Back to Basics

“But as for you, you meant evil against me; but God meant it for good, in order to bring it about as it is this day, to save many people alive.” Genesis 50:20 NKJV

A couple of weeks ago if I asked someone how were they doing, a common response may have been, “Busy.” Since then, the Coronavirus (aka COVID-19) has placed a halt to the usual hustle and bustle of our everyday lives. Yes, schools, colleges, restaurants, retailers, church services, sporting events, cruise lines, graduations and many other public gatherings have all been cancelled with hopes to prevent this dreaded virus from spreading. I know many of you may be experiencing anxiety, stress, or frightened as it relates to our current situation, but is there a silver lining? Just maybe this downtime will bring us back to the basics. I would suggest that maybe God is using this downtime to quiet us so that we may be able to hear His small voice–a calming voice that gives direction and peace during this unsettling time.

As a result of the virus, I am now working from home every day. When I log off work, my new routine is to take a long walk in my neighborhood for exercise and to get some needed fresh air. Normally, I would have gone to the YMCA to my Zumba or Pound class, but it is now closed for safety precautions. Yesterday while walking, I decided to listen to one of my Audible books I purchased a couple of months ago but not had the time to listen to. When Oprah Magazine asked Maria Shriver what should be a required reading for every human, she replied, “Gift by the Sea” by Anne Morrow Lindbergh. I respect Maria Shriver’s opinion; therefore, I ordered the book on Audible. As I briskly walked through my neighborhood listening to the audio book, I quickly understood why Maria had recommended it and how appropriate to be reading it at this particular time. “Gift by the Sea” was written 50 years ago but still remains relevant today. Ann Lindbergh was a wife and mother of five children. She talked about the many roles of being a wife and mother and all the distractions and countless demands that come along with it. Lindbergh states, “What a circus act we women perform every day of our lives. It  puts the trapeze artist to shame. Look at us; we run a tight rope daily balancing a pile of books on the head–baby carriage, parasol, kitchen chair; still under control; steady now. This is not the life of simplicity but the life of multiplicity that the wise men warned us of. It lead not to unification but to fragmentation; it does not bring grace; it destroys the soul.” I remember when my life was very similar to what Lindbergh describes–the husband, kids, dog, full-time job, pursuing higher education, sports activities, birthday parties, church activities, friends, family, etc. I am now in a different season of my life, but as I look back,  I do not know how I managed it all. One thing I do know is that I lost myself in the midst of it all. Several years ago, I was posed a question–“Who are you?” I could not respond–I did not know who I was outside of being a wife and mother. I had lost ME. Lingbergh states, “Women’s normal occupation in general run counter to creative life or contemplative life or saintly life. The problem is not merely one of woman and career; woman in the home; woman and independence; it is more basically how to remain whole in the midst of distractions of life; how to remain balanced no matter what centrifugal forces tend to pull one off center.”  Since that question was asked, I have regained my identity by way of a less complicated life–I am now true to myself.

Lindbergh shares how she created balance by taking a two week vacation to the beach away from her busy suburban life in Connecticut.  She explains the first step of simplicity is to cut out all the distractions and to shed (how little you can live with).

  • Shed clothes – you only need a few at the beach.
  • Shed vanity – that goes away with the clothes.
  • Shed shelter – she stayed in a small cottage–very different from what she was accustomed to in the suburbs; no amenities and very little furniture.
  • Shed friends – she maintained friendships with only those she could be completely honest with. “The most exhausting thing in life I’ve discovered is being insincere. That is why so much of social life is exhausting–one is wearing a mask.”
  • Shed the mask.

Yes, I have been inconvenienced by the Coronavirus; however, I find myself taking long walks and speaking and waving at neighbors I have never met; I am checking on friends and family more often because I am not out being busy; and I have more time to pray, write, read, and listen to books. I am sure families are having more meals together because restaurants are closed and more movie nights at home. Let’s get back to basics–more family time, reconnect with old friends, rekindle relationships, and remember the things we used to enjoy before we became so busy.

In a blog titled “How to Keep a Positive Attitude in Adversity,” Michael Kold provides the following five tools when facing adversity:

  1. Take time to go for a walk. When you take a walk and give yourself time to think and breathe the fresh air out in nature, it can often work wonders.
  2. Focus on your goal. One of the greatest challenges in adversity is the fact that it shifts your focus. Write your goal down for your immediate future while thinking about how to reach it. When you do this, it will change your attitude.
  3. Focus on solutions. Far too many people focus on problems rather than opportunities for solutions. Instead of talking about your hard times, start talking about the available solutions. Stop asking why you have adversity, and start thinking about how you can change hard times to good times–redirect your focus.
  4. Be inspired. You have the opportunity to change your focus by doing things such as talking to a good friend who can cheer you up. You can also read a book or listen to an inspiring audio book about people who have succeeded. This will make a BIG difference in the way you think when you are faced with adversity.
  5. Remind yourself that nothing lasts forever. Nothing lasts forever, and at some point, the circumstances in your life will change so things go your way again. When you remind yourself of this, you ignite a hope in yourself. A hope that slowly but surely will change your attitude.

