-time appearance. Why? Because when that meal is eaten or that event is over, there daily lifestyle remains the same.

 

Lastly, we must decide on our part and do it. Not everyone is called to spend 3 days a week in low income areas. Not everyone is called to give $100,000 for programs or housing. Not everyone is called to speak on the issue of poverty. Not everyone is called to teach in low-income areas.

 

However, for those who know their calling is to impact poverty, please DO IT!

 

There are people who need you! They need your voice. They need your creativeness to help revamp programs. They need you advocacy skills to reform poverty policies.

 

There is one more day left in this initiative and I am looking forward to finishing this week in the same LDB. Not because it has been comfortable or easy, but because it has impacted my life and how I presently view those who are where I started in life. 

 

Will you consider donating $10, $20, or $50 to help provide hygiene kits to Richmond students? I am only $208 away from my goal. Tomorrow is the FINAL day. Any amount is appreciated.

 

DONATE!

 


Day 3 - Wearing the Same LBD for One Week

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I pondered several comments made to me over the past 3 days and my own childhood before coming to this to final thought…

 

“In our heart's desire to help those in need, no matter what that need is, we should be mindful that our compassion does not come off as ignorance or arrogance when uninformed.”

 

You see the helping hand must be gentle, authentic, and informed

 

Let's do a little exercise! Write down the first three thoughts you have about people in poverty…

 

Ready…

Set…

Go…

 

My first three thoughts are:

-       Living without necessities

-       Needing more support to make it

-       Must be driven to beat the statistics 

 

Yours could be similar or vastly different. However, as advocates and community partners, we MUST turn our thoughts into solutions. As someone who lived in poverty, I can attest to the fact that a hand up is needed much more than a hand out. You and I will not be the first who advocate for poverty and families in need, yet we can be one of the  few who do more than make a one-time appearance. And, that call-to-action is a reason why I joined the Junior League of Richmond. We have programs that address lack in the community on a continuous basis. This call-to-action is also why I am so active in the young adult ministry, The Return RVA, that my husband and I founded. We have the ability to combine spiritual growth with community partnerships to ‘teach men to fish.’ I have already messaged our young adult leadership team to be ready for my many ideas to ensure that we are creating sustainability for the people we assist.

 

Today was very emotional for me.  I spent my lunch break volunteering at The Clothes Rack. The Clothes Rack is run by the Junior League of Richmond and provides affordable clothing for women, children, and men. While volunteering I was constantly thinking about the budget I would have to finish today and how clothing did not seem to be a line item in it. Yet, if I did want to shop for a family of three - I would be at a thrift shop like The Clothes Rack.

 

The more I began to think about the budget I needed to create, the more I thought about all ways I am blessed. You see I still remember last year when I found myself unemployed in a new state with little to no connections. When they say you could be a hop or skip away from not having a car or place to stay or food to eat, I get it. There was a point where we could not afford to eat out or not eat our leftovers. I still remember my husband bringing home ramen noodles one day -- the sight of them scared me because I remember as child eating them almost everyday, and I vowed to not eat them again. There was a point where every necessity had to be accounted for. There was no 'I saw this in the store and wanted it.' It was tough and critical decisions had to be made about how life would look different since our household income had been cut in half. So, as I take another try at this budget, I remind each of you that lack looks differently for each person.

 

Let's talk about the budget:

 

I found out that public housing in Virginia is typically 30% of your income. It was also suggested that this budget reflect a single mom with two children ( a boy and girl) – a more accurate reflection of those in poverty. The federal poverty line for three people is $20, 420. That equals to $635 bi-weekly and $1,270 a month.

 

BUT there is a problem, RRHA housing has NO VACANCY right now.

 

That leaves me with the Better Housing Coalition’s apartment for $535. It is important to note that BHC is different that RHA – BHC provides affordable housing and RRHA provides public housing. Also, note that this apartment is still more than 30% of my income.

 

That leaves me with $735 to feed, clothe, transport, groom, and entertain THREE people.

 

Utilities would increase with three people, and therefore I am allocating $120.

 

Now, that I am providing for three people, riding the bus may not be the best option. A 30-day bus pass for an adult is $60, the first child under 5 years old is free, and the second child under 18 is $35 for a reduced fare 30-day pass. That would be $95. Or I could take a leap of faith and use a lump sum of money, say my income tax return, and buy a cash car and limit myself to $20 a week in gas, which is $80 a month. BUT I also have to hope that my cash car NEVER breaks down. I am going with the bus for now.

