Mirror, Mirror!

I wasn’t a Disney princess kind of girl, but one of my granddaughters loves everything Disney. I bought all the story books just to read them to her. The one that always stood out in my mind was Snow White. I love the part where the evil queen looks in the magic mirror every day asking the same question, “Mirror, Mirror on the wall, who’s the fairest of them all.” Later I associated Michael Jackson’s song, Man in the Mirror, with the same general idea. “I’m looking at the man in the mirror, I’m asking him to change his ways.” It makes sense to me that we all need to talk to our reflection in the mirror from time to time.

Those of you who have been following me for a while know how big I am on introspection. According to Merriam-Webster introspection is “a reflective looking inward; an examination of one’s own thoughts and feelings.” I like this definition because it’s simple. Introspection requires looking on the inside to see what’s true and what’s real regardless of the facade you may show on the outside. That’s what so fascinating about the evil queen in the Snow-White story. She was beautiful on the outside and she considered that to be enough, but she was ugly and mean spirited on the inside. The mirror said Snow White was the fairest because she was beautiful inside as well as outside. The evil queen couldn’t come close to the beautiful character traits of Snow White. Nor could she initiate the love and affection that came Snow White’s way. People and animals were drawn to Snow White’s inner beauty.

What do we see when we look in the mirror? Do we see only the outside and forget all about what’s on the inside? It may be harder than you think to examine your true self. Sometimes rather than examining our own thoughts and feelings, we make comparisons. We say things like “I’m doing better than so-and-so,” or “At least I’m not as bad as so-and-so.” This is not true introspection. This may be more closely related to compromise or denial. It may also point to the influencers in our life whether from associations or social media. Like the wicked queen, we may be satisfied with the responses we receive as long as they agree with how we feel. What do we do when the answer is honest and painful? Do we change or do we turn on the one who had the nerve to tell us the truth? This is the problem many of our teenagers are having, discerning and understanding what’s really true.

I was subbing at a school a few weeks back and I was somewhat surprised to see how much the students were into their outward appearance: fabulous fake nails of every color, false eyelashes that looked like slain caterpillars, multicolored synthetic and human hair, and color coordinate crocks, leggings, jeggings, and jeans galore with and without prefab holes; name brand sneakers, slogan shirts, and tats. (Why did I think you had to be 18 or older to get a tattoo?) Add to that cell phones, ear buds, and I-watches. I was shocked at the amount of money invested in the outward appearance of the students. I was also a little dismayed by some of their behaviors and language. What’s wrong with being fashionable and smart, handsome and kind, stylist and articulate? Is there anything wrong with showing off your intellect and character?

I asked one young lady if she had a role model for her style and her answer floored me. She said, “Not really, I just dress to fit in.” I asked her if she had a career path in mind and she said, “Not really I’ll probably just get a regular job. I found out later that a regular job is at a store or something. The teacher in me continued to look at this child hoping for a glimpse of her soul. Finally, there it was, the true prodigy. As we began talking about communication and speech techniques in class, I brought up the style of spoken word poets. She lit up. She was animated, smiling, and contributing to the discussion with enthusiasm. Turns out she considered herself a poet. She even shared one of her poems with the class, a true spoken word poet. I wish I could have videoed that moment. It would have been great for her parents and her other teachers to see the true character of this young lady. She was anything but nonresponsive and nonchalant. It would be even better if she could see herself – talented, gifted, valuable, able to contribute to her academic community.

It may sound old fashion, but our kids need positive role models and mentors. They need an opportunity to see a potential reflection of themselves at a later time in life. Their peers and social media are not enough to foster the hope and possibilities of future successes. They need to hear the truth and importance of character, and intelligence. They need to know that they can be great and accomplish their dreams with hard work and perseverance before they become old and jaded like the evil queen. Like the community of dwarfs, we must protect and watch over our youth until they reach their true destiny as princesses and princes before the evil of this world can destroy them. Wow, I know that sounds over the top, but I see teenagers who feel hopeless, depressed, unseen, and alone every week. They need to be affirmed. They need to be assured. They need to feel useful and valued and seen. When they look into our faces, they need to see faith in their abilities and their dreams reflected back to them.

I’m looking at myself in the mirror and I’m realizing how many people invested in my outcome; how many times I questioned myself and heard from them that I could make it, I could do it. Snow White never knew that the mirror said she was the fairest of all. She would have been content to live as the housekeeper of the seven dwarfs for the rest of her life, but the evil queen was determined to destroy her. We must identify the wicked enemies of our children, the predators, the naysayers, the liars who espouse shortcuts and self-medicating, the carrot danglers – all those who will discourage or dissuade the progress of our youth. We must be the counterpoint to all that is negative so that each one of our children will reach their full potential and claim their rich inheritance. They aren’t in Disneyworld; they are here in the real world with us and it’s up to us to tell them what’s really important, and what’s really true. Hard work, character, and intelligence are the catalyst for success. “Mirror, Mirror on the wall,” tell your children they are the fairest, the best, and the worthy before it’s too late.

Be safe. Be proactive. Be a role model. Be involved.

Brandon is the first spoken word poet to compete on AGT and to receive the Golden Buzzer award in the first round, going on to win the entire competition! Amazon

A Disciplined Life

What do you think of when you hear the word discipline? Do you think of parents spanking their children or a course of study at the university, or perhaps martial arts? Has the word become obsolete for you? There is a lot more to this word than corporeal punishment and academics. The word discipline means “training that corrects, molds, or perfects the mental faculties or moral character; a rule or system of rules governing conduct or activity.” (Merriam-Webster). While I’d love to chase the etymology of the word down the proverbial rabbit hole, I won’t. (You welcome!😊) Let’s just say discipline is a necessary part of life. We can usually all agree on this point.

