Sunday, December 1, 2013

Changing the Channel on Your Thoughts This Holiday Season

December 1st marks the official beginning of the countdown to one of the most spectacular and joyous holidays of the year. No need to repeat the old rhetoric (which, just happens to be true). We all know what the season is supposed to be about: the uplifting of faith, love, and charity be it through the celebration of Christ's birth, commemorating the re-dedication of the Holy Temple through Hanukkah, or even honoring our culture with Kwanzaa. It's a time when giving should outweigh receiving; when selfishness is replaced with selflessness; and when peace and good cheer should reign supreme. But for many, the (often outlandish) expectations of the holidays can create an emotional load heavier than shopping bags on Black Friday. Finding the perfect gift; hoping to receive the perfect gift; wishing for the perfect setting; planning for the perfect family gathering and, worst, measuring what quantifies as "perfect" against what and who you see is sure to set anyone up for a major let down. And so the lamenting begins before the first shiny, glass bulb is even hung on the Christmas tree. The solution to all of that? Simply change your thoughts!

Joel Osteen, Senior Pastor of Lakewood Church in Houston, Texas is known for offering great practical living advice cradled in Biblical principles. Of his many messages I often enjoy, there was one that profoundly resonated with me, hence the title of this blog. Having lost his father some years back, he spoke of how easy it is at times for him to sit and wallow in that lost. How in everything, he could find some sadness to snuggle up to if he wanted. Looking through old pictures. Listening to certain songs. Even cradling his dad's mementos. Until it hit him that as easily as he could turn the channel on his television away from something that was not appealing to him, he could "change the channel" on his thoughts in an instant as well. 

In other words, when you feel the sad memory creeping in, choose to replace it with a happy one immediately. Remembering the final days of a loved one who passed? Replace it with all of the happy moments you were blessed to share with them instead. Mourning the loss of a relationship? Shift to thoughts of the happy times you did share with faith that you will create even better memories in the future with new lessons and perspectives to guide you. In a financial bind and tempted to wallow over what you can't give? Shift to counting the blessings of what you've been blessed to receive and then give of your time instead to those in need. Whether a glass is half full or half empty truly comes down to how you choose to see it. As Pastor Robert H. Schuller once said, "It takes but one positive thought when given a chance to survive and thrive to overpower an entire army of negative thoughts." So, what "army of thoughts" are you allowing to control you? 

The holidays are truly what we make them to be, whether we see them as a time of joy, a time of frustration, or a time of sorrow. It can be a time for counting our blessings or focusing on our losses. An opportunity to celebrate what we have or sulk over what we don't. And it can even be a time of bemoaning our "dysfunctional" families or celebrating the diversity under our roofs (wink). Like the assorted packages under a Christmas tree, when given the chance, we tend to choose the one that's the brightest, biggest, and looks most promising. Well, we have the power to do the same with our thoughts this season. Don't reach for that negative thought when the option of choosing a positive one awaits you instead. Slide the bow off of that bliss; tear the paper off of that joy; and unwrap the gift of true peace that awaits you. The choice is always yours to make. 

Happy Holidays!

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

'Agreeing' to a Better, More Joyful Way of Living

From Oprah to Kid Fury, there has been constant plugs or references made to the best-selling book "The Four Agreements" by Don Miguel Ruiz. And with those kind of endorsements, I figured I needed to join the masses who not already read his book but were living more authentic, joyful lives by following its principles. Besides, I just turned 40 and 40 makes you want to hit the restart button on a lot in your life from career to relationships. And reading this sounded like a good place to help in crafting that new blueprint.

Now, the irony about The Four Agreements--much like other tomes designed to enlighten us with Universal truth--is its principles are (embarrassingly) simple. So simple, it makes you really wonder if we just like things being difficult. (It also makes you wonder why you didn't write this book yourself and make millions, but that's beside the point.) Thank God, these "difficulties" are something Ruiz spends a great deal of time discussing, i.e., the ways in which we actively make life less joyful, painful, and complicated by expending so much energy trying to change what's outside of ourselves as opposed to focusing on creating infinite peace within. It's akin to pulling out a jackhammer to crack open a jar when all you had to do was twist its lid. And boy, oh, boy how we like to pull out the jackhammer.

At 138 pages, it was beyond a quick read but the challenge comes after you close the book and decide to begin applying these four nuggets of truth, for as Ruiz reminds us, we have been well programmed since birth to think in a way that does not align with these four truths. However, not being patient enough to wait for what will be a natural transformation, the Virgo in me needed to take "this thing" on a test drive. The situation: an infraction with a close friend that left me feeling a tad concerned, a ton disappointed, and a tinge of hurt. I could have chosen my normal approach, i.e., just let it be and trust it will sort itself out or confront it head on. I decided to go for the latter, and here is how, in an instant, me and Ruiz saved a friendship.