 

Household supplies would be needed. From toothpaste to cleaning supplies to deodorant to laundry detergent, I am budgeting $60. That also means that we will need to need to either rent a washer or dryer or use the laundry in the building. Either way, it will have a monthly cost. For now, we would use the laundry in the building. I am estimating 6 loads of laundry a week; it would be about $20. The premium plan for the cell phone is out the window. When considering two other people to care for, $6.67 means a lot.

 

Here’s my draft budget:

 

Rent - $593

Utilities - $120

Transportation - $95

Household supplies – $60

Laundry - $80

Telephone - $0

Internet - $20

Food – $202

 

Let’s take note that I have $100 remaining in this budget, however, it does NOT include any additional school supplies for the children nor any monies for extracurricular activities that cost. Oh, there is no savings account. No monies for furniture, hair, nails, medical insurance, medical visits, or prescriptions.Or birthday gifts or Christmas gifts.

 

This was by far one of the most challenging exercises I have done. I encourage you to do a budget. Do you research and see how easy (or hard) it is to find information and resources. Not to mention, this does not include the on-the-ground logistics to access these resources which in many causes are in areas that lack conveniences many of us are accustomed to and account for in our routines.

 

One of my hopes is that as we learn more about the lifestyle of those in poverty, that we also know that many do an AMAZING job with what they have. Yes, they could use more resources and information, yet they do an AMAZING job with what is before them.

 

AND, that is why I need your help. I’ve reached my initial goal. Thank you to those of you who have already contributed. I have set another goal for this campaign and I have only 2 more days to go. Won’t you contribute $5, ,$10, $20, or $50 today to make a difference? These funds will go directly to Richmond Public Schools students to fund playground maps, snack kits, and hygiene kits.

 

DONATE!

 

Thanks in advance,

Chelsi B,

 

 

 

Day 2 - Wearing the Same Little Black Dress

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Early this morning, I began to think about how poverty looks different and is spread throughout our city. Who knows how many people we pass by everyday who live in poverty. Not necessarily because they live under the poverty line yet because they have a lack of resources and/or access to housing, clothes, food, transportation, medical care, etc.

 

The World Bank Organization describes poverty in this way: “Poverty is hunger. Poverty is lack of shelter. Poverty is being sick and not being able to see a doctor. Poverty is not having access to school and not knowing how to read. Poverty is not having a job, is fear for the future, living one day at a time.

Poverty has many faces, changing from place to place and across time, and has been described in many ways.  Most often, poverty is a situation people want to escape. So poverty is a call to action -- for the poor and the wealthy alike -- a call to change the world so that many more may have enough to eat, adequate shelter, access to education and health, protection from violence, and a voice in what happens in their communities.”

 

Today was tough. I had not washed my little black dress and I was uncomfortable and self-conscious. I literally pulled into my office garage and wondered if my perfume had vanished because I got one sniff and I knew today was going to be interesting. My job requires me to be around people, to talk with people, to interact with them, shake hands, and sometimes hug people. Umm... I did not want to be extremely close to anyone. Throughout the day, my mind would bounce between what I was discussing with a colleague and if they could smell my dress. Tonight, I hand washed my dress. You may be thinking, “Doesn’t she have a washer and dryer?” Yes, I have a washer and dryer yet when I think about how I grew up the first decade or so of my life, we went to the Laundromat every week or every other week. As I write this blog, my dress is hanging in my bathroom. I hope it dries by the time I need to leave for work in the morning. We’ll find out tomorrow!

 

Let’s take about a budget…

 

For a person making $11,880 per year, their bi-weekly pay is $457 BEFORE taxes. After Uncle Sam takes his piece, the individual is left with $390. You read right — less than $400 dollars bi-weekly. On a monthly basis that would equal $780.

 

The median rent in Richmond is $893.00. 53% of Richmond residents are paying more than 30% of their income to rent. Let’s take a step back - on the $11,880 salary, a person would not be able to afford most apartments on the regular market.  However, there is public housing. I found the Richmond Redevelopment and Housing Authority website. It listed several public housing complexes and a number to call for information. I started working on the budget after 5PM and realized that I needed to call during normal hours to get a quote on housing. I did find a document on Section 8 housing, but it was almost 50 pages. I did not finish reading it. I was just looking for a formula that I could use to estimate public housing rent. I went to the Better Housing Coalition’s website and found their least expensive apartments were $583. If one of these apartments were selected, only $197 would be left for the rest of the month. Tomorrow, I am going to call one of the complexes to get a ball park figure of what the monthly rent would be for a single person.