We admire people who demonstrate discipline. We honor them with medals, awards, scholarships, and other means of recognition. Excellence in sportsmanship, musicianship, academic achievement, military prowess, and other life pursuits happen because of personal disciplines. These types of discipline may include practice, exercise, time management, and lifestyle changes. Disciplined individuals focus on the end goal; they will do whatever is necessary to achieve their goals. People like Serena Williams, Yo Yo Ma, Michael Jordon, and the U.S. Olympians are just a few individuals whose skills and high-performance levels depend on how they live and handle themselves, we call that self-discipline. These persons have demonstrated world-class achievements because of their willingness to lead a disciplined life, but what about the rest of us? Do we need personal disciples as well? How much more could we accomplish if we led a disciplined life, personally and professionally? I have no doubt that I could produce more as a writer if I were more disciplined about writing, such as scheduling time to write everyday.

Sometimes discipline is a matter of priority, and believe or not writing isn’t my highest priority. This accounts for my missed deadlines. Different priorities/goals may require different strategies and disciplinary habits. We may have to start off with small changes to build up the necessary disciplines for achieving our prioritized goals. (I certainly did.) I am not saying we all need to go out and hire a life coach or a trainer (although it may help to have an accountability partner), but I am saying we need to become more intentional about who we want to be and what we want to achieve. Then we can set the perimeters for what we must do to achieve our goals and dreams.

I recently read an article by Jennifer Cohen, a former contributor of Forbes. According to her “self-discipline is the number one trait needed to accomplish goals, lead a healthy lifestyle, and ultimately, be happy.” (Google: Five Proven Methods for Gaming Self Discipline, Forbes.com, June 18, 2014.) Like Jennifer, many believe (and so do I) that people who practice personal disciplines are not easily swayed by peer pressure, emotional impulses, conflict, or failure because disciplined people are focused on the end game. They make decisions and adjustments based on factual information and personal objectives, rather than peer influence or the latest trends. On a daily basis they chart their progress and revisit their targeted short and long term goals.

Your goals may not be, nor do they have to be compatible with anyone else’s goals. Personal disciplines are self-imposed changes to your lifestyle and personal habits. According to the article mentioned above, there are five proven methods for gaining better control of your habits. (If you get a chance read the entire article.) “1. Remove Temptation. 2. Eat Regularly and Healthily. 3. Don’t Wait for it to “Feel Right.” 4. Schedule Breaks, Treats, and Rewards for Yourself. 5. Forgive Yourself and Move Forward.” I would like to add just one more to this list: Don’t expect others to understand or agree with all of your choices.

Here is an example from my own life. I have to stock sugar free products for my consumption and avoid the temptation to overindulge in carbohydrates. I can’t remove the temptation by forcing others in my home to eat like me, but I can remove myself by having high protein choices easily available. I also have to resist eating out of boredom or depression. I can’t award myself with food. Substituting fresh fruits and raw vegetables is a healthy choice for me rather than my favorites: chocolate cake and ice cream. When I fall off the wagon, I try not to dwell on it. I admonish myself and start again. I revisit my short term and long term lifestyle goals (to lower my A1C and eliminate the need for certain medications). Living a healthier life is my true motivation. Others tell me that I should give myself a break. After all, they say “sugar free products aren’t very good,” but my decisions aren’t based on the opinions of others, nor do I expect them to understand.

Monitoring carbs is just one of my personal disciplines for living a healthier life. Some of my other disciplines are journaling (for personal and spiritual reasons), meditation and prayer, spending time in nature, solitude (my husband calls this being anti-social) and practicing gratitude. (You may remember my gratitude jar from a former blogpost.) Why do I need these disciplines? They help me control my emotions, my actions, and my thought life. They help me stay motivated and grounded. They help me examine my motives and my desires. They help me focus on the person I’m want to be. They stimulate my creativity and establish a sense of contentment and peace. Career and professional achievements are only a small part of the whole picture. My objectives encompass my entire life because I try to see myself holistically rather than compartmentalize each factor of my life. (Check out What is Your Net Worth from 8/22) Lastly, these personal disciplines are checkpoints, they help me to have a realistic view of my progress or regress as I seek to be the best me I can be.

Years ago, I read a book about spiritual disciplines. (Celebration of Discipline by Richard J. Foster) It included forming intentional habits such as: retreat, fasting, simplicity, celebration, silence, academic pursuit (studying), and service (in the community or abroad). I can’t imagine how many disciplines there may be, and I’m not suggesting that we try all of them. I am suggesting that all of us have an opportunity to improve ourselves if we consistently practice self-discipline. Much of the media world around us appeals to our base instincts of self-indulgence and compulsion. Just watch three consecutive commercials on your favorite TV station or live streaming platform, commercials appeal to our appetites for temporary pleasure. They want us to act or react without thinking. They offer us temporary happiness. But don’t we want more than temporary happiness? (Actually, I prefer the word contentment to happiness because of its lasting value. Happiness seems to depend on something happening.)

What if we were motivated “to achieve our goals, live a healthy lifestyle, and ultimately, be happy” as Jennifer stated? Would that change the world? Would it change the marketplace? Who knows? The real question is would it change us, and how would it change our immediate world? It starts with introspection. Where am I and where do I want to be? Who am I and who do I want to be? What steps can I take to reach my goals? What habits do I need to get there? What habits do I have that hinder me? What kind of habits do I need to develop? What personal disciplines are the best personal disciplines for my dreams and goals?

