Thursday, February 9, 2017

Looking Like a Million Bucks, Spending a Dime


“Ooooooo, I love your jewelry!” the ladies exclaimed as I approached my assigned table for a networking event. “And, your haircut is cute too.” “Is that Premier Designs?” one asked of my fun necklace made up of big silver circles, and matching earrings. “No,” I answered with a smile, “but, may I go back and come in again. You made me feel like a million bucks!”
Years ago, I thought nothing of spending thousands of dollars a year on high-end fashions. My wardrobe was full of Talbots and Chico’s and upscale boutique brands. I carried Kate Spade, Michael Kor, and Coach handbags. I had a closet full of Calvin Klein, Bandolino and Nine West shoes – in every color imaginable. My jewelry was always and only ever 14 kt. gold; except for a genuine Zoppini Italian Charm Bracelet – it was Stainless Steel. Nothing but the BEST for this princess! 

Sometime in the early 2000’s, around the time my Dad was diagnosed with terminal cancer, I realized that life is short, and materialism is meaningless. It’s been said many times, “You never see a hearse pulling a UHaul.” Isn’t that the truth?

Gradually, my spending habits began to change, but not my taste for fine fashion and accessories. For as long as I can remember, I’ve had a penchant for fashion. I’ve always had a knack for pulling pieces together to make attractive outfits. Usually, I did all my mixing and matching at the same store with the help of sales associates. I’d walk out of the store with an empty wallet and a bag full of loot, while they had a register full of my cold cash.

Then, I chose to walk away from my lucrative career. Still wanting to look nice, I learned to unleash my creativity. I knew of many women who shopped thrift stores and looked great; but, the idea of wearing someone else’s hand-me-down clothing disgusted me.
Initially, I couldn’t differentiate between consignment and thrift stores. I thought they were the same, until one day I walked into a cute little boutique in a pretty mansion called “Oo-la-la Consignment.” There I found a beautiful house filled with eye-candy – high-end, like-new apparel, handbags, shoes, and jewelry for a fraction of the full retail price. All of my favorite brands were meticulously displayed like an upscale specialty store – for dimes instead of dollars.

I walked out with bags of fabulous styles, feeling like I struck the jackpot … and have rarely walked into a full retail store ever since.
Then, I began volunteering for Dress for Success, and discovered their Inventory Reduction Sales where I could fill a gigantic bag with “used” business apparel for a $20 donation. This was my introduction to thrift stores. I came away with unimaginable treasures – hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars-worth of second hand clothes for pennies. It was not meticulously displayed like the consignment store, nor was it all upscale brands, but I didn’t care. I had so much fun searching for my favorite names, and was amazed at what women buy and NEVER wear!

Eventually, I let go of my fine jewelry and started buying big, bold and fun costume jewelry.
Now, everywhere I go people compliment me on clothes and accessories. “I love your glasses,” exclaimed an HR Professional. “That’s a beautiful jacket,” declared a woman in the public restroom. “You’re wearing pretty nail color,” said the girl at the Chic-Filet drive-up as I handed her cash. “Ooooo … that necklace is so much fun,” proclaimed the distracted rental car agent. “Where’d you get that bag?” gushed an administrator at the US Army Research Lab.

On and on, it goes. Until one day after receiving a passing compliment, my boss, Paul, looked at me with a twinkle in his eye and mockingly said, “Can we just go one place where people don’t gush over your bling?”  I cockily replied, “You know, I could use a bling budget. We can use it for marketing.” Surprisingly, he agreed. Today, I get to spend his money on dime store baubles and trinkets to give to clients and prospects.
Beth’s Bling has become my brand. It opens doors, and sparks conversations. People remember it. They remember me. It’s a ton of fun using my creativity and impacting others by sharing something I love. It’s not about the price, it’s about creating memorable experiences.

Psst! Here’s a secret: the necklace the ladies at the networking event were oogling over was from the clearance rack of Kmart! Shhhh! Don’t tell. They’ll never know!
On the above photo: pink vest I bought through thrift for $5. Silver necklace with matching earrings from Kmart $7. Chico’s black travel jacket I picked up at Goodwill on vacation for $3. Brand new Sporto boots I got at thrift for $5. A collection of name-brand handbags I bought at thrift for less than $5 each. A brand new sparkly velour jacket from thrift for $5. A beautiful brand new Chico’s business jacket and necklace from consignment for under $20.

