Pushing Past “Well….”

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What do I mean by pushing past “Well…”?   “Well…” is when I proclaim, “Well at least I’m not out here shooting everybody!”; “Well at least I didn’t eat the whole cake!”; “Well at least I didn’t cuss her all the way out!”.  It means cradling myself with mediocre excuses.   Well is comprised of the excuses I make when I am called out for my behavior, personally convicted, or expect kudos for not being “rock bottom” awful.  I have been writing my short term and long term career goals down again because I feel like my growth has stalled for the past couple of years.  I realized that my desire to grow in my career is not separate from the goals I have to get in bed by 9:00 pm, eat a balanced diet, exercise, and stop worrying about other people more than I worry about myself.  The desire to be more structured and regimented won’t happen in a vacuum.  I need all of the pieces to work together to score the next interview or finish the last mile in my daily walk.  I’ve been changing my diet and I have noticed the results within the past year and a half.  I am pleased with the progress with healthier skin and hair, but now it’s time to push past “Well…”.  I have new goals because I met some of the ones I established last year.  I have gingerly repaired precious relationships that were dead and I’ve learned to communicate more effectively.  What is my next frontier?  I now understand that performing at a high level in my career involves me getting the proper rest and rising at the same time to conduct my daily routine.  I am putting myself out here, and it’s time to push past what was good enough yesterday.  I want to go back to church.  I want to go with an open heart and not a bullet proof vest protecting by heart.  It’s time because I’m ready to stop making excuses and clinging to the past.  I won’t utter the words, “Well that won’t happen for me” ever again because that negative conclusion was based off of past data and old experiences.  Is it rough to push past “Well”?  Well…yes it is!  I am going to transfer the career goals I’ve written to a format that also includes dietary, recreational, and Spirit focused goals as well.  I don’t want to be growing in my career, but in the same place emotionally, spiritually, and physically.  I have started and stopped multiple times, but this time, I want consistency.  Voltron needs all five parts to fight off evil doers right?  Good enough is not good enough anymore.  I’m not comfortable anymore because I am finally admitting I want it all: all the rays of sunshine on my face, the sounds of dogs barking, sweaty 4-mile runs, chicken, the  laughter of friends and family, good times and gratitude for Sunday morning.   I’m off to an amazing start.

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The Truth Doused in Paranoia

Sometimes I talk too much.  Sometimes I don’t talk at all.  Sometimes I don’t say enough.  I am still learning to gauge when I should or should not speak up.  Some days to avoid confrontation or confusion, I wear my “church lady” grin.  The grin that shows no teeth or wrinkles around your eyes.  It’s a “nice on ice” look that says I have manners, but I don’t want to be bothered with the outside world right now. The top of my face is stone, while the bottom is curled into a disingenuous grimace that passes for sterile human emotion.  It’s the smile you muster when you let the other cars go before you at four-way stop sign.  It’s the smile you slap on your face when you let the lady with the screaming baby go before you in the grocery line, or when I am passing a stranger on the street or in the hallway.  I use it when I don’t want to be bothered, or I have two seconds to be “nice”.  Heaven forbid I’m not “nice”.  Nice is such a one-dimensional facade, a small moment in time.  I have a palate of emotions, moods, and behaviors, but “nice” is the dry cleaning of all behaviors.  It speeds along transactions and phone calls.  Please don’t confuse nice with being polite or having manners.  You can be genuinely kind while using manners.  Nice is the McDonald’s of mock feminine characteristics.  I try my best to stay on auto pilot during business hours, but sometimes the truth slips out.  Sometimes self-preservation, protection, and self-defenses are lowered and the pieces of my mind fly out of my lips.  Not in a malicious rant, but in a “this is me” way.  I sometimes obsess over how my words or actions can be interpreted or twisted incorrectly.  It gets stifling seeking the truth in a place that sustains itself on church lady smiles, vague words, self-preservation or survival of the fittest.  In a world where honesty is shunned and lies are accepted as truths, telling the truth is an act of radicalism.  I believe it’s called having a filter, but the truth lowers your blood pressure.  You are truly blessed if when someone asks how you’re doing, you blurt out, “My cramps feel like an autopsy is being performed on my uterus, and you?”  To know your truth is safe with someone and it doesn’t induce paranoia is bliss.                                                                                                                                                       images

A Love Letter to Black Men

download-1He is so powerful that he can fill a dry river bed with an encouraging word or smile.  He gives me solice in a tumultuous world and his adoration is priceless. He is a natural leader full of wisdom and guidance.  I am safe with him because he is home.  He is caring, nurturing, and proud. He is the pages in my diary because he knows my secrets without me having to say a word. He gives unconditionally and forgives quickly. He loves me eternally, and I am grateful for his endurance.  He gives joy, acceptance, laughter, and support. He is royalty; which has birthed a loyalty unparallelled.  He is regal; causing him to command reverance. He has loved me back to life when I couldn’t. He makes me laugh through my tears, and he encourages me to keep moving when I don’t see a way forward.  He has cheered me on my entire life.  He is proud of me; and so I hold my head up higher. He has pictures of me throughout every stage in my life on his walls because I’m one of his most beautiful creations. He hugs me tight to show how much he loves me. He is my biggest cheerleader and toughest critic.  He is my reflection.  He is my air. He is me.