 

As I digested this information, I called one of my closest friends and shared my thoughts. She then proceeded to tell me that she knew exactly how it felt to be in the position of making $11,880 or less. Her story tugged my heart because she was in high school, was a cheerleader, and worked two jobs to support her entire family – herself and 4 other people. And you want to know why? One parent was very sick (an eventually passed away) and the other parent was at home taking care of the sick parent. She began helping me with my budget. I originally had only allocated $40 for utilities, I quickly learned that I would need more. So, I am allocating $75 for lights and water. Fingers crossed there are not any long, hot showers or lights being left on.

 

Next, I looked into transportation. I found a 30-day bus pass for $60. Thankfully, here in Richmond, the bus system is being revamped. A bus pass turned out to be more cost efficient than gas, insurance, and maintenance of a car.

 

It is 2017 and a cell phone seemed necessary in my eyes. I googled "cheap phone bills" and found Freedompop. I had never heard of them, however, they have a FREE plan that includes 500 texts, 200 minutes, and 500 MB each month. Umm… 500 texts a month? That would be extremely tough. So for unlimited talk and text and 500 MB, the cost would be $6.67. I have no idea how their service is but it fits in the budget and lifestyle of being a millennial.

 

So, for transportation, utilities, and a cell phone that would be $141.67 per month. That leaves $638.33 for housing, internet, cable, food, household items, doctor’s visits, and hair and nails. Whew... 

 

As I was talking through my thoughts and frustrations of creating a budget on this salary with my husband, he reminded me that my perspective is different now. I am on the side of paying bills. This is huge. When community leaders and partners go into low-income community and schools, we should be reminded that poverty affects each person differently. We will encounter those who know the depth of their lack and we will encounter others who have no idea that they have lack. 

 

Join me back tomorrow as I continue on this journey of creating a budget with $780 per month.

 

THANK YOU to everyone who has donated thus far. I am at 65% of my fundraising goal.

If you’re able, please DONATE to our campaign and share this blog.

 

Humbly serving,

Chelsi B.

 

 

 

Day 1 - Wearing the Same LBD for One Week

Chelsi - LBDI

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There is an order to how I select my outfit. I look for an outfit, I look for shoes, and then I actually try on my outfit. Today, that routine was broken. I did not have the “pleasure” of spending 20 minutes finding an outfit in my closet full of clothes, nor did I have the “pleasure” of trying on a few pieces before deciding on an outfit. Instead, I slipped into my little black dress and black sandals. This is the same outfit I will wear for the rest of the week.

 

Why? …

 

 

Poverty in Richmond is at 25%. Yes, one in four City residents are living at OR below the poverty line. Let me break that down to you. There are individuals AND families living off of $11, 880 OR less — and that is before taxes. The purpose of wearing the same little black dress for five days is to illustrate the effects of a lack of access to resources, educate the public, and raise funds for our signature project education project.

 

This morning I skipped my full face of makeup, my designer jewelry, and my favorite shoes. This morning was humbling. I began to think of my humble beginnings. I did not always have the finer things that I have now. In my early years, it was just me and my mom. And, there were periods where she needed help from the community, family, and the government.

 

A lack of resources looks differently for those in poverty. Some see the effects in the car they drive, the food they eat, the clothes and shoes they wear, the condition of their skin and teeth, the extent their parents are able to be involved in their school activities. For me, I saw it in the car we drove and sometimes the food we ate. For many, poverty will affect several areas of their lives. More importantly, it can affect the alertness, emotional stability, self-esteem, and mental capacity of the children which CAN directly impact their educational future.

 

The funds we (The Junior League of Richmond) raise from this campaign will go to install United States playground maps at six local elementary schools. It is our hope that these maps will serve to teach students the 50 states and their primary colors. We will also improve school landscaping and create hygiene kits. 

 

Earlier tonight, I was able to sit down, talk about this initiative, and gain insight from two Richmond City Council Members.