As we navigate through this unfamiliar territory, let us continuously pray for our first responders and healthcare professionals; our elderly, our retail workers and restaurant owners, our high school and college students who may have to forfeit their last days of school and graduation; our frightened children; and for all those whose livelihoods are being affected. Be encouraged—this too shall pass.

 

 

 

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Love Oneself – The Greatest Love of All

For You formed my inward parts; You covered me in my mother’s womb. I will praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made” (Psalm 139:13-14 NKJV)

I was all geared up to write some sentimental blog post about love and Valentine’s Day; however, these past two weeks have been the most stressful weeks I have experienced in quite some time. If it wasn’t one thing, it was another. As a result, I was fatigued and suffered a headache which almost never happens. At one point, I didn’t think I would complete my blog for this week. In three attempts to write it, I accidentally deleted it from the computer twice (not once but twice!). I thought that perhaps it was not meant for me to deliver this word, but then I realized what God was really trying to say to me. During these two weeks, he took me through several experiences and showed me how to respond to the negative situations so that I would be able to relay it to you. God was teaching me that no matter what life throws at me, I need to take care of myself and love ME. So, that is exactly what I did. The following are some of the things I did to provide myself with some self-love and self-care during the past two weeks:

  • I hung out with friends who I knew would make me laugh uncontrollably.
  • I meditated.
  • I went to bed early to get extra sleep.
  • I went to the gym and my yoga class.
  • I watched limited TV; listened to music a lot.
  • At work, I listened to ocean music/waterfalls to calm my spirit, instead of my usual Kenny G and Luther Vandross.
  • I took a nice warm, candlelit bubble bath.
  • I enjoyed reading my new subscription of Oprah Magazine.

Yes, it is almost Valentine’s Day and I am sure you are excited and anticipating the expression of love you will receive from your spouse or significant other, whether it be a card, candy, flowers, jewelry, dinner or maybe a gift card to your favorite retail store or spa. Well, what if you don’t have a spouse or significant other and you won’t be receiving a gift? The answer is to treat and pamper yourself! I remember one Valentine’s Day, with jazz music playing, I took a nice, warm, candlelit bubble bath, dressed in my red satin pajamas afterwards, ordered Chinese food from my favorite restaurant, had a glass of my favorite wine, and ordered a movie on Demand that I hadn’t seen. Boy, did I feel loved! Even if I didn’t have anyone who would express their love to me that year, one thing was for sure–I LOVED ME! When I love myself, I am thanking God for the wonderful creation he has made. As Psalm 139:14 states, I will praise you, for I am  fearfully and wonderfully made.

You must remember Valentine’s Day is one day; there are 364 other days in a year. Often times, we look for validation, comfort and happiness outside of ourselves. True happiness is when we look within and discover how to truly love ourselves. Don’t get me wrong; I love receiving gifts, but I don’t require a gift to validate me or make me feel good about myself. In an excerpt taken from Lupita Nyongo’s acceptance speech for the Black Women in Hollywood Award, she so eloquently stated, “What does sustain us…what is fundamentally beautiful is compassion for yourself and for those around you.”

Your list of self-love and self-care may be a little different from mine; however, I encourage you to do the simple things in life that make you happy that is not dependent upon anyone else. It may be eating ice cream, walking in a park, reading a book, or playing solitaire. Whatever it is, do what you enjoy and what relaxes you. I believe the late Whitney Houston said it best in one of her greatest hits, “The Greatest Love of All.”

I found the greatest love of all inside of me.

The greatest love of all

Is easy to achieve.

Learning to love yourself

It is the greatest love of all.

I would like to wish you all a very Happy Valentine’s Day!!! As always, please share your thoughts and comments.