In case you’re wondering – a consignment store sells secondhand items (typically clothing and accessories) on behalf of the original owner, who receives a percentage of the selling price. My experience is that consignment stores carry high-end, in-style, like-new merchandise. Thrift stores, on the other hand, sales secondhand clothes and other household goods that are donated, typically to raise funds for a charitable institution.

Incidentally, I have bought two like-new leather sofas, and two practically new leather chairs at furniture consignment for a fraction of the price of new merchandise. For me, consignment shopping has become a way of life. The money I save, we use to bless others and do things we love, like travel … and I’ve even figured out how to do that on a dime!

Friday, February 3, 2017

Against All Odds


When our children are born, we can’t imagine what they will become. Will they become a doctor, a nurse or a school teacher? An astronaut, engineer or construction worker. A professional athlete or entertainer. A CEO, accountant, or business owner. A firefighter, police officer, or lawyer. A politician, Prime Minister or President. The opportunities are endless for those tiny hands and feet.
Though my son, Nic, came into the world fast and furiously, he was timid and shy thereafter. As a little boy, he was easily frightened, intimidated, and embarrassed … by the slightest things.  
When he started school, he was quiet, apprehensive and anxious; diffidently standing on the sidelines observing the activity, needing nudged to participate. Certainly, not a friend maker or risk taker. I thought he’d be hanging onto my shirt sleeve until he was sixteen, and in many ways, he did.

Unable to annunciate words clearly, he required speech therapy.
Inept at reading, he needed outside tutoring. Yet, he was an outstanding student; albeit, an insecure student who needed a little extra help developing.

Like most kids, he’d rush through his homework just to get it done, not always putting forth his best effort. Knowing he was capable of better work, I insisted he re-do it the right way. “MISS PERFECT PICKY PANTS,” he would hiss in a fiery fit. A title for which I was and am most proud.
In Middle School, he excelled in his college prep courses and asked to be placed in honors science. The school didn’t recommend it due to his reading aptitude. Consequently, he missed out on all the local science fairs.

An ordinary, awkward teen, he was going through life unnoticed and unfazed. Quiet. Reserved. Insecure.
Suddenly, on his 16th birthday, we switched churches – a huge risk for a teenager who was secure and comfortable with his lifelong friends. Had this not gone well, he could have walked away from his faith forever.

But, at the new church, mature leaders took a genuine interest in him. They noticed his heart, his maturity and his potential, and they invested in him. He began trusting people and openly talking about dicey issues. It was remarkable to see this child, who clung to my shirt sleeve, letting go.
By the time he was 17, he was walking with his head a little higher. In school, he found a love for Chemistry. He adored the teacher, and she admired his hard work. This teacher saw his potential, and offered him a position in AP Chemistry the following year, even though he still struggled with reading apprehension, according to statewide achievement tests. Of course, he excelled, earning an A+.

At age 18, he had no idea what he wanted to do when he graduated high school.
At church, his peers called him Pastor Nic. Because he always made good choices, they sought him for counsel. He interned for a semester with the youth pastor to determine if ministry was his path forward. During that time, he planned and flawlessly executed many exciting events for his peers. He led Bible studies and small groups, and transformed into a confident young man and leader.

He had decided he’d take a gap year between high school and college. During that time, he’d attend Lancaster Bible College and get a certificate in Bible.
At senior night for his youth group, he stood up straight and tall, with a confident, unwavering voice and told the audience of 100 or more people how God transformed him from a shy and awkward child into the leader standing before them because of two men who took an interest in him. He declared that he would be attending Lancaster Bible College.

Tears of joy and wonder rolled down my face, as I saw what my child had become. And, I knew it was only the beginning.
Afterwards an elderly gentleman whom I had never met approached me. “Does your son have a sponsor at Lancaster Bible College?” he inquired. “He does not,” I answered. “I am on the Corporation at LBC. Every year, my wife and I offer a student a $6,000 scholarship. We’d like to offer it to Nic.”

We were both overwhelmed at this kind man’s generosity and provision.
A few weeks later, he graduated in the top 15% of his high school class with straight A’s, and a 4.05 GPA.