I’m grateful that I was introduced to personal and spiritual disciplines early in my life. They guide my life decisions. They make me more self-aware. Achieving my personal, spiritual, and professional goals is viable. Being healthier in mind, body, and soul is in reach, and experiencing happiness (contentment) on a daily basis is attainable. How about you? Are daily habits and routines leading you to a better life or hindering your accomplishments? I would love to hear about your personal disciplines and how they are helping you achieve your goals.

Stay safe. Stay Sane. Stay on your game! Practice joy!

Powerful lessons in Personal Change (Amazon)

Give Yourself a Break

Sometimes pressure and stress come from outside of our being, but sometimes it come from within. We have our own standards and our own expectations to meet. In fact, we may be convinced that no one can do things the right way like we can. So, when and if failure comes, we are devastated. Devastation may lead to depression. Depression may lead to other health issues. We may feel it necessary to double our efforts rather than ask others for help. Sometimes we feel like we just can’t get a break. The question I have is: where should the break come from, within us or outside of ourselves?

Self-reflection has been critical to finding and loving my true self. For years, I spent so much of my time trying to please others – trying to make them proud of me, love me, recognize my skill set, or approve my methodology. This started in my childhood and continued on throughout a portion of my adult life. I actually used to repeat to myself this mantra: “Everyone else can do 100%, but you must do 200%.” I felt the burden of being the first in several areas of my life, as well as being a role model for those who would follow – the unknown others. My standards, my goals, and my drive had an audience mostly created by my imagination. I never would have believed it back then, but now I see it so clearly. I never gave myself a break, therefore I never truly enjoyed or celebrated my own achievements.

I can’t necessarily take all the credit for this type of thinking. The comments or criticisms of those we love and/or respect can be a catalyst. Perhaps a parent, or grandparent, or a coach, or a boss questioned our efforts when we had given our all. Perhaps an authoritative person compared us to other scholars, workers, or volunteers causing us to reevaluate or double our efforts. Competition may also be a source for such obsessions with accomplishment and determination to reach a certain status. When your work is good, but someone else gets the recognition for their work or receives accolades, you may receive this news as a challenge to be the best next time. Self-doubt and low self-esteem can have the same effects as narcissism. All three of these characteristics are self-centered preoccupations on what others think whether perceived or real.

Now you all know I am not a psychologist or psychiatrist, I’m just a writer trying to use my craft to keep positive conversations going through stories and poetry. So today, I’m sharing a wakeup call from my life. One day, I realized I was miserable when I should have been happy. I had accomplished many of my dreams. I had many successes under my belt academically and in my career. My family life was great. Religiously and spiritually, I was growing. I (we) had property and savings. I had traveled all over the U.S. and abroad. So why was I miserable? Who could I point the finger at or blame? Who put the target on my back that would never let me take a break. After some introspection during a personal retreat, the answer was clearly ME. Yes, me.

So many people in my family, even my husband, saw me as driven. They thought I was driven by my own desires and dreams. Each time I reinvented myself, they thought I had a plan and was going for it, but some of those times I was just quitting before potential failure could manifest. Sometimes I was competing with persons younger than myself, but of course they didn’t know that because the competition was in my head. Other times, I was hiding my weirdness, aka giftedness, because I hated when people saw them as an unfair advantage. (This usually had something to do with my ability to write or my discerning interaction with children.) I couldn’t, and I didn’t ever give myself a break or take the time to really celebrate my successes. While it was true that I was the first in many cases, no one was pushing me to be better than good. No one was creating the challenges in my mind but me. I invented my own “rat race.”

Over the years I have developed two favorite retreat locations: Monastery of the Holy Spirit in Conyers, GA. and Hendersonville, TN right outside of Nashville. I try to spend two or three days in these places to reset my spirit and my goals a couple of times each year. (If I only have a day, then any place with water works i.e. the lake at the monastery or Stone Mountain Park, or West Lake in LaGrange. Rivers are great too like the Oconaluftee.) It’s important to take the time to get in touch with yourself. What are you feeling? What is going on with you? What are your short term and long-term goals? What brings you joy? What causes you stress or sadness? How are you balancing your time between work and family? What are your real priorities? What will you do about failures? How will you celebrate victories? Who do you want to share your life with? (By the way, these are journaling events.)

As I was watching Serena Williams on ESPN she said something that triggered this train of thought after winning her match. “For years I had a target on my back . . . but today I don’t have anything to prove, I don’t have anything to win, and I absolutely have nothing to lose. I’m just Serena, you know . . .” I took it to mean she could simply enjoy her last days playing tennis. She could play her game to her standard. Win or lose, she was doing what she set out to do. Needless to say, everybody has an opinion of what she should do, how she should do it, and whether retirement is the right move for her, but what matters most is her own opinion, her own decisions. That’s personal growth. Others may indeed try to place stress on your life, but you can give yourself a break. You can play the game of life your way.

There are many events that may require you to give yourself a break: a newborn baby, being a care provider for an elderly relative, a bad medical diagnosis, changing positions in your place of employment, airline travel canceled by weather or other things out of your control, broken appliances, auto accidents, a national pandemic, social distancing, menopause, arthritis, death of a loved one. I could go on, but you get my point. Any number of things can change or upset your plans, but none of it makes you less than. Give yourself a break. So, what if it takes two more hours, two more days or two more weeks to get a thing done. So, what if it didn’t turn out the way you planned at all. It may be time to reevaluate. It may be time to come up with a new plan. It may be time to say the magic words: “I need help.” It may be time to take a walk or go to the spa, but it’s not time to beat yourself up. You do have a choice. Like Serena, you can raise the bar or lower the bar according to your own standards.