Are You Present This Holiday Season?

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LB’s Thoughts

Budget

You are crying right now because the lowest price you’ve seen for a turkey is $40.  Hams are $52 and forget about roast beef or prime rib.  Don’t cry in the grocery store because you saw this day coming months ago.  Raise your hand if you find it tough to stay on budget during the holiday seasons?  Oh, it’s just me?  I don’t think so.  Come out and show yourselves you procrastinating, over spending, last minute Lucy’s.  You’re in good company.

Last year, when I realized that it was much more advantageous to plan ahead, I started putting money aside months ahead SPECIFICALLY for the festivities.  I did the same thing this year.  Unfortunately, I had to dip into some of those savings last week, but I will be back on schedule this weekend!   Don’t judge me, I’m just confessing… shout out to Destiny’s Child.  That’s for the old school fans.  I am a firm believer that you cannot skimp on holiday food ingredients or purchase junk for Christmas presents either.  I think it’s written somewhere that “Thou shall not be cheapeth”.  Or maybe that was a “Writings on the Wall” commandment given by Destiny’s Child?  Get your game face on folks and don’t allow this weekend to pass without purchasing quality ingredients for Thanksgiving.  In all honesty, your hams, turkeys, and other major meats should have already been purchased and put into the deep freezer.  Allot for quality ingredients for this holiday season.  Don’t buy generic canned foods and knock off heavy creams, butters, and milks trying to avoid the last minute holiday markups that grocery stores punish last minute shoppers with.  That’s an automatic beat down from the family and you know it.  Fake & Cheese is NOT mac & cheese, and your pies will taste like flies.  We’ve waited all year round’ for this bountiful feast and you will not ruin it with your old can of green beans and funyuns, calling it green bean casserole.  The devil is a lie!  Green beans should be fresh this time of year.  That’s why Mama Payne asked Gina, “You still chuckin dem peas big face?” because fresh is mandatory.  Pass the peas like they used to do this season.  Stick to your budget because these are the times we all wish for.  Hang all the mistletoe and happy shopping!

Being Present and Laying a Foundation

Holidays are the fabric that brings folks together this time of year.  Family and friends get together to talk about what’s transpired in order to catch up.  That’s cool, but what about folks who use the holiday to even scores and collect debts from 1994?  What if past holidays have taught you to dread or fear this time of year?  I have learned to handle some of this by being present.  What do I mean by being present?  I actively keep my mind on what I’m experiencing in that moment.  I give people my full attention.  I let my joy and unbridled enthusiasm for today shine brighter than yesterday and I don’t worry about tomorrow.  For one day, I am in the moment.  I unplug and laugh with abandonment.  I savor the taste of my food.  I smell a glass of red wine.  I scream at whatever basketball or football game is on.  I dress comfortably, and I give thanks to God for blessing me with this moment in time.  This moment in time is used to build the tomorrow I want to see.  I don’t dwell on what I didn’t get or what I don’t have.  I am thankful for now, and that takes practice.  For one day, I actively love others and myself.  It’s very easy to get caught up in yesterday’s disappointments, but I’ve realized it’s a sin to rob myself of today.  Tomorrow will take care of itself, so enjoy today.  What I’ve come to find out is these are self-care strategies that I’ve learned to practice throughout the year.  Take care of yourself this holiday season.  I will pass these traditions down to my children because I want them to inherit joy and laughter.

Say it loud, I’m black and I’m proud!  Play all of your black holiday music, enjoy all of our traditional dishes, and hug your loved ones tight.  I LOVE this time of the year and I have so much to be thankful for.  See you next year!

PA’s Thoughts

Shortly after Halloween and the first snow fall, I begin to feel a familiar nostalgia that is simultaneously exciting and unnerving. My mind races as I think about all of the things I’d like to accomplish. Family photos, holiday cards, and transforming our home into a winter wonderland. Then anxiety sets in. Are we financially prepared for this? Why didn’t I buy the clearance items from Target last year when they were 75% off? What was I thinking?