At the end of summer, he went off to Lancaster Bible College, seeking God’s direction for his future. While there, he discovered that he could study Bible and Chemistry at a tiny little evangelical Christian school in western Ohio, Cedarville University. They had a brand-new school of pharmacy. “Maybe I could be a pharmacist?” he said to me.
A few weeks later, during Superstorm Sandy, he and I drove seven hours to this tiny little school nestled between cornfields in Ohio. There, we encountered God, and knew beyond a shadow of doubt that this was the school for him. Able to study chemistry from a biblical worldview, he was offered a Presidential Scholarship that covered about half of his undergrad tuition. If his grades remained above a 3.5 the scholarship would continue, and he would be guaranteed one of 50 seats in the doctoral program at their School of Pharmacy.

Forfeiting the generous scholarship from the kind man at Lancaster Bible College, he began his journey to become a pharmacist.
At Cedarville, he made many sacrifices and diligently studied, determined to get straight-A’s. This child who was labeled by the state as an inept reader, was now reading medical journals and science textbooks. Yes, it was hard. He gave up many social events to focus on his future. Because he spent countless hours in the library with his books, we lovingly teased him about dating text books.

During the summers, he boldly networked and found extraordinary internships. He had tried his hand at a big pharmaceutical retailer, and discovered that retail pharmacy wasn’t his passion. Reaching out to acquaintances, following leads provided to him, he landed an internship at a local hospital. Every day, 40 hours a week, in every spare moment he had, he went out the door in scrubs to work in clinical pharmacy.
Now a confident and competent leader, he served as class Chaplain and class President. He joined pharmacy clubs and associations. He designed and presented a program for 5th graders on the dangers of over counter the medications. And, he excelled at everything his hands did.

At his White Coat Ceremony in September 2015, the child who needed speech therapy in grade school, was invited to address his classmates, professors, family and friends. Using John 13 as the example, he challenged his peers to lay down their white coats and wash the feet of the sick and needy.

My heart again swelled with joy and wonder at what this timid child had become, and yet, I still knew, it was only the beginning.

In May 2016, he graduated at the top of his pharmacy class with his BS in Pharmaceutical Science. His faith, hard work, and sacrifices paid off.
In the doctoral program, he continued working hard, making sacrifices, and trusting God. Laser focused on his future, he continually went above and beyond, standing out with his academic performance and leadership abilities.

In the fall of 2016, he said to me, “Mom, there are three places I want to intern next summer: Johns Hopkins, Mayo Clinic or Indian Health Services.” Knowing competition would be fierce for a few coveted slots at those prestigious institutions, I asked, “Are you also going to apply at some local hospitals?” Adamantly, he answered, “NO!”

Based on his academic performance, the assistant dean at the School of Pharmacy knew he was equipped for a prominent position, and encouraged him to begin the application process - no small feat for a full-time student with a rigorous course load. But with her support, he managed to fulfill the requirements and applied to all three organizations, while maintaining nearly perfect performance in his classes.
To my amazement, he was first invited to interview at Johns Hopkins. In typical Nic fashion, he spent hours preparing. He reached out to a Johns Hopkins pharmacist in his network for coaching, and the interview went well.

A short time later, he sent me a text: “Mom, pray for me. I have an interview at Mayo Clinic,” the #1 healthcare institution in the world. My heart did somersaults as I sought God’s favor for my child.
Against all odds, the student from a tiny, little known pharmacy school nestled between cornfields
in rural Ohio, was offered 1 of 8 pharmacy internships at the prestigious Mayo Clinic in Rochester, MN for the summer of 2017. Not only that, but a week later, he was also offered an internship at Johns Hopkins.

This is the frightened toddler … hesitant Kindergartner … grade schooler who needed speech therapy and tutored in reading … the kid who did sloppy homework and called me Miss Perfect Picky Pants … the one who clung to my shirt sleeve until he was 16.
While it seems like the odds were against him, he had many things going for him:
  • A Mom who taught him to do his BEST always and never stopped believing in him, loving him, or praying for him
  • A Dad who was always present and spent time with him
  • Two men who saw his potential and invested in him
  • A science teacher who recognized his passion and gave him an opportunity
  • A stranger who encouraged him with an unexpected blessing
  • A professor who believed in him when he didn't believe in himself
  • Faith
  • Hope
  • Sacrifice
  • Perseverance
  • AND A GREAT BIG GOD who works ALL THINGS for the good of those who love him and are called according to His purpose.
When they are born, we have no idea what our children will become. My heart continues to swell with joy and wonder at what this timid child has become, and yet, I still knew, it is only the beginning.