There’s enough going on in our world to keep us on alert and in the battle, but we don’t have to give the outside things permission to take control of what’s inside of us. Rest, relax, enjoy leisure, surround yourself with people who fill your bucket when it’s empty. Take a vacation, or a stay-cation. Read a good book, play a board game with your children, enjoy a romantic evening with your spouse, but don’t miss life’s joys because you won’t give yourself a break. You are your own score keeper. Noone else can determine whether you have given your all. Allow yourself to retreat and reflect and be honest with yourself. (See my blog: Self-Care, a Non-Negotiable.) Are you enjoying your life or are you the one making your life miserable?

I hope this blog entry is relatable. I can tell you now, I am enjoying my life so much more than I use to. I’m smiling more, laughing more. and doing more of the things that bring me peace and joy. How about you? What’s your story? Feel free to share your thoughts with me.

Stay safe, stay free, stay engage in the joys of living!

Giving myself a break.
A beach retreat.

What is Your Net Worth?

Our family reunion was in July. Since then, I have spent weeks sharing and trading pictures with relatives as well as reviewing family history. These activities brought about some introspection. What have I done with my inheritance? What will I pass on to my children and grandchildren? Will my legacy have the same, less, or better value than the legacy I received from my ancestors?

If you have been following me, you know that I attribute much of my values, education, and outlook to the influence of my grandparents and great grandparents. From childhood through adulthood, these were the people who invested their time, talents, and treasures in me and my future. In fact, these were the people who passed on everything they had to the next generation since the 1800’s. Mostly, I remember the time spent with each of them. What precious memories!

As a curious and tenacious only child, I was constantly pursuing knowledge. I wanted to know what everything was and how everything worked or didn’t work. I always had a thousand questions about any given subject. Curiosity was my main character trait, but I can’t remember one time when I was turned away or dismissed by my elders. Oftentimes, they turned my questions into full-fledged lessons which was further than I wanted to go or know. I also remember lots of laughter, both with me and at me when I was feeling particularly silly. More than anything, I remember faith and spirituality, respect for the land and it’s produce, charity and community, stories and singing, and the sacred bonds of family. My life was made richer by their endowments. I’m positive the dividends of their net worth have been multiplied over many generations.

Being the creative writer that I am (LOL), you know I haven’t used all these financial terms to talk about money. The material possessions I have from my grandparents and great grandparents consist of a quilt, some china, a watch, a snake necklace set, and our written family history based on oral tradition. These are all priceless treasures to me, but their total appraised value probably wouldn’t surpass three thousand dollars. To be honest, I’m not sure my children and grandchildren will find much financial value in the material things I will leave behind. Yet, I am striving on a daily basis to leave them the most valuable things I have – a true legacy. My net worth has to be something that will endure and transcend time and place – something that can be passed on perpetually to next generations.

My godson really has a grip on this concept. He defines wealth this way: “The internal assets of meaning, purpose, and fulfillment my life generates, in my life and the lives of others.” (Yes, he is a deep thinker, and I’m so proud of him.) He has been quoted to say, “My life and the people I share it with is my wealth. Loving life is the goal!” So, when I hear the question: What is your net worth? I don’t think of my portfolio or my insurable assets. I think of those intangible benefits that I inherited from my ancestors such as becoming a life-long learner, understanding my own self-worth, being a contributor to the success of the next generation, instilling hope and administering love, demonstrating faith, and implementing such strong support that failures become steppingstones. As my godson says, “internal assets.” These things never lose their value. These things cannot be taken away. These things can be passed on from one generation to the next, and if nurtured can be the catalyst of a successful, fulfilled life.

I am so blessed to have the love and the spirit of my ancestors living inside of me. I am blessed to have experienced their living firsthand. My great grandfather, Will Jackson, the last of that generation, died the year after I got married, but I can still hear his stories; I can still hear his husky laugh and it warms my heart. I have no idea what the monetary value of his life was, but I am absolutely positive he left his children, grandchildren, and his great grandchildren everything he had which makes my net worth priceless.

I plan to continue the tradition. How about you? Do you know your net worth? How do you define wealth? What are you planning to leave the next generation? I’d love to hear from you.

Stay safe, stay invested, count your blessings!

Will Jackson
my great grandfather

Note to Self

My husband is notorious for writing notes to remind him of tasks, as well as affirmations to keep him on target. There are yellow sticky notes on the wall in his office, on the panel of his dashboard, on the door of his mancave, and on the bathroom mirror. Even though they are personal to him, I find myself reading all of them. I’m not sure if the yellow sticks out and draws my attention, or if I’m just nosy. At any rate, I see the value and I often pick up a helpful tidbit of information for myself. Perhaps more of us should adopt this practice.

As I watch the news and listen to various conversations among my friends and foes, I wonder if we need some of those sticky note reminders to help us to cope with change and differences of opinion. You know like a note that says: “Be a good listener!” or “Empathize with others!” or “Don’t Sweat the small stuff!” Life is too precious to spend our time on a constant flow of negativity. Perhaps we need a Note to Self that says: “Look for the positive!”

This past weekend I had an opportunity to work with some young adults (ages 16 to 22) who were part of a Department of Juvenile Justice program. We were helping them create vision boards which included short term and long term goals, both personal and professional. At the end of the time, some of the participants were asked if they wanted to share their visions. The young man that I worked with decided to share his board with the group. He had written several things that stuck with me, especially after he explained their significance to us. One of his notations said, “Be the Best Me I Can Be Everyday in Everyway.” Another said, “I’m a Man in Motion to Help Myself and to Help Others.” When he explained these to the group, he told us these were notes he wanted to write to himself to help him look forward to the future and stop dwelling on the the mistakes of his past. He said, “I can’t change my past, but I have an opportunity have better future, that’s why I’m here, and that’s why I wrote this.”