Then, my mind switches to my childhood and all of the Christmases that I anxiously awaited Santa, long after I knew he didn’t exist. The thought of someone who cared enough to make sure that I received the things that I desired kept me hopeful. Every year I’d grow eager with anticipation and every year, it was pretty much a disappointment. Kids don’t care about practicality, bills and responsibilities. I know that my brother and I surely didn’t. All kids know is that at least once a year their dreams can come true. I always want my children to feel this way. I always want them to associate the holidays with love, warmth, family and sharing. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t place a lot of emphasis of receiving gifts, but I do understand the importance of allowing children to believe that they’re special enough to be gifted with some of their desires.

The older I get, the more I value time, peace and sanity. The holidays are often like weddings and funerals. They tend to bring the worst out of people without them even realizing it. This year, I’m choosing to fall back. I have vowed to pace myself and not to get involved with anything or anyone that causes me to feel anything but joy. Some people eat themselves into oblivion, others drink themselves into oblivion. This year, I am simply choosing to disengage, recharge and spend quality time with my family. We tend to focus on all of the wrong things during the Holiday season. This year, I intend to get it right.

As for this season, there are some certainties. Shopping for the kids is done. The holiday cards and winter wonderland have yet to be accomplished. If time, money and energy don’t permit, I refuse to stress. I’ll just plan better for next year.

Today’s Thoughts on Relationships

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PA’s thoughts on relationships:

Relationships take work regardless of your level of involvement. Let’s face it, we’re all uniquely made. Along with our uniqueness comes the quirks, idiosyncrasies and isms that define who we are. Maybe you don’t like the way your significant other addresses conflict. Maybe you have a relative who only does things that are selfishly beneficial. Maybe you have a coworker who lacks accountability. It all boils down to how you react to these people and situations. It has been said that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing repeatedly and expecting a different result. Perhaps you’re waiting on the wrong person to change.

Relationships have always made me feel slightly uncomfortable. I am extremely guarded, I listen more than I talk and I am constantly observing a person’s actions in order to determine their motives. I have the tendency to end relationships before they even start if I feel that a person isn’t genuine, untrustworthy or simply doesn’t understand discretion. The older that I get, the less time I have to decipher what people want from me or why they want it. This causes me to keep my circle extremely tight in order to minimize the majority of guesswork that coincides with letting strangers in. Even with this, I often ask myself if it’s me that is supposed to be learning how to accept people for who they are? Am I the one that should be acquiring skills of both adaptation and acceptance? Everyone isn’t worth your time, but for those who are, can you put in the work?

LB’s thoughts on relationships:

Relationships make the world go around, and they take up 100 % of my energy on a daily basis.  I’m hard at work on them at any given moment because they are the life source that keeps me going.

Me, Myself, and I relationship

The most important relationship I have is with the one with me because it governs how I deal with myself and how I interact with my environment.   When I say “me”, I am talking about how I deal with myself and how I relate to God while being me simultaneously.  I know that may not make sense, but it does to me.  Even if I think I am dealing with myself in a vacuum, I’m quickly reminded otherwise.  This relationship has been through many ups and downs, and I am constantly working with me to maintain balance.  I strive to live on a regimented schedule and pray for order in my life.  Order helps alleviate 98% of my problems because it allows me to prioritize what I need to be working on and put things into perspective.  This is an incremental process, and it isn’t linear.  I constantly have to feed the spiritual, mental (emotional), and physical facets of myself.  The relationship I have with “me, myself, and I” is the most important one I have because I am my biggest priority and my biggest responsibility.  I cannot help anyone else if I am not taking care of myself.  I can’t keep pouring outwardly without replenishing myself and practicing self-care.

Family relationships  

If I could write a book with never ending pages, it still wouldn’t be enough to speak on the impact my relationships with my family has had on my life.  My family includes people that aren’t blood, but have become family.  I recently went home.  Being with my father felt like walking beside a rushing river as it coursed endlessly through the base of thousands of mountains. My soul felt at peace because we echoed each other’s existence without explanation.  I visited my mother this summer and I was reminded of her insurmountable strength and determination.  My mother is my superhero because she’s the first person I ever knew that could leap over tall buildings in a single bound.  She reminded me of the importance of self-care.  As summer changed to autumn, I celebrated my birthday cocooned in love.

These relationships are vital to me and I cherish them with every fiber of my being.  I have to water, prune, and tend to my relationships with deliberate determination in order to enjoy a fruitful harvest.  The harvest that I collect from my relationships gives me the strength to go out into the world and make a living, while sharing my gifts to make a positive impact on the world around me.

