I wrote this piece a while back...I am claiming that it will one day be published, but I wanted to share it with my readers...enjoy!
This story began about 14 years ago. I remember it like it was yesterday. I was sitting in a conference room at the Hilton Gateway in Newark, NJ. I was quite bored, when a message was sent to me to come outside. As I walked out of the meeting room, I spotted my sister with one of her neighbors. She looked frazzled, skinny, scared, tired, and she very calmly asked me if she could have my key. I took a big breath and said, “What’s going on sweetie?” She said, “I left and I just need to get the key so I can get in your house”. I said, ok, just wait a minute. I told my boss that I had a family emergency, and told her friend that I would take over from here. This was the start of a journey that would take my sister to places that she never wanted to go, confront issues she never wanted to face, and would ultimately lead her to the amazing, strong, trailblazer that she is today.
From the outside, Leah was beautiful, smart, educated, and had everything going for her, but on the inside she was living a sad, lonely, and unfulfilled life with a man that turned out to be her biggest nightmare. A vast array of family and societal issues that stemmed from childhood led Leah to be a very angry teenager. Her anger fueled her so much so that she masked the wounds of this period with being an overachiever. She did everything in her power to create a fantasy world much like a fairytale. During her high school years, she met a boy who from the start presented a pretty picture that seemed quite appealing. He was handsome, popular, and gave her expensive gifts. It seemed as though Cinderella had found her prince. They dated throughout high school and college. She was determined to create the picture of the life she thought she wanted. A life filled with status and material possessions. This life ultimately left her empty and lost.
He was her first and only love, so it never occurred to her that romantic love was anything but what she was experiencing. Status was everything in their world, so she continuously tried to improve upon the “image”. In the process she learned that she wasn’t skinny enough, so she lost weight. She wasn’t sexy enough, so she tried everything she could to get his attention. When he did not have the resources to support his extravagant lifestyle, she let him run her into debt. She attempted perfection, but was never “good” enough, and he used this to keep and control her in the relationship. She began to lose herself in this superficial word. Her self esteem was shattered, but you would have never known because on the outside she appeared “flawless”. Everyone whispered, “How did she end up with him”. Unfortunately, she was incapable of hearing the whispers, because she had no idea of how amazing she was. Her sense of worthiness was at an all time low, which is why she was desperately holding on to her “happy ending”. Ignoring all the “danger” signs, they decided to get married and appeared to have the perfect life. He was in politics, and she was a beautiful trophy wife. She entertained for all of the required functions, and always looked the part, but very few people knew the nightmare her life had become. She was not prepared to let people into her private hell and she didn’t recognize at the time that she needed help. The first sign that it was getting to be too much was when she was admitted into the hospital for heart palpitations. I went to the emergency room with tears in my eyes and panic in my heart to find her in ICU. It turned out that she had her first major anxiety attack. She did not realize it was directly related to the stress she had been under for years, or that the silent abuse of her relationship was starting to make her physically ill.
One evening, my husband and I had a long talk with her. After 20 years in this relationship, her life was completely out of control. Although she was desperately trying to hold on to her marriage, she suspected cheating, lying, and stealing. There were even times when she questioned her safety. We asked her blatantly, why are you staying? Her response was, “where am I going to go”. We both assured her that as long as we had a roof over our head, she would always have a place to go. After she left that night, my husband said to me, “she’s not going to do it”…and I agreed. Well she surprised us all because three days later, she pulled me from that conference room to ask me for my key. Soon after that, we had a family meeting at a local diner with my aunts and uncles where she released the secret pain she had been hiding throughout the relationship. This was the first time she allowed herself to be vulnerable to a network besides me. This is the first time she let her guard down enough to say, “I need help”. It didn’t take long before my uncle abruptly said to her, “Let’s go get your stuff now. There is no reason to wait.” A plan was immediately put into action. We all went to her apartment (at least 7 of us), with my uncle calmly telling her husband that he better let her get her stuff without drama. My uncle has a persuasive way of getting the outcome that he wants. We were able to get all of her clothes and as much of her personal belongings as possible, and she left everything else. She never returned to him, their apartment, or that life again. She never looked back…
The next several years were quite challenging. She was more vulnerable and fragile than I had ever seen her. She took great comfort in knowing that she was not alone, and that her support was never-ending, but she was scared and lonely. Bravely, she began to slowly shatter the wall that surrounded her for much of her life. She realized that she had to face unresolved issues from childhood, in order to understand why and where life had led her to this point. She began to forgive herself and others in order to let go of the anger and disappointment she was plagued with for so long. She got real with herself and the people around her. This allowed her to slowly move on, but the reality was that she had close to $43,000 in debt, no place to live, was an emotional wreck, and a job that was literally just paying the bills. She had already taken the first step which was acknowledgement, but she took the next step and got professional help. Concurrently, she began journal writing, which helped her release so much of her pain. Most importantly she found a safe haven in our home to be and do what she needed to do. She lived on our futon with five plastic drawers in our hall closet for about six months. She developed a