I was so impressed with this young man’s attitude and perspective. He had been in trouble with the law, he had failed his senior year in high school, he had overcome neglect, and grew up in a group home through DFACS. Yet, he had volunteered to be in this mentoring program which offers tutoring, job training, internships, and counseling in order to better his life. Note to Self: “Your Past Does not Have to Define You.

I couldn’t help but think about how the good influence of one or two people could change someone’s life. (That’s definitely my testimony, as describes in my book, Our Voices) It also reminded me of my former student. (See blog: Time Passes) Each of us have opportunities to make a difference everyday. It may only take a smile, a genuine greeting, a hug, a positive attitude in the face of disappointment, or patience when things aren’t going as quickly as we may wish. Sympathy and empathy may paved the way to unity and peace in the workplace, as well as the school yard. Note to Self: “I Can be the Catalyst for Change.”

I used to make fun of my husband and all his reminder notes, but now I find that I can use a few reminders from time to time myself. Just to be different I use multi-colored sticky notes to remind myself that comradery and joy can spread just as fast as confusion and indifference. Note to Self: “Don’t Use Sarcasm as Your Go-to.” Note to Self: “Think Before You Speak.” Note to Self: “Walk Away from Turmoil.” Of course there are some positive affirmations as well: Note to Self: “You have Experience and Wisdom.” Note to Self: “You can Connect Generations.” Note to Self: Creativity is on Your Side.”

I certainly don’t expect everyone to paste sticky notes all over the place, but it would be good for all us to make some mental notes to our selves throughout the day. What would your notes say? Could you make some positive changes with a few notes to yourself? Could you make the small corner of the world you occupy a better place? Note to Self: “Brighten the corner where you are.”

Live well, Laugh Often,
Love Much

In the Here and Now

Have you ever had a lengthy conversation with someone only to realize you may not be talking about the same subject at all. A few days ago, my fifteen year old granddaughter and I had a great philosophical discussion. This is not unusual for us because she is a creative in her own right. She writes fantastical fiction and poetry, and she loves to discuss existential ideology. At any rate, we were both waxing eloquently, when I asked a question. She paused and I waited; then she said, “Wait, what are we talking about again?” We both laughed hysterically since this has happened to us before. Each of us become so caught up in making our point that we haven’t really taken the time to hear what the other person is saying. In our case the subject is always less important than the vocal exercise of witty banter that we enjoy. We think it keeps our creative juices flowing.

That little episode did make me think about the importance of being in the moment – being truly present in the here and now. Too often, I find myself either stuck in the past, or contemplating the future to the point of distraction. I think that is what happens when my granddaughter and I are having our conversations. One of us starts concentrating on what we will say next, rather than what is being said at the moment. I think the same thing can happen during any event, whether the occasion is professional or leisure. Instead of enjoying or participating in the circumstances in front of us, our minds are off in other directions robbing us of any present precious moments. This is especially true when our cell phones are in hand. I’m finding that I have to be very intentional about the here and now. In the words of the great philosopher, Aerosmith (lol) “I Don’t Want to Miss a Thing.”

In today’s culture, “here today and gone tomorrow,” is no joke, and living with regret is not the option I want to choose. So I try to engage my whole being in the experiences and exchanges – the opportunities that come my way. It doesn’t matter how simple or how complex the opportunity may be. For example, I received two vases of flowers for my birthday last month. I took the time to notice the texture of the flowers, the scent, the size, and the variety. What was similar, what was different? Did you know that day lilies symbolize “forgetting worries.” Orange day lilies represent joy, love, courage, beauty and devotion. My oldest son gave me orange day lilies and pink roses which represents gratitude and appreciation. My prayer partners gave me pink day lilies, white daisies, and lavender mums. (Love, admiration, compassion, loyalty, honesty, and purity consecutively.) After looking up this information, I had a deeper appreciation for the gifts and the gift givers. I watched the flowers open more and more each day. I noticed how long they lasted, over three weeks. My attention was drawn to the vases at various times during those days, because I allowed myself to be truly present with the gifts. I didn’t allow myself to say thank you, put them on the table and walk away. I thought about the givers, the sentiment behind the gifts, and the beauty of each flower – all having an wholesome and positive effect on me (feeling love, joy, contentment).

Perhaps you are thinking, that’s a little overboard, but imagine applying the power of being present to your relationships, or your encounters with people in general. Last Saturday I went to a meeting at a large complex. When I arrived there was only one car in the parking lot and the door in front of me was locked. I called the person over the group I was meeting with and she directed me to the south side of the building for parking and entering. Just as I was about to pull off, I saw another person pull in to the parking lot. I could read her expression through the windshield. I imagined I looked the same way less than ten minutes before. I rolled down my window and asked was she here for the meeting. As I was relaying to her the directions I received over the phone, another lady drove up. She rolled down her window and asked what was going on. I relayed my phone message to her. She said, “No worries, you guys follow me,” and we did. Today, I went to a meeting in that same complex. The program coordinator assigned us to partners. My partners were the two people I met in the parking lot last Saturday. We recognized each other and began talking. Our group gelled immediately, because our first encounter had been intentional about helping each other. What if I had driven off? What if the second woman had just made a three point turn and left us? How different our first impressions would have been when we assigned as partners.

My husband sent me this little message by an unknown author via text on Thursday. Perhaps it will make the point better than my examples. “80 years, 959 months, 4171 weeks, 29,200 days, 700,800 hours, 42,048,000 minutes. This is the average lifespan of a person. So if you live to be 80 years old, I wonder how many years, months, weeks, days, hours , and minutes are you really HERE? Awake, alive, inhaling and exhaling in this NOW MOMENT? The HERE and NOW. It sounds simple – what’s so hard about being present? The problem is, most of us don’t know how to do it. Living in WHAT WAS or in the WHAT IF’S, we forget how to be here in the WHAT IS!”