Agreement #1 - Be Impeccable with Your Word (Speak with integrity; say only what you mean; use your words in the direction of truth and love). And so, that's where I started in rectifying this matter: by carefully sorting through the facts of why I was hurt (because you know how we like to go on tangents and throw in points to strengthen our argument, like bringing up the time the person didn't give you gas money back in 1998) and then conveying that hurt calmly, yet lovingly and honestly. But before doing that, I had to embrace...

...Agreement #2 - Don't Take Anything Personally (Nothing others do is because of you). Right. Some of us just died right there because, in our victimized mindsets, we comfortably have learned to live with the misconception that everything is about us. Wrong. And boy is that a tough one to digest because when we feel someone has hurt us, we tend to believe they had to know it would hurt us so how can we not take it personally? Well, as Ruiz says, "When we take something personally, we make the assumption that they know what is in our [thoughts], and we try to impose our [thoughts] on their [thoughts]. Epic fail as it's impossible to know what anyone is thinking at any given time. And thank God for that because I truly doubt we could handle it. Which leads to...

...Agreement #3 - Don't Make Assumptions (Find the courage to ask questions and to express what you really want). Well, just start shaking the tambourine and open the doors of the church now on this one. Aside from friendships, I can't begin to think of how many relationships PERIOD can be saved simply by asking what you need to know, asking for what you want, and saying what you feel, as the most overused line in ANY relationship is, "S/He should know!" As Ruiz says, "With just this one agreement, you can completely transform your life," and dare I add, preserve your sanity!

Lastly, Agreement #4 - Always Do Your Best (Under any circumstance, simply do your best, and you will avoid self-judgment, self-abuse, and regret). There is not a single price you can place on this agreement be it applied to the ending of a job, a relationship, or a sweater you're knitting, for when you KNOW you've done your best, as the old folks say, you can rest. Hearing that always reminds me of the end of the movie Schindler's List, when upon the end of the Holocaust and after Schindler saved the lives of more than a thousand Polish-Jewish refugees by employing them in his factories, he cries out, "I could have done more!" Personally, I think the man was being super hard on himself (and we do have to know the difference between doing our best and beating ourselves up), but if you know that you know that you know you could have done better, said something better, been better, the thought will haunt you like Mozart's ghost (inside movie joke reference (wink)). So, do your best at all times and free your mind in the process.

And so I applied all of these principles to the dilemma with my close friend. I spoke truthfully about my concerns (she was surprised yet pleased I shared them); I didn't take what she did personally (she assured me it wasn't and even shared how what she did with me was showing up in her life with other friends as well); I didn't assume she knew I was disappointed--hence my reaching out to her--and I even asked how we could fix the situation so we could grow from it (she didn't even have a clue I was upset and was more than eager to discuss how we could avoid similar infractions in the future); and in the end we agreed to do our best moving forward as to not ever make each other feel not valued. And just like that, a friendship--and hours of bad thoughts, side eyes, and awkward interactions--were cast aside. Not saying doing these things didn't feel a tad strange, as actively shifting to a new way of thinking and being always does, but I believe the reward was definitely worth the discomfort. Will I have my moments of regression? I'm almost certain I will! But do I have a better option of how to attract more peace in my life to avoid regressing? Absolutely. And hopefully, you do now as well. I think Mr. Ruiz would be proud. I certainly am. And maybe applying the principles would make you feel proud too. After all, all we stand to lose is a life full of peace, love, and joy. And so it is.

Monday, August 12, 2013

Love & Hip-ocrisy: What We Can Actually Learn Instead of Just Laughing

So, we've all laughed, cringed, and judged our way through another season of Love & Hip Hop, which is humorously and erroneously titled in my opinion, since there's very little love and even less hip hop. Yet, we get an up close, front seat look each week into the lives of "artists" desperately seeking success in both--to no avail. Of course, it's the "no avail" part that keeps us coming back for more, secretly hoping although shaking our heads in hopelessness, but tuned in nonetheless. We scream, "Are you serious?" "Girl, get your life!" "He's such a loser!" And most commonly uttered, "I would not put up with that ish!" with total arrogance. But not so fast, ladies....

Yes, it's easy to find very little to compare ourselves to when the subjects of said statements are speaking in broken English, wearing dresses three sizes too small, and makeup four coats too thick, but if we stop to truly realize (and embrace) what these women are going through under the surface and how their struggles are ever present in our own lives, we might put down our bowls of good-TV-watching popcorn and glasses of wine and pick up our journals to take notes as well. So, before we're front and center for part 2 of the Love & Hip Hop's Reunion this evening, let's really take a look back at our infamous couples and break down what we as "sistas" can all learn (and apply to our lives as well).