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Choose Forgiveness

“Therefore, as the elect of God, holy and beloved, put on tender mercies, kindness, humility, meekness, longsuffering; bearing with one another, and forgiving one another, if anyone has a complaint against another; even as Christ forgave you, so you also must do.” Colossians 3:12-13

Today, I want to broach the subject of forgiveness. Many of you are suffering or have suffered at one time or the other from an offense imposed by a spouse, significant other, family member, church member, friend, co-worker or maybe a stranger. I have found the closer the relationship–the greater the offense. In an article titled, “Forgiveness,” by Psychology Today, it defines forgiveness as the release of anger or resentment–it does not mean reconciliation. Forgiveness is vital for our emotional health as well as our physical health. Oftentimes, we harbor these ill feelings while waiting for an apology that may never happen. The article also states, “Carrying the hurt or anger of an offense leads the body to release stress hormones such as adrenaline and cortisol. Eliminating the perpetual flow of these hormones may also explain why forgiveness provides physical health benefits, such as lowering the risk of high blood pressure and heart problems.”

I am quite sure you all have heard the idiom, “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words can never hurt me.” This is so far from the truth. Words can hurt, scar, and sometimes destroy a person. Being transparent, I have my own personal struggle with forgiveness. A couple of years ago, I was confronted by someone who was once very close to me–he wanted to tell me exactly how he did not agree with how I handled a particular situation. Because I did not respond at all to the barrage of accusations, he unapologetically let out a flow of words that cut me to my core. I felt as though I had been kicked in my stomach with a size 13 steel-toed boot–yes, it hurt. To know someone’s vulnerability and to maliciously verbally attack them in that particular area was inexcusable. I was deeply wounded by the words that so brazenly flowed from his lips; however, I refused to respond to the offense. It was one year later before I was able to voice the offense and address the pain it caused–I had unhealthily suppressed it. I knew I had to talk about it and work towards forgiveness for my own wellbeing. Psychology Today states, “Forgiveness has been shown to elevate mood, enhance optimism, and guard against, anger, stress, anxiety, and depression.”

Forgiveness is never for the other person–it is for you. It prevents from something that once hurt you to continually hurt you. When you forgive, it does not excuse the person’s behavior; instead, it frees you from bitterness, hatred, and resentment. In his book, Let It Go, T.D. Jakes states, “These people who free themselves from long-term emotional debilitation find themselves more blessed, more productive, and much more grounded than those who become blocked by incidents, tragedies, and injustices.”

So, how do I pardon someone who offended me? How do I heal my heart from that offense to avoid becoming bitter? Psychology Today proposes four steps of forgiveness offered by psychologist Robert Enright:

  1. Uncover. Uncover your anger by exploring how you have avoided or addressed the emotion.
  2. Decide. Make the decision to forgive. Begin by acknowledging that ignoring or coping with the offense has not worked.
  3. Cultivate. Cultivate forgiveness by developing compassion for the offender. Reflect on whether the act was due to malicious intent or challenging circumstances in the offender’s life.
  4. Release. Release the harmful emotions and reflect on how you may have grown from the experience and the act of forgiveness itself.

Because I sometimes come across as blatantly direct, I am sure I have offended others; however, not in a hateful or spiteful way. I choose to forgive because I want to be forgiven. You may be wondering have I forgiven the person who offended me. Because forgiveness is a process, I believe I have; however, it does not mean I feel the need to reconcile with someone who intended me harm–it simply means I no longer harbor the bitterness or resentment I once had towards this person.

Please watch the YouTube video below as Sarah tells her story of forgiveness. As always, I would love to hear your thoughts and comments.

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Don’t Stare at Closed Doors

“See I have set before you an open door, and no one can shut it; for you have little strength, have kept My word, and have not denied My name.” (Revelation 3:7 NKJV)

HAPPY NEW YEAR!!! I pray that you all had a wonderful Christmas and New Year’s spending time with family and friends and also receiving the gifts and blessings you were expecting. Now, it is time to think about what you will do differently to better yourselves in this new year.

When I was child, I remember watching the Helen Keller Story on television. When Helen Keller was approximately 19 months old, she was stricken with an illness that left her blind, deaf, and unable to speak. She did not continue to stare at what could have been perceived as a closed door–Helen Keller overcame her adversity of being blind, deaf and mute to become one the 20th century’s leading humanitarians as well as co-founder of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU). Helen Keller once quoted, “When one door of happiness closes; another opens; but often we look so long at the closed door that we do not see the one which has been open for us.”

In 2019, I am sure you may have experienced a closed door or two. I know I did. The closed door might have been in the form of job loss or maybe you didn’t get the job you applied for, failing an exam, ending of a relationship, an illness, your car broke down, foreclosure, or maybe it was some other problem or financial setback. Whatever it was, that door is now closed. Instead of staring at it, open your eyes to new possibilities. I believe God closes doors to point us into a new, more positive direction.