Most of us are blessed to have at least five senses, some of us seven or eight (a topic for another time), yet we don’t use them to help us be present. When is the last time you closed your eyes to enjoy the music? When is the last time you inhaled the sweet smell of a sleeping baby? Have you lowered your tired body into a warm bath and felt each muscle ease into relaxation? Have you smelled the scent of fresh brewed coffee (at home not at …)? Have you had the chance to hold the hand of an elder, feel the softness, see the veins through the thin skin, realize the grip was strong, and the power of touch had created a deeper bond? Have you seen the sparkle in the little eyes that look up to you and realized it’s a miniature you looking back? Are you missing anything in those days and times you call ordinary?

I tell myself everyday, “Don’t miss the blessings of this day!” The here and now is a blessing, even when it’s messy because it is an opportunity to feel something, to see something, to hear something, to live something, and most of all to be something. “I Don’t Want to Miss a Thing!” How about you? What do you do to live in the present? How do you deal with the Here and Now? If life seems mundane, maybe it’s because you aren’t living to the fullest in the here and now.

Peace, safety and sanity – Live the your best life.

Lily Stargazer

Time Passes

Time passes so quickly; sometimes you don’t even notice how fast. Recently, I was in line at my local bank. When my turn came at the counter, the teller greeted me by name. He asked about my oldest son and my mother. Clearly this young man knew me, but I was baffled. I’m usually pretty good with faces even when the person’s name escapes me. I finally had no choice but to ask him his name and how he knew me. It turned out, he was one of my second grade students from fifteen years ago.

While he told me a little about himself and his sister who had also been a student, I was thinking , ‘Wow, how time passes!’ I’ll be honest with you, I never think about how old I am until I’m confronted with it. There I was old enough to teach my former students’ children. His children and my grandchildren are in the same grade. Needless to say, I enjoyed our conversation. We now chat every time I see him at the bank. Time passes, but our impact on a person’s life rarely does.

I remember my kindergarten teacher, Mrs. Gorman and my second grade teacher, Mrs. Southerland. I remember my music teacher, Mrs. Taylor and my gymnastic teacher, Ms. Graves. These teachers and so many others had such an impact on my life – an impact that will never be forgotten. They invested their time, talent, and treasure in my education and self-esteem. They encouraged me to be and do my best at various stages of my development. I believe they left a little bit of themselves with me which allowed me to cultivate the essential parts of my identity and my worldview. These educational examples are multiplied by numerous relatives, family friends, pastors, counselors, bosses, neighbors, professors, co-workers, and coaches who took the time to encourage or support my endeavors and dreams. As time passes, this list grows exponentially.

It’s amazing when you think about how people can impact your life and how the effects of that impact can last a lifetime. Their faces, their words, the touch of their hands, the gift of their time emerged with your personality, your goals and your dreams can be magical when the impact is positive. On the other hand, when the impact is negative not enough time can pass to set aside the damage done to one’s self-esteem and emotional stability. What’s that saying about how many positives it takes to erase a negative? Time is passing whether we make an impact or not. Still it’s up to us whether we use our time communally or selfishly.

One of my favorite passages of scripture is Ecclesiastes 3:1-8. It reads, “There is a time for everything,
and a season for every activity under the heavens: a time to be born and a time to die, a time to plant and a time to uproot, a time to kill and a time to heal, a time to tear down and a time to build, a time to weep and a time to laugh, a time to mourn and a time to dance, a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them, a time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing, a time to search and a time to give up, a time to keep and a time to throw away, a time to tear and a time to mend, a time to be silent and a time to speak, a time to love and a time to hate, a time for war and a time for peace.” (NIV) This passage makes it clear that there is a positive way to spend our time, and there is a negative way to spend our time. For me, the cool thing is we get to choose. (My own interpretation.)

We can’t do anything to stop time from passing. Minutes roll into hours, hours roll into days, days roll into months, and months roll into years. The next thing you know decades have passed. The question is, what are we doing with our time. Are we investing ourselves into the lives of others – another generation? Are we making a positive impact on our culture – our society? Will we be cherished in someone’s memory after we have translated to another time and space? Will someone smile when they see us years later, or when our name comes up in conversation? If ever there was a time for choosing to build, to laugh, to heal, to embrace, to mend, to speak kindness, and love; the time is now.

The young man I mentioned at the top of this blog entry told me that our school’s summer camp meant the world to him and his sister. He said it was their happy place at a time when their home environment was not so happy. His mother and father were in a domestic battle which included some physical abuse. There were days when they were afraid to be at home. He said he and his sister owed their aunt who paid for the summer camp everything. He said he was glad to have the opportunity to thank me for making learning exciting, taking them on fieldtrips, and expanding their world. He said our school convinced him and his sister that life would get better one day. I certainly can’t take credit for all our school had to offer; I believe the students in every grade had the same experience. What I took away from our conversation is how important it is to pass your time wisely as you interface with others. You never know how much the things you say and do will impact someone’s outlook for the future.

Wow! A lot of time has passed as I tried to capture a particular moment in time and the impact it had on me. I want so much to live a life that’s worth the living – to leave a legacy that gives the generations behind me hope and vision. That’s why I write. That’s why I teach. That’s why I participate in the beloved community. Yesterday is gone, but the things we’ve done, the things we said, the impact we’ve made can live on. Seeing my second grade student all grown up with a beautiful outlook, a family, and good memories from a difficult childhood motivates me to keep trying to make a positive impact in the time that I have.