budget and a plan (with the help of our mom) to get out of debt, and vowed that she would never struggle financially because of mismanagement of money again…and she has kept that promise. Once she was strong enough, she got her own apartment down the street from us. She used a card table for a kitchen set, she bought a mattress and box spring, and the family pitched in to get her a new television. Though there were many tears and sleepless nights, she never complained during this time. She was content to be on her way to finding peace. She had nothing that remotely resembled material wealth, but recognized her spiritual richness growing inside of her. She would not have exchanged that growing peace for all the money or status in the world. She began to go to church and seek a deeper relationship with God, and it is at this point that she began to look at her life and herself in a different manner. She slowly began to love herself from within and threw away the image that she worked so hard to create. She was raw and she was real, and this is who she is today. She took that first step, and the many baby steps in between, and before long she started taking big steps and gigantic leaps. She even started dating seriously again, which was another major turning point in her life…
Her new guy, a pilot, was offered his dream job for a major airline, but he would be stationed out of Miami, FL and wanted her to relocate with him. Now she was faced with the decision of leaving the security net she had found in her family, to start a new life with a man and no family or friends in site. I will never forget the day when she told me that she was thinking about moving to Florida. I thought my heart was going to break, but deep down I knew it was the best thing for her and it was time to let her fly. She started to execute her plan. She started disseminating her resume and the offers started coming in. By this time her career in healthcare administration had taken off. Once she let go of creating a fictional image, her life began to take shape naturally, and ironically she has more financial resources now than she ever dreamed of. She finished her Masters degree in Public Health Administration, and was working as the Director of Maternal Health at a hospital in North Jersey. The transition to Florida was so easy that she knew that it was God’s hands that were guiding her toward this move. She was offered a Chief Nursing Officer (CNO) position at a Tenet hospital in South Florida. They offered her an amazing package, great salary, and financed the entire move. So this brave sister, who had been through such a tremendous voyage, was now taking a leap of faith to start a new life in a new place. She left with the security of knowing that her village was strong, real, and only a phone call away. This was only the beginning of an amazing ride. Unfortunately, the relationship that brought her to Florida did not work out, but they remain friends, and they were blessed with a beautiful baby boy as a result of their time together.
A few years into the CNO position at Tenet Healthcare Systems, another opportunity became available in another healthcare system. Again, faced with the fear that change brings, she saw this as a new and challenging opportunity and decided to take yet another leap into the unknown. She took the Chief Nursing Officer position at Memorial Hospital Pembroke and under her leadership helped that hospital excel beyond expectations. As a leader, she is respected by every level of employee. This respect is earned because she keeps the experiences of her journey close to her heart. Her employees see a strong, confident, beautiful person, but they feel her soul and her commitment to each and every one of them. The combination of strength and confidence, mixed in with heart and soul makes her the dynamic leader that she is. She expects much from her employees, but she gives so much of herself to insure that they are successful under her watch. It is because she has come through so much that she is able to pull so many people up and out of their own situations just by being the astounding example that she is. She governs her operation with sincere integrity, which gives her employees the security that being a part of a family brings…they know she has their back, but they also know that in return they better perform to their highest ability. Her success at Memorial Pembroke was just the beginning, because they then moved her over to help design the new state of the art Memorial Hospital Miramar, which is where she then became their Chief Nursing Officer. This hospital has soared in all areas of customer service and has received numerous awards and acknowledgment for their high quality of service. What Leah has learned to expect is that as soon as she gets comfortable, God seems to stir things up a bit. Because of her outstanding performance in all of her roles in the Memorial Health Care System, she was recently promoted to the Administrator and CEO of Memorial Hospital Pembroke. Yes this little lady (she is only 5’3”) from Newark, NJ was announced as the first African American Woman CEO in this major hospital system. One of her colleagues recently asked her, how are you feeling? And she responded, “I feel overwhelmed with the love and support I’ve received from family, friends, and colleagues, but I feel an insurmountable amount of pressure to perform and perform well. I am the first African American Woman to be given this opportunity in this healthcare system, and I feel a great responsibility to be an example for my son, my nieces, nephews, and future young leaders so that they know they can and should dream big”. Leah’s commitment to quality healthcare is commendable, but she is also equally committed to being the best mom she can be, so in addition to her role as CEO, she also claims the role of Super Mom and Class Mom to her seven year old son DJ. Leah is a woman who has dreamed big, worked hard, and has proven that it is “ok” to want and have it all.
Leah’s story is inspiring to all, but specifically to women who find themselves in a valley. She is a testament to women who feel that there is no way out or no where to go. Sometimes you have to leave it all behind and take a leap. Sometimes you have to take baby steps, but you have to have faith that there is something bigger than yourself that will help you through. Leah’s faith is what got her through her journey, and her willingness to share and give of herself and her resources so abundantly is what keeps her blessings flowing.
(One very proud 'lil' sister)
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