Mimi/Stevie J/Joseline a.k.a The You-Can't-Change-A-Man Syndrome -- Oddly, we women suffer from this "syndrome" a lot! As born nurturers, we often think we have to power to love every man into "rightness"; into putting away his player ways, and having him recognize us as queens and, thus, having him become that king we always knew he could be. One problem--if he's not interested in that fantasy too, not a damn thing is going to change. Mimi learned this the hard way after years of dealing with Stevie J's philandering ways; however, Joseline thinks she has the "magic" (read: good loving, although a woman's magic can be anything from her great cooking to her ride-or-die support) to turn this frog into a prince. So much so, she proposed to the man to get him to settle down with her. Well, at the time of this writing, the blogs are already blowing up about Stevie J. expecting another child--from a ANOTHER woman. Bottom line: The only person you can ever change is yourself!

Erica/Scrappy a.k.a. The-Mama's-Boy-Can-Never-Truly-Be-A-Man (or YOUR Man) Syndrome -- I've lost count of the number of years Erica and Scrappy have been together. Let's just say long enough to have a 7-year-old daughter between them (although I hear their relationship dates back to high school). They've been on and off; engaged and dis-engaged; at each other's throats and in each other's bed. And ever present in it all: Mama Dee. Now, I'm all for men loving and respecting their mothers. In fact, it's said to know how a man will love and respect you, pay attention to his relationship with Ma Dukes. However, there's healthy love and there's unhealthy love. And running to mama for her opinion on every, single decision that must be made leans towards the latter. This bond is nothing new between a lot of single mothers and sons; however, it's up to man to know when to transition out of that dynamic. And Scrappy simply doesn't want to. This is a love triangle of the worst kind; one that will never yield Erica the relationship or husband she desires, for Scrappy is already married--to his mom. Ladies, if he's not willing to loosen himself from such a bond, don't get yourself tangled up in it as well. 

Kirk/Rasheeda a.k.a. The If-He's-an-Irresponsible-Dad-He's-Probably-an-Irresponsible-Dude Syndrome (and vice versa) -- I could actually refer this entire paragraph back to the Mimi/Stevie/Joseline one. At this point, I've lost track of the number of children Kirk Frost has (4? 5? 6?) by different women. Despite it all, he decided to wife up Rasheeda. They've been together for years and, bingo, this season she announced the blessed good news that she was having a baby too. However, much like "Single Kirk," he was preparing to roll out on this baby too if Rasheeda didn't heed his advice to terminate the pregnancy. When she didn't, he drowned his sorrows in a sea of other women. Shocking! Or is it?! This is usually that dreaded Catch 22 when we think because someone has put a ring on it, their character has transformed too. Not in this case as Kirk just proved this is not 100% fool proof for marriage does not change anyone who does not want to be changed by marriage. Now the deadbeat dad is unfortunately a deadbeat husband. Proof that you need to check a person's character even before you check their credit score. Oddly, the former can "cost" you even more than the latter.

DJ Baby Drew/Traci - The He's Supposed to Treat You Different Because You Are Different from Other Chicks Man  -- Not! People treat you according to who they are; not who you are. (I'm going to let that one sink in for a minute. Right). Traci has not let this one sink in, obviously. Who she thought Drew was when she met him, I have no idea. Who she hoped he would be after their child was born is not who he is either. Drew is simply Drew. The popular DJ who loves women (okay, groupies or as Traci has termed them "Popcorn Hoes") so much so, that not only does he indulge in them regularly but the man has created a t-shirt line dedicated to them: THAHA i.e., These Hos Are Always Hos *sigh* Enough said. And Traci is steaming mad that he, despite all of her support and financial backing, has not turned over a new her direction. During one of Drew & Traci's many arguments, Traci uttered a phrase when talking about her single motherhood status that made me want to throw myself out of a 12-story building: "I didn't sign up for this!" Okay, ladies, I'm not going to lament here because I have a blog post that's been stirring up inside of me for some time on the audacity of uttering (and believing) such a statement. But I'll simplify it here: if there was not birth control of any kind present in your relationship and you don't have a ring on it (and you're NOT Rasheeda, sorry), not only did you sign up for it, you played a HUGE part in it. You are not a victim. Stop it now. And until Traci accepts this, her anger will probably score her a spot on season 3.

But, again, let's not get so far removed from what we see--and laugh at--for there are lessons for all of us to learn. The "Scrappies" in our lives may not have a bunch of tattoos but a bunch of degrees instead. Maybe he's not in the music industry like the "Stevie Js" of the world but work on Wall Street yet has a PhD in womanizing all the same. Don't be fooled just because the signs and dysfunctions show up in a "better package." And men there are lessons for you to learn as well if you're watching these shows and exhibiting or attracting any of this bad behavior in your own lives. After all, there's a lot of chasing love on these shows, but clearly not enough chasing of self-love, which really is at the root of many of the dysfunctional relationships we attract and stay in for far too long. We just don't have cameras documenting our "crazy"; yet, that doesn't mean we don't have our own crazy that we need to acknowledge, learn from, and remove from our lives as soon as possible, so we can all begin to live and love healthily and happily for ourselves and for our children..."and in that order," as Mama Dee has reminded us all season long! 