Stumbling Through Life: Wandering in the Desert for 40 Years

PA’s words of wisdom: “God gave us two hands and one mouth for a reason.  It takes less time to show what you’re about than to talk about it”

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LB’s Thoughts: 

Ezekiel 34:6: “My flock wandered through all the mountains and on every high hill; My flock was scattered over all the surface of the earth, and there was no one to search or seek for them.”

 I left Ohio in 2005 in search of a solid career and armed with the hope that all the pieces in my life would fall into place because I had worked so hard to get to the point where I was free to live my life on my own terms without the guilt of having to save people or use my back as the last beam to prevent the inevitable collapse of the old guard.  I thought I had life figured out.  I was so full of foolish entitlement and baseless expectations when I left.  Even though I physically left, I brought all of the emotional baggage I had yet to unpack.  I had learned to stuff my baggage in closets, under beds, behind couches, and anywhere else they would fit in order to pursue a career and create the life I wanted.  I had been in school for my entire life, and I never stopped to work on myself.  I figured that as long as I slayed every dragon and push through every concrete wall in my way, I’d make it to my destination.  Everything was a fight and often accompanied by major setbacks.   That’s all I knew, and I literally fought through each stage in life.  Finally, I had graduated and all of the adversity I wrestled with would be a thing of the past I thought.  I was nothing but wrong.  Not only was I slapped out of my fantasy, but I was punched in the gut with the same disappointment and grief I had in Ohio.  What had I done?  Why was God punishing me?  I thought I did everything He told me to do, so why wouldn’t he give me the desires of my heart?  He revealed to me that my desires were idols.  Plain and simple.  I was enraged because I saw the other children dancing around the golden calf, and they weren’t struck down.  I could not understand why it seemed other people were allowed to have the desires of their heart, but mine were elusive.  Every time I believed I had reached the shore of my dreams, I knew deep down in my heart it was only a mirage.  So I kept wandering in the desert.  God always whispered warnings that urged me to keep walking because I hadn’t found my new home yet.  I’ve met wonderful strangers in the desert.  Over a decade has transpired, and I am still revising my plan in order to meet shifting demands and new challenges.  I’m accepting that life is not linear, and just because I thought life would go one way, doesn’t mean life ever agreed to those terms.  My pride and ego are forever being injured, and I do believe it is by design.  Do I have an ego problem?  Am I prideful?  What would I be like if I was granted all of my whims with little to no resistance?  Would I be lazy?  Would I lose sleep over maintaining my integrity?  The most confusing part is  that this whole conversation takes place in my head, and I absolutely agonize over it.

Responding out of emotion has caused some of the worst mistakes I’ve made in my life, which makes me gun shy about making the next life altering moves.  I hate making mistakes, even though they’re unavoidable.  Sometimes this causes me to sit on the fence.  I’ll punish myself well after the situation has gone by, because I’m very hard on myself.  I do pray for clarity, but sometimes I worry I either don’t hear God, or He hasn’t gotten around to responding.   Since nobody can rush God, where does that leave me?  There is the presence of wisdom and discernment, but the fear of making the wrong move sometimes causes me to sit on the fence too long.  I still have problems with letting go of the mistakes I’ve made throughout life, and sometimes my desire to be understood overrides all rationality.  I have a deep need to express myself because for a large portion of my life, my voice was stifled.  I insist on marching to the beat of my own drum, and I don’t believe I was created to follow someone else’s definition of what it means to be a black woman.  This fight is in direct conflict with what the world tells me I am, was, or will be.  I wonder what life would be like if I didn’t fight so hard to see my dreams materialize?  What if I just rolled with the punches and assimilated into life?  What if there was no voice inside of me that urged me to fight back even though I hate conflict?  Am I hiding behind past hurts in order to prevent myself from moving forward?  I know I deliberately do and say things to put myself in direct conflict with the world around me to ward off situations I am not interested in handling.