 

My first interviewee, unbeknownst to me and her at the time, was City Council Vice President Cynthia Newbille. Often times you will hear other Council Members refer to her as Dr. Newbille. Raised in Whitcomb Court, she attended Whitcomb Elementary, the then-Mosby Middle School, and Armstrong High School. She went on to earn a Bachelor’s, Master’s and Ph.D. Newbille shared that as a community we must stop saying “at-risk.” As community leaders and partners who want to positively effect the lives of students in poverty, we must set expectations for students. While she may have grown up in poverty, her teachers and guidance counselors always asked, “What college do you want to attend?” There was never a label she wore because of her economic status as “it does not determine your worth.”

 

One of my hopes from this initiative is we will continue to find creative ways to advocate for poverty while helping those in poverty to reach their maximum potential.

 

Next, I chatted with Councilwoman Ellen Robertson. She too grew up in poverty. She still vividly recalls walking over two miles everyday to the school bus – rain, snow, or sunshine, with tape keeping her shoes together. “And, this just wasn’t until the weekend, this was for periods of time.” Robertson gave me insight on how those seeking to advocate for poverty can join forces with the Office of Community Wealth Building and several community organizations. She reminded me that “there is an abundance of talent” in those living in poverty. And, that line reminded me of myself. My journey has been one nothing short of a miracle. From the people God placed in my path to the organizations that played a role in me seeing more and experiencing more than my community may have otherwise afforded me.

 

Councilwoman Robertson challenged me to think about ways to create sustainability and experiences that impact the lives of those in poverty long-term. She challenged me to be sure that as I share this initiative, I make the children in poverty the greatest beneficiaries of me wearing the same black dress all week.

 

Her final challenge was to create a budget on the income of $11,880.

 

I have accepted her challenge. I hope many of my fellow JLR members will do the same.

 

The question I was asked the most today was, “Are you going to wash your dress?”

 

Come back tomorrow to see my budget and what I do about my dress.

 

Humbly serving,

Chelsi Bennett

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4 Things I Have Learned From My Husband

Jon and Chelsi Bennett

One month ago today, I walked down the aisle and said "I Do" to the most incredible man I have ever met. Jonathan is truly an answer to my prayers. Here are 4 things I have learned from him:

1) Don't stop loving on each other when you disagree.

Have you ever experienced that moment when someone disagrees with you and you want some distant? Well, I have!! My dear husband and I have seen some situations totally different, and I have wanted some space after the discussion. BUT he has taught me that pulling away at every instance of us not being on the same page is not healthy for me or our marriage. He has taught me and showed me that we have to be able to literally love each other at all times and in all situations, including when we disagree. In the end, it has been such a blessing to me to put this principle into practice because his warm embrace after disagreements is more comforting than anything. And, I could not imagine how I would feel if he pulled away from me.

2) No driving on E!

I have this bad habit of waiting until I am almost out of gas to refill. Not the best, I know! Jon took responsibility for filling up my car. :D His one request was for me to let him know when I am at half tank. He told me that I never know when I am going to be stuck in traffic or have to jump in the car to go somewhere. I thought, "That sounds great!" As you can imagine this has been a tough one for me. Instead, I am normally almost on empty when I tell him and then have been left to get my own gas. Ehh! So I am quickly learning that I need to tell him at half tank so I don't have to pump gas. 

3) My worth as a wife isn't solely tied up in my work.

I am by nature type-A and I like things to be perfect. Well, moving to a new state, starting a brand new job, and joining a new church has been different, or you can say my life seems brand spanking new! I have never experience so much newness at once like this before. I mean I studied abroad, but I knew I was coming back home. With all that being said, we are still unwrapping gifts, have yet to start on Thank You notes :(, finding a place for everything in our new place, learning each other's patterns and habits, launching our young adult ministry next week... all on top of the everyday cleaning and cooking. Last week, I came home from a long day at work and I was cleaning, organizing, etc., and it was well past 9:30PM. Jon said, "Come over here and relax." And I quickly responded, "I am trying to get the house in order. I want to be a good wife." I went over and sat with him on the sofa and he reminded me that my worth is not solely tied up in the house being spotless every night. I could only take a deep breath and thank God for the reminder that my value as his wife and how he sees me is greater than a spotless house every night.

4) Being first was more than a statement.