Thursday, June 27, 2013

When You Know What You Know What You Know

I first heard that line from the late, great, gospel pioneer Rev. James Cleveland when he testified during one of his songs about overhearing the hospital nurse say she didn't think he would make it during one of his bouts of illness. He said he knew without a shadow of a doubt that he would pull through. And although he did pass some few years later, during that particular hardship, he knew what he felt...and he was right.

I too have had my own moments of "unexplainable knowing" throughout my life (an uncanny trait I'm told I inherited from my late grandmother, Sallie), and I had one spine-tingling moment coupled with an extreme act of bravery just this week. After boarding a flight for a business trip in Chicago, I realized we had fallen behind the departure time without any explanation from the flight crew. A few minutes later, the pilot informed the passengers that maintenance was working on the engine, but all would be fine and we would be leaving soon. Instantly, I felt uneasy in an uncharacteristic way that I've only experienced a few times in my life. That uneasiness quickly grew into an unexplained, rapid-breathing panic, and I knew the window of time was closing for me to follow my gut and make a hard decision.

In that instant, I hit the flight attendant call button and told her I wanted to get off of the plane. She didn't challenge my decision, but her expression showed a slight look of skepticism. That alone could have caused many of us to forgo that decision. But I retrieved my bags, headed up the aisle, and made my solo exit. I was placed on a flight leaving an hour later and with that I felt a calm restore and breathed a sigh of relief although I knew I would be late for a meeting I was managing. When it was time to board my new flight, I went to the gate and discovered my original flight had been grounded and that everyone had to disembark--including the flight attendant who I spoke with, who was now sitting in the waiting area with her entire crew. I took no joy in what had happened to the other passengers, but I did feel extreme victory in knowing I had fought against doubt; the "norm"; questionable looks; and, instead, made a decision that not only saved me time (those passengers who got off were not able to rebook on the next flight like I did) but may have also saved my life!

That got me to thinking about how often we choose NOT to follow our gut or--as I like to call it--listen to God speaking into our spirits. Oprah loves to ask, "What do you know for sure?" That list may be long for some and short for others. But what I do know is that we know a lot more than we give ourselves credit for. The problem is that many times we simply prefer NOT to know. Although Chris Rock has a great joke about this, there lies an abundance of truth in that statement that have cost many of us an insurmountable amount of time, money, and pain.

How many times have we known the person we were in relation with was not who we should be with, yet we continue on because accepting that truth may leave us single or criticized? Or how about knowing the man who just got on the elevator with us in that dark parking garage seems questionable, but because we don't want to "judge" or cause hurt feelings by existing a floor earlier, we stay on and possibly put our lives in danger? How about knowing something in our body just doesn't feel right, but instead of checking on it we choose to take a few antacids and hope for the best? Or how about investing in a business venture that you're not 100% at peace with yet running the risk of losing your life's fortune because you're hoping for a successful outcome instead? There have been countless stories of misfortune that have begun with a person saying, "You know, I knew...but...." Unfortunately, hindsight is 20/20, but often we aren't as "blind" as we like to portray we are.

Thankfully, God gives us all that tiny "alarm clock" inside to wake us up to situations that may not serve us best. Yet, we tend to hit the "snooze button" often instead to save face, save time, or simply because we don't think we have the strength to face the outcome. Trust and believe, if God is there to bring you to it, He'll bring you through it. But we must first listen and then be obedient to what we hear. Never turn off or ignore your connection to the main line. You may be getting a "call" designed to save your joy, wealth, health...or even life.

Monday, June 17, 2013

Riding Out the Storm: What's Your Plan?

Perhaps because I'm getting older and am starting to notice the things "older folks" love to lament about, I've been very aware of the hostile storm patterns that seem to be increasingly plaguing many parts of the country as of late. In fact, the term "derecho" was never a part of my vocabulary until one collapsed my backyard fence in 2011 on the weekend of my birthday. It was both frightening and disheartening but, luckily, my insurance covered the damage and within a few weeks after waiting on money from my insurance company and selecting a fencing company, I came home after work to a brand new fence, which is even sturdier than its predecessor and still stands today, despite the many storms we continue to have.

That got me to thinking about storms of all kinds; not just the ones with wind and rains but those "storms" that show up as unexpected trials and tribulations in our life, be it health issues, job losses, the ending of relationships, or even the death of loved ones. And what I've discovered is that the same preparedness measures we take to protect ourselves and our surroundings from physical harm, can be applied to how we ready ourselves for life's "unexpectancies" as well.

