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For you created my inmost being: you knit me together in my mother's womb. I will praise thee for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Psalm 139:13&14. Focus!

On February 8, 2020, I attended a conference at the Barclay Center in Brooklyn, New York, hosted by Oprah Winfrey. For the past two years, I have been on a mission to explore the fullness of the "abundant life." This quest led to my creation of a blog entitled "In Search of Living." While penning this blog, it became clear to me that I would have to live out loud, on purpose and that would require focus. While I do get the job done that I set my hands to, I do have a tendency to get distracted; let me be honest, I procrastinate. When I became aware that Oprah Winfrey was conducting a conference on "focus," I knew I had to attend. And, attend I did; along with 15,000 others who signed up for "Oprah's 2020 Vision: Your Life In Focus."

I have always admired Oprah for her ability to relate to all peoples. In fact, I marveled at how, given her many accomplishments and her wealth, she could connect with a genuineness across all racial and income lines. Somehow her tremendous stature and broad influence had not diminished or nullified her capacity to understand the average person. I remember on one of her shows she featured models wearing clothing that closely resembled high-priced designer fashions. As the models walked across the stage, she explained what the viewers were seeing and how for a fraction of the cost of a designer item, the viewer could purchase this item and look and feel just as good wearing it. She declared with such glee what a bargain this was, and then informed the audience of the difference in price between the fashion on display and the designer version, which in some instances amounted to hundreds of dollars. I would think to myself; what does she know or even care about a bargain? If you took the time to compare, you could see that she was right. She had her finger on the pulse. It was like she understood about "champagne taste and Coca-Cola pockets." In other words, she seemed to have been there where we were. She was believable; I just could not figure out why. But, after the conference, I think I get it.

At the start of the conference, Oprah shared that her word for 2020 was "purposeful." I was instantly drawn in. The reason that I purchased a ticket for this conference was because I, too, believe that life has to be lived on purpose. Purposeful living requires focus. Maintaining focus is not as simple as concentrating. Sometimes you need some tools to bring focus to bear. Whatever you may think of Oprah, you cannot accuse her of not being focused. "Focus

2020" is about wellness; all things in balance." She said. Oprah explained that we are in a constant shifting flow, and "we need to find our flow and move with it." "In this moment all is well." She said. "Accept the moment." I have discovered that in order to appreciate all that life has to offer, we need to be fully present in our own lives. Oprah admonished, "Be fully present with your children. Children want to know, "do your eyes light up when I walk into the room?" She continued, "No matter what has happened to you, you are still here. Create a wellness vision that suits your life. 2020 represents perfect vision. What do you want?" This heightened my thinking. It might sound a little lame, but if you had to put what you wanted in a sentence, what would it be? Think about it.

I often wondered what I really wanted, but to be honest I was too busy trying to deal with what I needed to keep moving. Now that I have more time and have grown in so many ways I accept that needs and wants are synonymous in my life. (Food, shelter, friendships, employment, spiritual growth, self-fulfillment, etc.). My mother passed away when I was eleven years old and we (my siblings and I) moved to the Bronx to live with my maternal grandparents. My grandmother was not the warm and fuzzy type (like the grandmother I am). She did make sure we had a roof over our heads and food and clothing. Whether we had enough food, my siblings would have to weigh in on this. I digress. In one of the infrequent moments that my grandmother, Evangelist Mary Jackman, parted a few words to me, it was to say in a somber, serious tone: "You are going to need Jesus or you are not going to make it in this life." It sounded more like a threat or a bad omen. But, in fact it turned out to be the greatest advice that I have received in my life. I took her advice and because of that I have been able to navigate the many storms in my life including being on my own from the age of sixteen. Not in my own strength; it was and is Jesus.

In the scripture noted above (Psalm 139:13& 14), we understand that the Lord had sovereignty over lives before we were ever born. He fashioned and formed us. He loves us and knows all about us. We have nothing to fear because He is with us. He knows the plans for our lives, and He is there in His omnisience and omnipotence to lead and guide us through. When we start out in life, we may not know where we will end up, but God does.

Getting back to the conference. Oprah asked, "Why are you here today?" She then proffered an answer: "Creating a new vision for what your "why" is. "Intentions: you get what you intend. There is intention behind the action." Of course, I cannot give you full details of every aspect of this all day conference; only some caveats. She had some famous and wonderful guests, including Michelle Obama, former first lady. The whole day was refreshing, filled with planning, enlightening, and invigorating (we had to get up out of our seats to do some movements to get our blood flowing). There was a sense of loving connectedness even though we were strangers. Here are just a few of the speakers' words that stood out for me.