Let me give you an example with this most inspiring story. On December 19, 2015, a Pittsburgh newspaper reported a story of a Duquesne University custodian quietly finishing her bachelor’s degree. Connie Burwell had been a custodian at Duquesne University for several years. One day while cleaning, Connie literally approached a closed door. Following protocol, she knocked and when there was no response, she opened the door with her master key. However, when she opened the door, there was a professor standing in the room and she was not happy. She chastised Connie for entering the room without permission. Connie stated that she lectured her with an air of superiority that left her humiliated. As humiliating as it was, this incident was a defining moment in Connie’s life. She decided on that day, “I’m not going to let people talk like this to me. I have to do something.” Despite being in her mid-50’s and afraid of failing and of what the professors and students might say, Connie took her daughter’s advice and enrolled in Duquesne University to complete her degree. Her daughter, Kadia Givener, quoted, “Change isn’t change until you change.” Other family members encouraged and supported her decision to return to school. She met with guidance counselors and they told her that fear is not bad–good fear will push you forward. On Thursday, December 17, 2015, at the age of 57 and after two years of taking Saturday classes, Connie Denise Burwell earned her bachelor’s degree in Behavioral Science. She plans to obtain a job in mental health or drug rehabilitation services. Connie expressed, “It’s never too late!”

What if Connie Burwell would have just seen those dirty classrooms as a closed door and never opened that door to higher education? She can be grateful to the professor who humiliated her because it only propelled her forward and motivated her to want better for herself. A negative situation can often give you the drive and stamina to accomplish great things. Romans 8:28 states, “And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose.” Connie Burwell did not continue to stare at that closed door; she look over to see there was another door of opportunity open for her and what a wonderful door it was.

Are you staring at a closed door? Do not continue to stare at it because there is another door already open for you–you just need to recognize it. As always please share your experience where a door has closed and another one opened. Your testimony can be a great inspiration to other readers.

 

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Hope for the Holidays

“…but those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.” (Isaiah 40:31 NIV)

As I began working on this blog post, I was notified that another beloved church member had passed away and by the end of the day, a friend had lost her father-in-law. For many of us, it is a time for family, food, fun, and lots of festivities; however, for others, it may be just the opposite. The holiday season can be a very difficult and painful time of year for those who are grieving the loss of a loved one. There are many who are experiencing loss this holiday season–my family, my church family, my coworkers, my friends, and a local congregation mourning the loss of their beloved pastor. “The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.” (Psalms 34:18 NKJV)

In an article titled, How to Deal with Grief During the Holiday (Psychology Today), Amy Morin shares her experience of grief. She states, “Christmas music, holiday parties, and festive decorations that were meant to bring joy served as painful reminders of my loss. As it is for most people experiencing loss, the holiday season was the most painful time of all.” Morin offers the following strategies that can help you survive the holidays without your loved one:

  1. Trust that grief is part of healing. Experiencing the pain, rather than escaping it, can actually help you feel better in the long-run.
  2. Set healthy boundaries. If participating in holiday traditions are too painful this year, be willing to say no. People may try to convince you to participate, but you do not have to please anyone.
  3. Focus on what you can control. Think about what you can do to lessen your pain. Choose things you can do to assert some control over the holiday festivities–keep in mind life goes on for other people and it is okay for them to celebrate the season.
  4. Plan ahead. Create a simple plan for how you will get through the holidays to avoid extending your anguish.
  5. Allow yourself to feel a range of emotions. The holidays can bring a wide range of emotions. Allow yourself to feel those emotions without judging yourself or thinking you should be happy or you should not be laughing.
  6. Find a way to honor your memories. Create a special way to memorialize the one you have lost–you could light a candle every night or eat their favorite food. Honoring your loved one can serve as a tangible reminder that they may be gone, but the love never dies.
  7. Create new traditions. Do not be afraid to create new traditions this year. It is okay to get creative and do something a little out of the ordinary.
  8. Do something kind for others. Even when you are in the midst of grief, you still have something to offer the world. Performing acts of kindness can be good for a grieving person’s spirit.
  9. Ask for help. Do not be afraid to ask for assistance when you are struggling with the holidays. Remind others you are having a difficult time or you may also want additional support such as a professional counselor to assist you in dealing with the grief in a healthy manner.

To my family, coworkers, church family, friends, those grieving the loss of their pastor, and to all others experiencing loss, I pray these strategies will be of some consolation in getting you through this difficult season. Please feel free to share your comments that it may be a source of healing for you and a sense of inspiration for others. “He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds.” (Psalms 147:3 NKJV)

Wishing everyone a wonderful and safe holiday season.