1. Have a Plan--Most evacuations plans start with just that: a plan. In other words, a strategy of how you will get out of a tough situation if the unexpected should happen. If you lose your job tomorrow, do you have six months of your salary saved to sustain you? If major surgery is needed, do you have insurance that will cover you? If your partner should suddenly leave or pass away, can you continue to take care of yourself and your children be it through life insurance or other financial support? Many people live by the "wait and see" or "it will never happen to me" ideology. Here's the reality: "waiting to see" already puts you miles behind the starting line and "thinking it will never happen to me" will almost guarantee that it will. Don't be wishful; be smart and prepared.

2. Stock Up on Your Supplies--This directly ties into point number 1. Access your financial stability. If you are no where close to having six months of your salary saved, it's time to work your side hustles or look for a part-time job in order to earn enough funds to cushion your account. Pass on the daily Starbucks and stash that money into your savings as well. As my mom used to say, "Pennies make dollars" and every little bit helps. Also, if you work for a company that will reimburse you for your education, take advantage of gaining all of the knowledge you can while you can! A close friend who had been on her job for several years planned to eventually finish her bachelor's degree. When she was unexpectedly laid off, she found herself older, more in debt, and still without a degree, which made it even tougher for her to compete in the job market today. Remember: Never delay what you can start working on today.

As for preparedness when it comes to health, if you have medical insurance, get your annual exams without question! Women's wellness exams. Mammograms. Lab work. Eye checkups. Dental care. The body works much like an automobile and one part breaking down can quickly affect the other parts. Not preventing illnesses can not only cost you time, money--and in some cases your job--it can also cost you your life. As is said, "An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure." Let proactivity be your first line of defense!

3. Find Shelter--In the common sense "finding shelter" means to do so inside a physical structure; however, when facing life's trials, it's important to find a place where you can "go within" to meditate, pray, consult, and get clarity. Be it church, a prayer group, or a counselor, never underestimate the therapeutic benefits of talking through your situation with someone willing to listen and hold your hand through the tough times. There is strength in numbers, even if that number is increased by one. Rely on your emotional support systems during this time so that you don't feel your world is crumbling down both around you and within you.
4. Assess the Damage--When the storm passes--and it will--take the time to exhale; celebrate your "coming through"; and makes notes for what you could have done better. Then start at number 1 again and create a bigger, better plan. Unfortunately, and contrary to the old adage, lightening can strike the same place twice. And the only thing worst than going through something once, is going through it again when you had the opportunity to be both wiser and better prepared.

Just like with nature's storms, there is nothing like seeing the sun peek through the clouds afterward and calmness return to your surroundings. It's God's reminder that "the storm does pass over (hallelujah)." However, it's important to remind yourself that riding out those storms can be a lot less frightening when you've done your work and made provisions for the unexpected. Don't let the storms of life catch you "uncovered." It's time to get prepared!

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Dating and Shopping: Are They Really That Different?

So, here's a scenario: You walk into a clothing store--perhaps intentionally; maybe by accident--and, behold, on the rack you see the dress of your dreams; the one you've been looking for for longer than you care to remember. It's the right color, the right size, and there's only one! And--lucky you--it's affordable! So, you leave the store and hope it will be there later. Sound crazy? Unbelievable, right?

How about this: You find that same dress but it's NOT affordable? However, the salesperson tells you that she will hold it for you long enough for you to get together what you need to purchase it, but if somebody else decides to buy it, she must let it go, and someone else is already "eyeballing" your dream dress! So, you leave the store, pursue no avenues to get what you need, and just assume it will be there later. Crazy again, right?

To those scenarios, many of us would quickly reply, "Oh, you didn't really want it then, because if you did...." Well, if we can draw that conclusion over a simple dress, then why do we rationalize this behavior when it comes to dating? Why do we allow ourselves to be picked over like massed-produced clothes when we're a one-of-a-kind "couture"? Why do we allow ourselves to be left "hanging on the rack" indefinitely when we know how valuable we are? Why do we allow others to "try us on" over and over again without ever "purchasing"?

Please know I'm not going to attempt to answer any of those questions for you. That's the point of this blog post, for we must all start doing the hard work in answering those for ourselves. But trust and believe, they are questions worth thinking about when we find ourselves in long-term relationships that are not leading to marriage; in dating situations where suitors call and text at random; in unions where you "make up and break up" more than you care to admit; and in affairs where canceled dates are the norm (see previous blog post, "Is It Time for a 'New Normal?'")

One of my favorite episodes of "Sex and the City" is when the character Miranda tries to justify why a guy she'd just gone out with didn't take her up on her offer to come up for a nightcap. Her friend's boyfriend blatantly states, "He's just not that into you." And upon hearing that, the ladies were up in arms about how that couldn't be true; providing tons of excuses for the date; and reassurring her that he would call. And yet, Miranda, with clarity, simply replies, "It is the most liberating thing I have ever heard. Think how much time in therapy I could have saved if I had known this."