I knew when I married Jon that I would be "sharing" him with the ministry. And, I knew it would be different and that the calling on his life would require sacrifices from both of us. However, what I did not know was that when Jon said he would keep me and our future family first, he meant it with everything he had. For example,  I was sick and he had to go to church to preach. He could have easily asked me to push it in my sickness and I would have said, "Yes!" Instead, he encouraged me to stay home to rest and reminded me that my role as a pastor's wife was not diminished because I stayed home to rest and get well. On a daily basis he does everything he can to protect our time. While his phone rings often and lights up even more with text messages, he has shown me that unless there is an emergency our time is our time. Of course, there have been those moments where our time was interrupted or we had plans and had to make a detour stop at a hospital or arrive to church earlier for counseling, yet when possible he protects our time.

Jon, thank you for making me better! We are just starting and you are impacting my life and pushing me closer to Christ. Thank you! 

To those who are married, I am praying for you. I understand the process of dying to self daily to allow Christ to be the center of your home.

To those engaged, I am praying for you. I pray you seek God for confirmation on your engagement and that you would trust Him to prepare you for your marriage -- it is amazing yet also hard work and you want to be in it for life with the person God has sent your way.

To those believing God to be married, I am praying for you. I pray you would allow God to mold and prepare you for the journey ahead -- in singleness and marriage. I pray you would enjoy this time of it just being you and God.

If you ever need prayer, share your request at AlwaysPraying.com. My prayer team and I would love to pray for you.

If you you're in the Richmond area, join Jon and I next Sunday, June 5th at 8:45AM for the launch our young adult ministry, The Return RVA. Stop me in the hallway and say, "Hi!"

~chb

Will You Be My Girlfriend?

Jon wasted no time in making arrangements to come hear me speak at the 2015 Annual Convention for the Florida Federation of Young Republicans. [Catch up on our story here.]

We were about two weeks away and the countdown had begun for Jon (I did not know at the time, obviously). Over the next two weeks, we talked more and more. I can still remember the calls that lasted for 3+ hours. Yes, our longest was about 5.5 hours-- it felt like we were two kids in high school.

Let me tell you where my head and heart was...

On the inside, I was nervous and giddy. I was nervous because he was someone I knew and so we were catching up versus "getting to know each other." I was also nervous because a few months prior I had ended a two-year relationship. I wanted to love again, I really wanted to but at times I was more afraid of the pain and heartache that can come from loving someone. I knew this, but learned from my previous relationship that love is risk that you decide to act upon. Love is a decision-- a decision to love during the good, bad, and the ugly. Was I ready for that? Was my heart healed? Was I over my past? 

Honestly, initially, I was not.

In my pain, I cried out to God. I told him about my hurts, disappointments, embarrassments, insecurities, heartaches, doubts, and fears. I was afraid to love again, and I was afraid that I would dive head first into work in order to ignore the pain (I am a recovering workaholic). Most of all, I was afraid I would be single again for a long time. See, I do not have much dating experience because guys would only want to be friends with me or found me intimidating or thought I dressed like an old lady or thought I could not let my "hair down." 

And, the scariest part about my timing with Jon was a word that God spoke to me a few months prior....

God told me that I would meet my husband during the summertime.

Now, if you are thinking like I was, you thought, "oh okay. Sure!" I kept the word to myself because I was not at a place to receive or accept that word fully. 

During the "single" months, I repeatedly did fasts because I found myself gravitating to people and things, and not God as much. I wanted to be healed, to be heard, to be loved, to be counseled... but I was looking for it in all the wrong places. Fasting remains one of the most powerful decisions I can make in the midst of challenges and need. Denying my body food or pleasure places my flesh and desires on the altar before God. And, allows me to hear His voice clearly.

Back to Jon...

He asked for my speaking schedule because he wanted to schedule some activities for us. All I could do was smile, right? Well, kind of, I still wanted to know everything. He would remind me over the next two weeks how excited he was to hang out again and to hear me speak in person for the first time. (One of the many, many things I love about Jon is how supportive he is-- he has taught me to slow down, smell the roses, and celebrate my accomplishments.) 

The Friday we would see each had arrived. I remember sitting at work SUPER NERVOUS. I was giving my heart a chance to love again and be loved again. Now, remember, Jon had the black and white conversation with me in DC and made it clear that in his thinking about "us" it was to date for marriage. 