 

 

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Persevere–Don’t Quit

“Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we boast in the hope of the glory of God. Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope.” Romans 5:1-4

 

As we embark upon another holiday season and this year comes to a close, there may have been goals you set out to attain or in pursuit of your purpose, but things just don’t seem to be working out. I hope this blog post will serve as a source of encouragement to keep you motivated to stay the course–persevere. So, what does it mean to persevere? Merriam-Webster defines perseverance as a continued effort to do or achieve something despite difficulties, failure or opposition. It is the ability to persist in an undertaking for a long period of time in spite of counter influences, periodic setbacks, or bouts of discouragement. If you have been thrown off course or distracted–in spite of the situation, do not quit.

This topic came to mind as I recently watched the 2006 movie, Pursuit of Happyness, starring Will Smith which was inspired by the autobiography of Christopher Paul Gardner. In a December 2016 BBC News article titled, Chris Gardner: The homeless man who became a multi-millionaire investor, Business Reporter, David Gordon shares Gardner’s story in an interview. In addition to an extremely troubled childhood, at age 27, Gardner found himself homeless with a toddler in tow on the streets of San Francisco. They ate in soup kitchens and were forced to sleep nights in public restrooms, parks, at church shelters, or under his desk at work after everyone else had gone home for the day. At one point, he was even incarcerated. Never defining himself by his current situation, Gardner enrolled in a low paying trainee program at Dean Witter Reynolds. With the little money he had, he paid childcare so he could go to work. Despite the adversity, Gardner excelled in his job–he was a natural at selling stocks and shares. At the end of the training period, Dean Witter Reynolds offered him full-time employment. He was then able to rent a home for him and his son. In 1987, he founded Gardner Rich–his own investment firm.

Gardner experienced many setbacks and endured unfathomable living conditions not to mention all while raising a small child. At any point, the average person would have probably thrown in the towel; however, because of his tenacity, persistence and perseverance, his estimated new worth is now $62 million (in 2016). He is an entrepreneur, author, and philanthropist who travels the world as a motivational speaker sponsoring several homeless charities and organizations that combat  violence against women. Gardner told BBC news that he “wouldn’t change a thing.” He stated, “The rest of my destiny came forward because I made the right choices.”

A couple of years ago, as part of my retirement plan, I set out to pursue my securities license to sell investments. In pursuance of my newest goal, I experienced losing two of my closest loved ones and many distractions and delays–too numerous to name. I previously shared in a post of failing on an attempt to pass the exam. I am a living witness that nothing worth having comes easy. I am proud to say I have passed all the qualifying exams for a licensed securities agent. Helen Keller quoted, “Only through experience of trial and suffering can a soul be strengthened, ambition inspired, and success achieved.” 

In an article titled, “Developing Perseverance–The Mental Capacity to Overcome and Succeed,” Huffington Post Contributor, Anurag Harsh offers the following factors of personal perseverance:

  1. Positive attitude. It is the desire to move forward–to persevere when others are retreating in the face of change and hardship.
  2. Conclusive choice. Despite any apparent unlikelihood, you must choose a course and stick to it.
  3. Ethical compass. Whatever values you consider vital, use them as guiding stars–they will fill you with the conviction of moral certainty and belief.
  4. Uncompromising resolve. Persist until you recognize the best option is to quit. Recognize when stopping is rational or reasonable rather than convenient or easy.
  5. Social backing. Who can you count on to have your back?

Remember, adversity is all part of the process–keep persisting, keep persevering, and don’t quit. Wishing you a wonderful Thanksgiving holiday and as always, I would love to hear your comments and please share with a friend. I leave you with this poem:

 

Don’t Quit

When things go wrong, as they sometimes will,

When the road you’re trudging seems all uphill,

When the funds are low and the debts are high,

And you want to smile, but you have to sigh,

When care is pressing you down a bit,

Rest, if you must, but don’t you quit.

Life is queer with its twists and turns,

As every one of us sometimes learns,

And many a failure turns about,

When he might have won had he stuck it out;

Don’t give up though the pace seems slow–

You may succeed with another blow.

Often the goal is nearer than

It seems to a faint and faltering man,

Often the struggler has given up,

When he might have captured the victor’s cup,

And he learned too late when the night slipped down,

How close he was to the golden crown.

Success is failure turned inside out–

The silver tint of the clouds of doubt,

And you never can tell how close you are,

It may be near when it seems so far,

So stick to the fight when you’re hardest hit–

It’s when things seem worst that you mustn’t quit.

~Author Unknown~

 

 

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