Well, it's time we get liberated! We all know what interest looks like--period! In fact, we as women can be interested in a myriad of things from our hobbies to our apperance, and how we care for and pursue them is never compromised. And the only thing keeping us from wasting time in situations that do not lead to our "happily ever after's" is willingly accepting the "just not that" part in the middle of that sentence when it needs to be removed and simply left as "He's into you!" No question; no excuses. Yet, we seem to rationalize it away repeatedly due to loneliness, fear, fatigue, time invested, or desperation. However, nothing good has ever been born out of lack and if that lack is leading to complacency, it's time to answer those questions above sooner rather than later!

To think we can cherish; save up for; work two jobs; and do what needs to be done "by any means necessary" to get those Louboutins; Prada purses; dream houses; or luxury cars we want so much, yet allow others to desire and pursue us "in their own time and at their own convenience" shouts something very painful we don't like to admit often: We don't value ourselves like we should. And if we allow ourselves to be treated like we agree with that statement, we only have ourselves to blame when we remain on that "rack" indefinitely. It's time to truly know our worth so that when we meet those who don't, we can identify them more quickly and then redirect them to "shop" elsewhere.

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Is it Time for a "New Normal"?

I grew up in a small city on a main street, which made the sounds of cars, trucks, passersby talking and--as "urban decay" threatened to creep in--the occasional sounds of gunshots "normal" to me. In fact, the familiar sounds became like a "distorted lullaby" as I laid my head to rest each night. I also attended college in a major city where those same sounds kept steady rhythm with the pulse of daily life. Seeking a change of pace as I got older and could direct my own path, I moved to the suburbs--25 miles away from that metropolis to a smaller city some folks described back then as "west bumf*ck." In other words, "no man's land." I didn't care. I was ready for a fresh start. But my fresh start brought a strange reality on my first night in my new home when I crawled into bed: it was too damn quiet for me to get to sleep. How do you like that? As much as I knew surrounding oneself in constant noise can be taxing to the mind, soul, and ultimately, body, I needed it to be comfortable. It was my "normal." But I was also wise enough to know it was not normal. That got me to thinking about other ways in which we cling to our "normals" even though we know they're far from being so.

It's amazing how often this word is an appendage to the end of many common statements: "We fight all the time, but that's normal...I'm always late, but that's normal...I'm always frustrated about something, but that's normal." Newsflash: It's NOT normal. In talking to a friend once, they were able to admit that whenever things got too comfortable in their relationships, they would create "drama" because that's all they knew. They didn't want it, but they also didn't know how to do without it. The same can be said for many of us who continuously find ourselves gravitating towards drama of all kinds be it on the job, in relationships, in organizations, or, dare I say it, even in the church. We all know--or may even be--those people who seem to, as the old folks say, "always have something going on." And those people are never authentically happy because "goodness and mercy" simply can not dwell where this is constant "turmoil and confusion."  So, how do we combat this?

First, we have to get real about who the common denominator is in our situations. Here's a hint: you're reading this. Regardless of what is happening around us, we will always be the person that's present in every situation. If the players and scenes have changed, but the script is still the same, it's time for some serious self-examination. Every friend is not out to use you; every guy or girl is not out to hurt you; every co-worker is not stabbing you in the back. Give "everybody" a rest and focus on the one person you can change: yourself.

Second, we have to want a new "script," and that comes with pushing past the discomfort of acting and reacting outside of your box, no matter how foreign that may feel initially. If you're the "I curse people out!" kind, try on the act of silence for a change. If you're the "I'm all about revenge" kind, try on the gift of forgiveness and integrity. As is said, doing what you've always done and expecting different results is the definition of insanity. 

Lastly, get yourself an accountability partner. That is, someone who you trust enough, be it a best friend, family member, or life coach, to speak truth to you and ask them about the "un healthy patterns" they see in your life, then begin doing the things (reading, taking workshops, meditating, etc.) you need to do to begin breaking those "familiar strongholds." Again, asking is key. Just because folks aren't bringing the patterns they've noticed directly to you, doesn't mean you don't have them. Ask lovingly and receive their feedback openly.

Let's stop settling for ordinary and work to become extraordinary in every area of our lives. As actress Jodie Foster said best, "Normal is not something to aspire to; it's something to get away from," especially when that normal is "noisy." As for me, I fought through the sound of quiet, the subtle chirping of crickets, the random house creeks that would have never been heard in the cacophonies of city life, until I found peace and comfort in my "new normal." That also resulted in me seeking peace and comfort in other areas of my life as well, which probably would have gone untended to if I had settled to be distracted by the "noise" instead.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

What Language Are You Speaking to Yourself?