Jon had arranged for our friend Lisa to drive from Jacksonville to Tallahassee to drive with me from Tallahassee to Orlando International Airport where we would be picking him up. He did not want me on the road by myself for four hours ;).  He also had her bring a "gift" that I could not open up until we got to the airport. Y'all, this little box bothered me the entire FOUR hours. I wanted hints... I offered bribes LOL... I just wanted to know what was in the box!!!

Lisa would not give me ANY details. She and I split up the drive. I started and she finished so I could get ready! Our Friday night agenda included a private steamboat ride at Downtown Disney's Boathouse. I finished my makeup, pulled my hair up, and was sporting my brand new dress selected by my friend Cynthia (if you know her you know she is always classy and stylish).  

I was ready!

As we got closer to the airport, I wanted to open the gift. I love gifts and surprises, but I also like to know about them. Yes, I know, I cannot want to know everything and still be surprised. Whatever! We get closer to the airport and she tells me I can open the box. I was like a kid in the candy store!!!

This is what was in the box:

A purple Sharpie. Before I could think it through we were pulling through the terminal

 

and...

 

THIS HAPPENED:

 

You saw it correctly:

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Jon asked me to be his girlfriend!! And, I checked, "YES." 

I still remember the feeling when I saw him standing outside the airport with the sign. I was overwhelmed. I was happy, surprised, and intentionally stepping out in faith.

Jon gets in the car and we head to Downtown Disney as planned. But first we needed to drop Lisa off to get her rental car. We pull up to a very shady place. Long story short, we wait for about 30 minutes for them to tell her some crazy rule and she was unable to get her rental car. We did not fret. She immediately called a friend in Orlando to come and pick up her from Downtown Disney.

In the midst of the wait at the rental car place and terrible traffic getting into Disney, we were running very late for our scheduled steamboat tour. We arrived at the boathouse and learned that all the captains had left for the night. Jon was super bummed. I reminded him it was okay. Turns out that the manager did not want us to have our first night as boyfriend/girlfriend ruined, so he gave us a treat better than what Jon could have paid for. He allowed us to sit on one of the steamboats for 2+ hours. As a treat, he brought us chocolate covered strawberries (a quick way to my heart:)). Here we are:

After talking it up for 2+ hours, we headed to Lakeland for the Convention. Jon drives, starts talking, and I fall asleep (which he will tell you he now knows is typical).

He drops me off at my hotel and heads to his hotel.

Saturday morning I was up bright and early to prepare for my speech. I was opening the Convention. I spoke about the state of youth and young adults in Florida and challenged the audience to do their part to make Florida a better place! I really enjoy speaking, motivating, inspiring, and educating others!

Here we are after the speech:

A few hours later, Jon had planned a picnic for us. We had our favorite Chick-fil-a!! And, tons of sweet tea. 

Then, to end the evening off, he and my mom, came to the Gala where I was the Mistress of Ceremonies. Thanks to Scott Jones (pictured here with his wife) for inviting me to speak!!

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To end our first weekend together off, we live streamed Alfred Street Baptist Church, and hung out in Orlando before Jon's flight back to Richmond. It was bittersweet.

xoxoo ~c

Next week... He Proposed!!

P.S. Be sure to follow me on Twitter and Instagram: @chelsiphenry

P.S.S. If you love reading or want to read more, join my book club. We are reading 16 books in 2016.

How I Met Jon

Let's go back six years...

It was August 2009 and I had just returned from a 6-month study abroad in Belgium and was finishing up my last semester of undergrad. My friend, Lisa, was hosting a ministry event and brought in this preacher from Richmond, Virginia named Jon. I met him. He was a good preacher. That was all... for me, at least. 

Over the next six years, we would stay in touch because of our mutual friend. We hung out, planned birthday parties, and prayed for each other. According to Jon and Lisa, there were many three-way conversations... I vaguely recall these chats. Based on a review of my text messages and Facebook messages, Jon was interested in me from when we first met. He would text/message me that he was praying for me or read an article I wrote or saw me on television (minus when he was dating someone). For me, these messages were not out of the ordinary-- people would send me similar messages often so I did not think much of it. Besides, those who know me know, I communicate best in black and white, and all his messages were left in my "gray box." 

Fast forward four years....