Take a few minutes to think about those things and people that made a positive impact in your life. Share it with someone you care about before time passes.

Peace to you. Stay safe. Stay sane.

There is a Time . . .

Keeping It Moving!

Everyday I have to remind myself to “keep it moving!” I’ve been going through a hard spell lately, and I can’t seem to stay focused or motivated. Of course, I asked myself all the usual questions: am I depressed, am I distressed, am I angry, am I tired, am I burned out. What am I? Too often the answer doesn’t come easy. Sometimes I survey others to see what they are doing to stay motivated, to keep it moving. I found out I wasn’t the only one having this problem, but I also got some great suggestions.

One person suggested that I stop watching the news. She said she could be in a good mood, but one hour of news would put her in a funk. Her suggestion made me take notice of how often the news repeats the same stories and yet, I was sitting through multiple broadcasts. (Why can’t we have an hour of good news repeated over and over again? ) Of course, it is important to keep up with current events, but it’s also important to evaluate whether the events are current or simply recycled for ratings. I cut my news time back to one channel, one cycle. Two things happened. It freed up some time to do other things, and I didn’t feel like I had missed anything. (Another friend suggested checking the headlines online and scrolling through the stories that interest me. However, I spend too much time on the computer everyday for work, so that wasn’t for me. Perhaps it’s an answer that will work for you.)

One of my co-workers gave me a cliche as a suggestion. “Take the time to smell the roses,” she said. I have to admit I had an inward sneer at this suggestion. Over several days she made her point. The first day she sent me a text that asked if I had seen the beautiful moon that morning. (We are both up at 5 o’clock.) I didn’t see the beautiful moon. The second day she sent a text that said, did you hear the birds singing this morning. I didn’t hear the birds singing. Then my mom got in on the act. She asked me if I had seen the white and pink roses growing in our front yard. I had not seen the roses. Indeed, I hadn’t taken the time to “smell the roses.”

I started lingering on the porch before I got in my car in the mornings. I saw the moon, the clouds, and I heard the birds singing. One morning, I heard a tingling sound. It was soft and sweet like small bells ringing. I thought to myself, what is that? I looked all around the front of the house but I couldn’t get a bead on it. Finally, I walked to the side of the garage and there it was – the silver wind chimes my mom and I hung many years ago. When had I stopped noticing the wind chimes? When was the last time I thought about its beautiful music or noticed the gentle breeze? I stood there amazed. I had been neglecting the things I love – nature, good books, photography, watching the morning and evening sky, and listening to the wind chimes – I had missed them all. I certainly want to keep moving, but I don’t want to fly by the things that bring me comfort and joy. Suddenly, I realized it wasn’t about just keeping it moving, it was about moving intentionally toward the things that were needed, as well as the things that fulfilled me.

As much as I harp on self-care, I had ceased to follow my own advice. I went to the nail salon to get a manicure and a pedicure for a Thursday night date with my husband. As I sat in the massage chair enjoying the reflexology, I tried to remember the last time I had gone to a spa or a salon. I couldn’t remember the last time. In fact, I couldn’t remember doing anything solely for myself. As soon as I got home, I signed up for a writer’s conference. Even though the conference wasn’t more thirty minutes from my house, I booked a hotel and enjoyed a luxury suite and gourmet food the entire weekend. The conference was great too.

Perhaps the point of this blog entry is to redefine “Keeping It Moving.” What is my “it”? It can’t just be working from 9 to 5. It can’t just be the daily routine of taking care of the family. It can’t be my career as a writer alone. It has to be the total package – keeping my mind growing, keeping my creativity flowing, keeping my relationships in priority, keeping my spirit and soul refreshed, keeping my body healthy and rested. I have to remember my “it” isn’t just one thing; no one’s is. The thing that stagnates us or gets us in a rut is being out of balance with all that makes us who we are. We can’t focus on one aspect of our lives and still “keep it moving.”

How about you? What is your “it?” How do you “keep it going?” Perhaps your life, like mine, was thrown out of balance by the things you couldn’t do during the pandemic crisis. Perhaps the substitutes for personal social activities have fail us. Maybe it’s time to reassess what our personal activities are, and whether they are serving our needs. My suggestion is to discuss it with a few friends, family members, your counselor and/or your spiritual advisor. You may find that they have some suggestions that will set you free. Then you can start keeping it moving again from a new perspective.

I look forward to keeping it moving with you. Be safe and enjoy life while you’re keeping it moving.

What’s Normal?

It never ceases to amaze me that everyone’s idea of normal is different. I see it in children all the time. When I worked with homeless children in a daycare setting the children always asked if it was time to go home. Home for them was wherever mom and dad were. Children without a father in the home still played games that included mom, dad, and baby in the dramatic play center. I’ve never had a child without living grandparents ask what grandparents were. Children who eat all of their meals out of a paper bag still understand the concept of breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Why are all these statements true? When you don’t know any other circumstances or conditions, and you don’t have anything to compare them to, they all seem normal to you. .

As a teacher of students from various socio-economical backgrounds, different ethnicities, and diverse religious backgrounds, I learned never to assume that their idea of normal was the same as mine. Incorporating celebrations like holidays around the world and sharing family photos always gave us an opportunity to learn about one another and to ask questions to increase our understanding. I especially liked when parents would share food that represented their culture and background. Needless to say, many of us as adults are not as open to the differences of others as we could be. The elusive “they say” seems to dictate what our normal should be. I once heard it said that the American dream is a 9 to 5 job, 2.5 children (I never really understood the .5 kid) , a single family home with a two car garage, and at least one four-legged pet. If that be the case, many people have never lived an American ideal of normal. No wonder we are having problems with achieving the “new normal:” our old normal was never solidified.