I love enlightenment. That's pretty obvious from the theme of many of my blog posts, which discuss growth and self love. So, imagine my glee when I "discovered" Dr. Gary Chapman's "The Five Love Languages" book. I tongue-in-cheek say "discovered" as it had been sitting on my bookshelf for God knows how long. But after a close friend referenced some of its principles over dinner one evening, I made a mental note to pick it up, although I was sure I'd seen it somewhere before. Yep, on that bookshelf. So, with a trip to Barnes & Noble averted, I settled into bed one night with a cup of tea and began to read. And just as the plethora of critics over the many years of its existence have lauded it, the book was indeed, well, enlightening. And it definitely wasn't "rocket science," as the entire concept of the book could be summed up in another very simple principle: mirroring.

In other words, what I do for you, I want you to do for me, for the book makes it very clear that the love language we "hear" most clearly is the one we already "speak." Dr. Chapman categorizes those languages into five categories: Words of Affirmation; Quality Time; Gifts; Acts of Service; and Physical Touch. I'll spare you the breakdown of each and how to determine which language you speak (you can read the book for yourself or take the quiz here to find out). However, of the many concepts discussed, the notion of having our "love tanks depleted" when our language is not spoken back to us, in particular, was most interesting. So, when Dr. Chapman was featured on a recent episode of Oprah's Lifeclass, I eagerly tuned in.

Dr. Chapman gave a brief overview of his philosophy; even got Oprah to take the quiz (if you're curious, her love language is Words of Affirmation); then got to the business of giving couples in the audience (both live and Skype'd in) an opportunity to ask their questions. Most of the couples seemed genuinely in love yet simply lost in how to better demonstrate love to each other, while other couples seemed exasperated just talking about their challenges. It seemed the latter couples had simply hit a wall they just didn't know how to get around or climb over and the "wear and tear" was definitely showing. That got me to thinking deeper about the possibility of why both sets of couples seemed so different and that's when I had my own "a ha" moment: perhaps the success of the love languages is dependent on both partners already being whole as individuals when they enter into union as opposed to relying on the other to complete them, i.e., each person has to learn to speak those five languages to themselves first before requiring that someone else does.

In other words, have you learned to be your own biggest cheerleader and speak loving, encouraging words to yourself? (Words of Affirmation); Have you learned to enjoy your own company and spending time with yourself? (Quality Time); Do you spoil yourself with the things you want (not just the things you need) or treat yourself to your guilty pleasures often? (Gifts); Do you keep your commitments with yourself and show up in your life how you need to? (Acts of Service); Do you treat your body lovingly (massages, manicures/pedicures, etc.) or even give hugs or pats on the back to those in need (Physical Touch)?

Now don't get me wrong: there is nothing more enjoyable than having someone you love execute these things for you, but if you are relying on your mate solely or primarily to give you these, you will deplete their "love tank" faster than air out of a punctured balloon. No one can ever give you what you don't already have, even if just a tiny semblance of it. When you show up whole in a relationship, being able to speak and listen to--and thus, execute--love languages is probably a lot easier. And perhaps that was the difference in the two couples and the hope for change that one set seemed to have in comparison to the other. Where partners in one couple were just looking for the "utensils" needed to make eating their "meals" easier, other partners were looking to have their entire meals provided for. Big difference. Let's not over-tax our loved ones with giving us something we haven't learned to give ourselves first. That's too tall--and unfair--of an order for anyone to fill.

As I am truly blessed by what Dr. Chapman has shared with the world, I honestly can't wait until I can "test drive" these principles with someone special in hopes of creating something beautiful and lasting. But I'm also aware that until that time comes, the best way to prepare for that and ultimately, a healthy, happy marriage, is to practice these love languages with myself and pray that somewhere my intended mate is doing the same in preparation for me. Happy Valentine's Day!

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Fly, Robin, Fly

Whoever said inspiration comes in the strangest forms was right. I was reminded of this the other day as I was rushing to make an engagement on an unexpected busy Saturday. Stuck in traffic on NY Avenue (and for my fellow D.C. commuters, you KNOW how that can be), I was relieved when--after waiting at least 25 minutes to move a quarter of a mile--I was able to pick up speed again and make up for lost time. Then it happened: I had to slow down again because a tiny bird had decided to teeter totter out into the far right lane to examine a scrap of discarded food. And without much thought, I yelled out at my innocent, feathered friend, "Really bird? You're gonna walk when you can fly?!" It didn't take the bird long to realize the scrap of bread wasn't worth losing its life for and it indeed decided to spread its wings and soar on to find what I hope was food in a safer environment. But my own "rant" gave me pause as I sat idle at the next stop light and thought: How many of us are walking when we're built to fly?

I began to ponder this even more while watching a recent episode of "Mary, Mary," the reality show, which follows the gospel singing duo's life in and out of the spotlight. Most recently celebrated for their latest hit, "Walking" (I know, the irony), sister Erica Campbell has begun to share her desire to take her career to the next level; to reach platinum status--even if that means leaving behind her sister, Tina Campbell, who seems to prefer a more relaxed schedule that will be sacrificed by chasing something greater. Once on the same page of how and what level of success they wanted to achieve, this new proverbial fork in the road for them has resulted in numerous arguments, breakdowns in communication, hurt feelings, and stress. It may make for good TV, but if anyone has been in this predicament, it does not make for a happy life.