Jon reached out that he was going to be in Jacksonville to preach. I happened to be moving that weekend and he offered to help. I said, "Sure!" Who would turn down extra muscles, and since my parents were helping I was comfortable with him helping. Well, Jon did not help me move because he could not find a ride. He was immediately put on the "no" list. I could have been a little more understanding though, I mean he was in town to preach and was limited on time and resources. AND, when we talked about it later, he had actually called every person he knew in Jacksonville, and even a cab but it was crazy expensive because I was on the outskirts of Jacksonville. It is crazy thinking about how rigid I used to be.

Fast forward two years....

He and our mutual friend are graduating from Liberty University in Lynchburg. I am at graduation to support her because I actually did not know he was graduating too (my bad!!). Right after their graduation lunch, we ended up randomly riding to graduation together because I liked his new car. During the ride, we had a very deep chat about life over the last two years (I did most of the talking). I even had the honor of briefly meeting his dad while we were in standstill traffic. Our conversation was stopped before it was over and so there was always an intent to finish.

After graduation he reminds me that we have to finish chatting. I am thinking, 'When is this going to happen?'

Our entire group heads back to DC (where we were staying) for the rest of the graduation celebration. In my mind, I did not know if we would ever finish that chat, which I wanted to because it was his time to do some talking!! LOL!

The next day I was headed back to Tallahassee because I had an out-of-town tour scheduled for a project that I had been working on for months. I am sitting in DCA and my flight is delayed and then it is cancelled because of mechanical issues. (I wonder what Jon was praying for lol.. I know he Thanks Delta for reconnecting us). I am working with the gate agents to make it back to Tallahassee before my group leaves the next morning and it just was not possible. I am bummed!! I call my friend to pick me up right before the last group dinner (which I would have missed).

We head back to the hotel to get ready for dinner. I quickly throw on a blue dress and pull my hair back in bun. 

Guess who is sitting next to me at dinner? Jon!! Like really? So, at this point I really want to finish our conversation, and I picked up that he probably liked me ;). Then, comes another surprise, we have dinner for about 2 hours and he says maybe TEN words to me... Y'all can imagine I am confused and completely turned off. He was heading back the "no" list.

Of course, I then find out that he was suffering from a terrible migraine. Ooopppss!!! We all make it back to our hotel and I am headed to bed because I have the first flight out the next morning, and guess who texts me?? Jon!! :D We meet in the hotel lobby to chat. 

We talked for about 3 hours!! More importantly, he did MOST of the talking. In our talk, he plainly shared his interest in me, how he had kept up with my life over the last six years, how he had thought about us dating, the challenges of a long-distance relationship, what he admired and respected about me, and much more. For those who know me, know I sat, listened, and nodded and answered a few questions, and asked several more. It just had not fully clicked that we were having THE black and white conversation.

The next day I am sitting in the airport and I am analyzing the conversation. I realized that I did not provide him with any feedback or acknowledgement that I liked him, too. I just was nodding and saying , "Ok." Sooooooo, with ALL the guts I had in me, I texted him a simple yet more forward than I have EVER been with a guy in my life, that I enjoyed our chat, the feelings were mutual, and I hoped we would be able to chat again.

The next day at work, red roses and stargazer lilies were delivered. I was blushing the rest of the day.

Chelsi with Roses and Lilies

This was the beginning of a more intimate friendship.

He was a perfect gentlemen. When he called he would ask if I was busy. In every conversation, I could hear the excitement in his voice. He was inquisitive. He would text me in the morning and evening. It was (and still is) more than I could have imagined!!

My birthday was two weeks later and he was unable to make it to Florida. So, he planned a WEEKLONG VIRTUAL celebration. You read right!! A virtual celebration. Let me recap the week for you: 

---- Sunday evening I received the itinerary for the week (with blocks of time for surprises)

---- Monday morning was an amazing 'Good Morning, it is your birthday week' call.

----- Wednesday he surprised me with one of my favorite things at work!!

----- Friday evening we had our first official date... It was virtual. And, he had my favorite meal delivered to my house. The cool thing is that we share a favorite meal: chicken carbonara! We both ate the same meal as if we were in front of each other. We ended chatting for almost THREE hours.

----- Saturday morning I arrived at Chelsea Salon for a massage, manicure, pedicure, and lunch. While finishing up my manicure, I was surprised by my friend Lisa. She then took me to St. George Island for beach time and oysters (a birthday tradition).