"Someone else's opinion of you is none of your business." Rachel Hollis

"Dance. Dance fully comfortable in your own skin." Julianne Hough

"We need to tell our story. Walk your walk." Michelle Obama

"God is ready to move you in a new direction. All you have to do is be ready; say yes." Oprah Winfrey

"I can, I will, watch me." Oprah Winfrey

Above all this, there was a personal comment that Oprah made that awakened a kindred connection for me, and I began to understand why she has such balance in her life. Oprah leaned in close and began to share a touching story of how she came to New York when she was a young girl to reunite with her mother who had left her years earlier with her grandmother to make a better life. I listened intently. She said that she had arrived and she was on her mother's porch, but for some reason (racially motivated) the Landlady would not let her into the house. She said she did not fear because, and I quote, "my grandmother gave me Jesus." I could have fallen off my seat. My spirit said Hallelujah! I know what you are talking about sister. I rise to call our grandmothers blessed!

I have to admit that this is the first time that I saw this side of Oprah. I would never have guessed that we had this in common. We were introduced (by our grandmothers, respectively) to the One who holds all power that has shaped our lives from a very young age and who continues to guide our paths today. A feeling of warmth came over me; I honestly said "aha," that is why she is so real. She had been at a crossroads where the options were slim to none and her life could have gone either way. But, God. Ditto, for my life. Am I saying that either one of us is perfect? No. We are both still human.

For certain, I have come to appreciate that God has a plan for our lives. (Jeremiah 29:11). When we acknowledge and accept Him, He will guide you even when you do not sense His presence. You can be assured that you are never alone. My life has been blessed in spite of the struggles. I can live my best life because the maker and sustainer of life holds me. This allows me to seek overall wellness for myself, my family; both immediate and extended, and the community at large. We are commanded to love others as we love ourselves. (Mark 12:31). This is a quality that I do see in Oprah; she shares her love, wisdom, and wealth with others worldwide. My fortune is not so vast, but my greatest joy is in giving to others.

By attending this conference, I was reminded that it does not matter where you start. The humblest of beginnings is no challenge to the greatness that you can achieve when your life is in God's hands. Perhaps we will not all reach the heights of Oprah Winfrey, but we can obtain the height that God has willed for our lives and that is good news.

Some thoughts:

1. Do not forget your first love. Who loved you first? Some might say their parents did. I am not here to dispute that. But, know that we love because we were first loved. The Creator loved you before you were born. Let this love radiate through worship and acts of service. If you have forgotten, go back and reconnect. His love remains the same and is everlasting. Revelation 2:4.

2. God is sovereign; you are not in control. There have been times in my life when it seemed like defeat was imminent. I remember once when I was sure I was going to get appointed to an administrator position, and then for reasons that had nothing to do with my ability or qualifications, it was given to someone else. I was devastated for the moment. Then I prayed and turned it over. Within three days God had opened a door for me to interview for the same position in another boro. The superintendent reached out to me. Won't God do it! I got the job and was duly appointed. I have learned that God knows what you need when you need it and He has the power to make it happen. Let God do it!

3. Surrender. In closing Oprah said, "There is a dream inside of you waiting to be birthed. Surrender your dream to God, giving up the past. Let go, forgive, make the peace." I concur. You cannot beat God giving or living. He knows what is best and He desires that we get His best. Relax, you can only do what God allows. So why not give to Him what is already His and see what He will make of it. I dare you!

4. Remember from whence you came: Share the love and give thanks. "Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought.." Romans 12:3. It is easy to think that we "have arrived" by our own efforts because God in His infinite love, grace and mercy has permitted us to achieve superior knowledge, great wealth, many possessions and in many instances excellent health. Just keep on living and you will discover how in the blink of an eye this can all disappear and you in spite of your best efforts will not be able to bring it back. There is an old saying: "Don't forget the bridge that brought you over." Stop right now and give thanks for the love that made a way for you to be where you are. Give thanks always and share.

In the vernacular of Ms. Oprah Winfrey; "What I know for sure" is that God is sovereign. He knows my beginning and my finish. He has a purpose and a plan for my life. I trust Him without reservation with every aspect. Come what may, I rest in believing that He is with me and will see me through; and it will be alright. This is my life in focus. "God works all things together for the good of those who love Him, who are called according to His purpose." Romans 8:28.

Be blessed. Be safe.

Yours, Yvette

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