And thus that begs the question: how many of us have been--or are--in that predicament? Be it a job that is not allowing you to grow to your full potential; a relationship that does not allow you to be your best self; friendships that keep you stuck in a routine rut; or even family relationships that force you to hide your true light as not to ruffle feathers, are you walking when you should be flying? Are you compromising when you should be challenging? Are you settling when you should be soaring? Are you refusing when you should be accepting? Try to fool yourself all you want, but praise be to our higher selves, our souls always know the difference. And if you're quiet enough to hear it ask, "What are we doing here?"--wherever that "here" may be--honor yourself enough to know, as the old folks say, "If God put a new dream in your heart, He's already given you what you need to realize it." Then begin figuring out how to make that dream a reality starting today! (see previous blog post, "Are You Missing the Parade?")

Let's stop merely wandering in search of whatever "scraps" will sustain us for the moment, much like that tiny bird. Let's not risk losing our true selves (or even our lives) before we realize our true potential, much like that tiny bird. And let's be reminded of our capacity to spread our wings and fly...yes, much like that tiny bird.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Are You Missing the Parade?

When I'm in an occasional unhappy or restless place in life, I often think of a story--more like a parable--my father shared with me when I was young. A father told his young son that the parade was coming to town and he wanted to take him. As expected, the young son was excited and could hardly wait. On the day of the parade, the father found a perfect spot up front on Main Street to await the grand event. With his son on his shoulders, they cheered and waved at the numerous floats, bands, and circus animals that passed by. Soon the parade ended and, after a long, exciting day, the father placed his son back on the sidewalk atop a sea of colorful confetti that had fallen, and announced it was time to go home. Perplexed, the young boy looked up at his father. "What's the matter, son? the father asked. The young boy paused and then replied, "But when is the parade coming, daddy?"

You see, the father never explained what a parade is and, so, the son had no idea how to identify it when he saw it. We could see this as the simple, cute naivety of a child, but how many of us are "missing the parade" every day because we don't know what "it" looks like? And that "it" could be anything from a good job to a good relationship to an overall good life. Call it human nature or an over saturation of pop culture stimulating us, but we seem to be less and less satisfied with what we have and more and more desperate for what we don't. We jump from relationship to relationship; job to job; home to home; city to city in search of.... Exactly. That's where it begins: taking inventory of what we do have by making a list (literally, if need be) and checking it twice (just like Santa ;-) so we can figure out what it truly is we're looking for or looking at.

Now, for many, doing that may be easier said than done if a person 1) has no point of reference for how to identify what it is they're seeking or 2) is not 100% sure what they're looking for in the first place. For example, a person who desires a good marriage may have never actually seen one, so they'll either create an unrealistic fantasy of what one should look like or all too easily dismiss the "good marriage" they do have because of their tarnished perspective. Or, even more common, desire a relationship period when what they're really looking for (or need) is more love and acceptance of self. And most of us know a relationship is never a substitute for that. Same with looking for that "good" job. Are we confusing a solid 9 to 5, with full benefits, an above average salary, vacation time, and "somewhat tolerable" co-workers with us looking for an opportunity that allows us to explore our passion? If so, those are two very different things and we better learn the difference real quick before all of our complaining lands us in the unemployment line, for no one ever said you couldn't have a job and cultivate your passion at the same time.

Now, I am in no way condoning doing or staying anywhere or in anything that does not allow for true growth or in any way feels taxing to our soul or diminishes our value. However, it's important to first dig deep enough to explore where the true discontent lies so we can better recognize what we have before losing or leaving it for something we think we want. Then once we can successfully do that, we must seek out those people who are where we want to be and are doing the things we'd like to do. Talk to them; ask them "how it looks"; what it takes; and how to get there, if need be.

If you desire a good marriage, talk to couples who have one; not the single person griping about being so. Or if you want to own your own business, talk to the entrepreneur who has one and stop wasting time complaining to the person in the cubicle next to you, for the blind can not lead the blind. Constantly changing or looking for something different or new will not necessarily fulfill you, if you don't know what or why that is. For a lot of our discontent with what's outside of us truly starts with what's within us, and as my favorite saying goes, "Wherever you go, there you are." But starting our search within; discovering what we're truly looking for; seeking mentors who are already where we want to be; and charting a course to getting there or, even better, finally being able to identify when we are already there, will!

Let's not get caught standing in the middle of our "parade" waiting for it to come and, possibly, missing it all at the same time. Let's learn to better count our blessings from yesterday; have joy today; and better prepare for our tomorrows!