Whew... It was PERFECT!!! And, on Sunday, my mom called and asked, "What's on the agenda for today??" I shared with her the birthday week had come to an end! :)

We continued talking and getting to know each other over the next week or so. In passing I mentioned that I was speaking at an event in Lakeland in early June. A few hours later, Jon had looked at flights, hotels, and requested time off from work. Next thing I know, he was coming to hear me speak!!

Chelsi Speaking in Lakeland

Xoxoo ~c

#ChelsiLovesJon

Coming Soon... Will You Be My Girlfriend?

My 1st Cooking Class

Last evening, I attended my first Cooking Class and I loved every moment of it. Thankfully, there were only four other ladies, and one was my friend who invited me.  

 

Here is menu and a few photos: 

- Roasted Squash with Quinoa Risotto and Grilled Chicken

- Roasted Broccoli Arrabbiata with Pan Seared Salmon

- Gluten Free Puttanesca

- Asian Persuasion Salad

- Lemongrass Macerated Berries with Grilled Pound cake

Chef Chelsi

Chef Chelsi

Dinner!! 

Dinner!! 

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If you haven't tried an Aprons Cooking Class, you should! Check your local Publix to see if they have a cooking school. And, you can even organize your own private class!! 

I will be trying out these new recipes on Jon and our future dinner party guests!

 Xoxoo ~c

3 Challenges I Faced in 2015

I am starting this blog at 11:10pm on December 31, 2015. I just finished entertaining family-- I cooked meatloaf, mashed potatoes, spinach, broccoli and cheese, apple pie, dinner rolls, and of course, had some sweet tea! 

Honestly, I have not made my list of goals/objectives/dreams for 2016. Why? Because today was a breakthrough moment for me of accepting what all has happened in my life the last 365 days. I am a better person, all around because of the challenges I faced and conquered. 

If you follow me, you may know I launched my book club, became a regular panelist on Newsmax, continued writing for Ebony.com and The Root, was recognized by a few publications, started the Republican Diversity Coalition... and a few other successes. BUT I take you back to some of my challenges.

Here are 3 challenges that allowed me to grow:

1)  Early in the year, I found myself in a writer's block. Yeah, I am a writer and I had writer's block. Really? There were many political and cultural things happening that caused my mind to race a million miles per hour yet not enough to produce a piece like I had before. I took it hard. I enjoy writing and sharing my stories to educate and inspire others. I just wasn't able to. 

As a person who strives daily not to get consumed in my work, I can now look back on that painful period and know I probably needed it. I needed to be reminded that one activity does not define me and my capabilities. That season forced me to explore, research, discuss, and pray about how I fit into the solutions needed for problems in America.

2) At the beginning of this year, I grieved the lost of a relationship. In May, I was dating the guy of my dreams. Now, you may be thinking, "Girl, what was your problem?" Well, honestly, I had this fear that I would mess it up! I am sure I am not the only one who felt that way before. The guy, who is now my fiancé, was and IS truly amazing. But, I was not sure I wanted to love again. 

Getting to know Jon, and trusting the peace on the inside of me to give him a chance reminded me that God's plans are ABOVE mine. Who could have convinced me that this guy I had met six years earlier would supersede "my list," treat me like a Queen, love me the same when I spoke the Word and I got snotty-- you could not have convinced me, but God proved it. 

I learned that just because you perceive you lost at something one time or two times before does not mean that is how the story will always end.

3) My move to Tallahassee in late 2013 placed me in some tough spots. I was new town, new to working in the state Capitol, and new to moving away from home for the first time. In other words, there was A LOT of newness. To be frank, I was not as open to change and growth at the rate the move required. BUT this year taught me I could stand, look around, and pout or jump in and be apart of the action. I am not sure that I can truly express how hard this was for me. It was HARD.

However, as I look back over the last few months, I have developed friendships with some amazing people in Tallahassee, I have grown to love the small town (I can literally walk to the Capitol from my downtown apartment), and I learned that even though I may not be achieving all my goals and dreams when I want to, I remain blessed.

Heading in 2016 for me is a blessing! I will write out goals in the day or so, but I am not rushing because I am still praising God for bringing me through 2015. I am praising God for allowing me to beat the odds and statistics that come with my background.

Friends, go forth in your lane, stop comparing yourself and your journey to others, and take time to smell the roses.

Happy New Year!

Xoxoo ~c