When do we reach the point when we stop waiting for things to return to normal or simply adjust to our new normal? Is it because we have never taken the time to identify what normal really is in our lives? Is spending time with our children and reinforcing the lessons they learn at school a part of the old normal, the new normal, or just normal? Is maintaining contact with our distance family and friends and checking on their welfare a part of the old normal, the new normal, or just normal? What kind of normal is having our aging parents move in with us? What kind of normal is sending a care package to a college student or an enlisted soldier? Is it old, new, or just normal to take a hot meal over to a bereaved friend or family member? Am I wrong if I substitute the words “new,” “old,” and “just” for the word ‘my.” After all my normal may be altogether different from your normal.

My normal has always included multiple generations living under one roof. My normal includes having brothers and sisters who are no blood relationship to me. My normal includes sharing what you have with those who are close to you even when it’s part of the last of what you have. My normal means always putting the children first. My normal incorporates whatever my husband and I decide we can do and will do regardless what others think. My normal includes people who believe in prayer and aren’t afraid to pray for me and with me. My normal fosters good will toward all people even if we need to agree to disagree. Commercials, social media, politics, or even the pandemic can not dictate what’s normal for me because they are not the foundation of my worldview. Promises that things will return to normal can not be my motivation for living, perhaps because I reached that age where I want to live in the now and enjoy the present. What I have now is normal since normal always requires adjustments due to circumstances beyond our control. The question then becomes am I willing to make the necessary adjustments. Adjustments are normal.

If this came off preachy, I apologize, that was truly not my intention. I guess what I really want to say is, you decide what’s normal. Don’t miss out on living, on sharing, on giving, on being waiting for a new normal. Make whatever adjustments you need to make to enjoy every aspect of your life in your present normal. You have talent. You have loved ones. You have ideas. You have opportunities. You have resources. You have hope. You have dreams. You have faith. No matter how little or how big these things are, they are part of your normal. Don’t lose another day waiting for things to change. Be the change. That’s normal!

Be safe. Be proactive. Be in the moment.

Transitions (40th Anniversary Edition): Making Sense of Life's Changes by [William Bridges, Susan Bridges]
Celebrating 40 years of the best-selling guide for coping with life’s changes, named one of the 50 all-time best books in self-help and personal development — with a new Discussion Guide for readers, written by Susan Bridges. Amazon.com

Love Demonstrated

Sometimes even English teachers can get into philosophical debates like is love a noun or a verb. Of course, the answer is both yes, maybe, and no. (lol) Love is one of those words that has archaic meaning and modern definition. After all, we have mad love for our favorite authors, musicians, and stars, but we also absolutely love and adore our pets, baseball, and the smell of orchids. The way we use the word indicates several degrees of depth and meaning, but verbally using the word may not mean anything at all. It is far to easy to speak the word, but much harder to demonstrate the word.

I have two adult sons, a godson, and two mostly adult grandchildren (ages 18 and 19) that I have tried to explain the concept of real love to. I start by saying, “Anyone can say ‘I love you, but their actions will tell you whether they really do.” I don’t want them to become enamored with the words alone. The words are not magic. The words do not indicate true conviction. From a noun perspective, love is a decision, a judgment, and a promise. However, love as a verb is action, demonstration, and tangible through the senses. Therefore, I tell my offspring, “When someone says they love you, it should be followed by tangible evidence.” Love must be demonstrated.

In my relationships with my mother, my husband, my in-laws, my dearest and closest friends, there is no love insecurity not because they tell me they love me all the time, but because they demonstrate their love for me consistently. I don’t want to toot my own horn, but I venture to say the same thing is true for them because I demonstrate my love for them. The more we demonstrate our love for one another, the more confident, assured, and impactful our relationships become. In other words, I can depend on their care. I can depend on their presence in my life even when they are not physically present. Over time the demonstration of their love builds credibility and dependability in their spoken words.

I also warn my boys (grown men, but always my children) never to use the words ‘I love you” loosely or without thought and true commitment. The words can be used to manipulate others whether intentionally or unintentionally. In other languages there are different words to express different kinds of love. In American English (which I would argue is substandard because we have borrowed so many words from others as well as made up our own words) the degrees and kinds of love is still the same word. I love my husband. I love my dog. I love lasagna. I love cola. I love reading. I love a fire in the fire place. We can take each one of those sentences and substitute the word “love” with the word “like” and they would still be valid. We could also substitute the word love with “adore,” “fond of,” or “enjoy.” When we change the words we may get a more accurate picture of what the person means when they say, “I love you.” So I encourage my guys (and gals) to choose their words wisely.

Okay, enough of this philosophical discussion. My point, first for myself and then for you my readers, is am I demonstrating the words I use. When I say those words that have held so much meaning for centuries, do I follow them with equal demonstration and action? Do I really demonstrate love when I haven’t reached out to a grieving friend? Do I demonstrate love when I don’t take the time to check on those who are alone and isolated because they are not techno-savvy? Do I demonstrate love when I spend more time on social media than actually talking to people? Do I demonstrate love when I half listen to what someone is saying, or when I fail to discern their body language, or when I drop them an emoji when they have expressed a heartfelt emotion or struggle? OUCH!

This pandemic has not only taught me that time has no guarantees, it’s taught me how valuable relationships are. The opportunity to express my love may be shorter than I think, and I don’t want anyone in my beloved circle to ever doubt or feel insecure about how I hold them in my heart. Every day I tell myself to be more intentional about demonstrating my love. In my desire to be loved, I also want to give love – the noun and the verb. How about you? Are you receiving secure love? Are you giving secure love? It’s not too late to make the commitment. Our love may not be perfect, but it can be demonstrated in everyday.