I’ve paid a large price for trusting strangers, and I’ve paid larger ones for sharing with those I’ve known my entire life.  The greatest transformation has occurred in my life when I dared to trust a stranger.  The reason I made it to college was because of a stranger.  The reason I survived in college was because of a stranger.  The reason I am no longer in Ohio is because of a stranger, and the reason I have a career is because of a stranger.  Oddly enough, the reason I am writing this blog is because of a stranger.  When I’ve risked being vulnerable with a stranger, my life has literally shifted, and pushed me to grow.  Strangers have been absolutely life altering, and I do believe there is a reason for this.   I’ve recently accepted that home is no longer where it used to be and sometimes God’s sends messengers into the desert where I’ve been wandering.  I’ve spotted a place to pitch a tent, and I think it is on high ground and has plenty of shade. I’ve found a home after 40 years of wandering in the desert.  God has shown me people that I can take refuge with that won’t abuse the fact that I was vulnerable and showed my true self.  After years of wandering in the desert, I think I finally identified an oasis that has fresh water and shade from the brutal sun.  I visit this oasis frequently, and continue to unpack my baggage.  If I remove my “Comedy/Tragedy” mask to get a better view of what’s on the other side, and I am met with rebuke, I quietly place it back on and return to my oasis where I’m free to be my true self, and nothing less is accepted.  I don’t have all the answers, and I’ve made so many mistakes, that I cannot count them anymore.  What I did say yes to this year was listening to the feedback I received from others.  I trust that I can bear the criticism (for the most part), and my discernment will let me know what to process and what to disregard.  This is a process, and I am learning everyday to open my ears and eyes back up to God’s message.  Even if it hurts, there may be something in the feedback that will allow me to grow.  No matter how much the feedback has hurt, I’ve welcomed it in an effort to grow and move forward in my life.  This is a painful journey, and I embrace the fact that I am allowed to feel and cry.  Growth doesn’t feel good.  There are no cliff notes in life, and frankly I’m not interested in lying to myself in order to front like I have it all figured out.  I’m literally doing the best I can each day.  Everyday I’m blessed to wake up means I get one more day to improve and learn from yesterday.

Reflecting on the Summer of 2016

PA’s personal thoughts on Summer 2016:

It used to be that violence held a 30 second segment on the evening news. Today, we are plagued with instances of violence everywhere we turn. Social media has made it possible for random and not so random acts to be streamed worldwide for anyone to see. We are becoming so desensitized that we allow our youth to see and witness unfathomable things far before their minds are ready. Black men are killing each other at nauseating rates. Children, cops, mothers, fathers and even grandparents are being taken away from their loved ones far before their time. I don’t know when hatred, negativity, violence and disregard for the human race became so acceptable, but this cannot continue to be the societal norm. Something has to change. People have to change.

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LB’s personal thoughts on Summer 2016:

Alton Sterling and Philando Castile..their execution by the police sent shock waves through my system, and left a dull sickening pain in the pit of my stomach. I watched as Philando took his last breath with a gun pointed at his face and his girlfriend recorded it to stream on Facebook. His eyes rolled into the back of his head and his shirt stained with dark red blood. His girlfriend calmly pleaded with the police officer as her four-year- old daughter sat in the backseat. The girlfriend talked in a calm tone towards the police, asking him for help as Philando slipped away.  She kept her hands on the steering wheel as instructed, and continually referred to the officer holding the gun as “Sir”. Isn’t it something to behold how well trained some black people are towards white people? Even in the face of death, she gave deference. Philando and his girl were pulled over for having a broken taillight. The taillight wasn’t actually broken and Philando had been stopped while driving black about 52 times.

Alton Sterling was selling cigarettes in front of a corner store and the police threw him to the ground, placed their knees on him and shot him in the chest after saying he was reaching for a gun. Alton’s hands were pinned down. He couldn’t reach his pockets. Philando had a license to carry, and told the police, but they killed him anyway.

Charles Kinsey, a behavior therapist was shot while lying on the ground with his hands in the air next to an autistic man. The police claimed they were aiming for the autistic man with the toy in his hand. I went to work and kept a blank look on my face.

I spoke to no one about the events because I was at work. You must keep your mask on at work. The Dallas police shooting happened and I heard a white man at work talk about it over the phone, but nobody speaks of the carnage in our communities. It also made me angry at how silent we are when a whole cookout is shot up, or children are murdered while they are sleeping in our neighborhoods. When will we figure out that we must value and honor each other in order to make a difference in the world? As much as I hear the angst and anger over these injustices, I also seek to put my community on the stand and charge us with not being our brother’s keeper in the first place. I can’t march on Sunday against police brutality, but remain quiet about the the drive-by shootings or the domestic violence in our communities. When is it okay to snitch? We pick and choose when to be outraged, and that’s the problem. Nothing will change if we don’t examine and address our own trauma. Yes, it is connected, and frankly I don’t care who disagrees. Shame on us for not addressing the massacres we inflict on one another, while demanding justice at the same time. I have to be even with my assessment on the threats we have from the law, and the real threats we are to each other. Fighting an internal and external war won’t work. It will keep us spinning around with no aim or direction. What can you do to stop the cycle of violence? How can you change as an individual? If we understand we are stronger together than apart, we can move forward like an army ready to battle on a united front against a common cause. This is systematic and we must be strategic in how we move. Until we do, enemies will continue to infiltrate and keep us off balanced like the Tower of Babylon.