23 December 2009

What a difference a YEAR makes...

Not surprisingly, as the year draws to a close, I am both reflective (on the year about to past) and anticipatory (about the year to come). I think we all embrace the start of a New Year with great joy and hope and anticipation for things to come. We are eager to shake off the dust, heartaches, sorrows of the year behind and embark on a new journey. Full of vim and vigor, we make resolutions and promises, set goals (some realistic, most “pie in the sky”), and mostly look forward to a brand new start. As if every January 1st has some magical power, as if the day itself is a “restart” button for our lives…and maybe it is…or maybe it can be. But, historians and philosophers tell us, in deep foreboding tones, that if we don’t examine the past, we are doomed to repeat it. So, just for a moment, I want to reflect on the year that is about to be … history.

2009 will go down in history as, undoubtedly, one of the most remarkable, memorable, unforgettable years ever to-date in my young (yes, 45 is still “young” in my book) life. In January, the United States inaugurated the first African-American President in the over 200 year history of our country…and whether you supported his campaign (like I did) or not (as many of my friends didn’t), it still was a moment in history that will never be forgotten – whether you stood on the sidelines in awe…or disgust. I was blessed to watch the inauguration from the comfort of my grandmother’s home in Florida. One generation removed from ancestors who experienced slavery in this country, it was an emotional moment for her to watch Barack Obama lift his hand and repeat the oath of office – and as her grandchild, it was emotional for me as well. “Never in my lifetime” seemed to be the recurring theme of the day – and that was true, no matter WHO you were. And while I didn’t necessarily envy my friends who were actually in Washington DC, standing out in bitter cold temperatures for the day, who enjoyed the inauguration balls and saw the First Family “live and in person”, I am glad they had that experience and will have that memory for the rest of their lives.

For me, the rest of the year seems to be a blur of losses. Losses of unbelievable magnitude and impact. Not only the loss of loved ones, family and friends to death (and there were a LOT of funerals that I attended in 2009), which were significant and left holes in my soul and spirit that are still waiting to heal and be filled … I also experienced the heart wrenching losses of friendships that no longer exist in their pure form due to misunderstandings and miscommunications – chasms that still need to be crossed and mended and healed – and some that, out of necessity and sanity, will be or have been abandoned. There have been sleepless nights, tearful conversations, angry words spoken, wounds inflicted and received. There are relationships that have been destroyed and, just like Humpty Dumpty, can never be repaired without the cracks showing. And with a change in my job and my work schedule, there have been relationships that have fallen victim to the old adage “out of sight, out of mind” with amazing speed and rapidity.

But before you think this has me despondent or suicidal, let me quickly state that this has also been a year of amazing blessings and experiences where God has showed up and showed out JUST FOR ME. From the experience at my Uncle Johnny’s funeral where someone told me how a card I mailed her seven years prior encouraged her to the card(s) that showed up unexpectedly in the mail just when I was at my wit’s end and feeling unloved, unwanted, unappreciated. (Can I just say, "you reap what you sow, people" - ok, I said it...moving on) From the blessing of the new job position that moved me out of a work environment that was sending me home crying on a regular basis to a work situation where I continually say, “Thank you Jesus” and “Praise the Lord”. And for every friendship that has faltered or failed, another friendship has been planted, another bloom has sprouted and the resultant flowers have been more colorful and hardier and more enduring.

Who knows what 2010 will hold. I am sure there will be more deaths and sorrows – it is the time in which we live – our elders are getting older and in mercy, will be put to sleep in the Lord. Death, unfortunately, is a fact of life. Disease is running rampant and I will lose people I love and care for to cancer, heart disease, diabetes, car accidents, whatever … that is the price of sin as foretold in the Bible. There will be disappointments: job losses, friendships gone sour, marriages dissolving, financial stresses and strains. There will be tears of sorrow. There will be hurt feelings and deep emotional traumas. There will be arguments over stupid things and conversations that will just go south for no reason at all. There will be days when I will think I just cannot put one foot in front of the other one mo’ time again. There will be "those" days in 2010 – to think otherwise is foolish.

But there will also be days of great joy and gladness. Friends will get married and have babies. There will be birthdays to celebrate and graduations to attend. There will be powerful sermons preached by the men and women of God that will edify, encourage and uplift my spirits. There will be songs sung that will speak directly to the heart of the matter (whatever the matter may be). There will be enriching conversations with friends, probably over fabulous dinners. There will be breathtaking moments that I will capture with my camera (and moments that I will miss as I wish my shutter finger was quicker). There will be those quiet moments when God will speak directly to me and I hope I will be quiet and still enough to actually HEAR Him when He does. There will be prayers prayed and prayeres answered. There will be laughter and smiles and blessings.

Whatever 2010 brings, I look forward to the ride because I know God will sustain me as I move through it. By now, you know my favorite Bible promise is found in Jeremiah 29:11: “For I know the plans I have for you, saith the Lord. Plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” In other words, NO MATTER WHAT COMES, God got it under His control…it does not happen without His permission or without His knowing..., so ultimately, that means that whatever happens in 2010, it is for my good, for my edification, and ultimately, for my salvation. Knowing that, I know I will survive whatever is ahead. I know YOU will too.

Be blessed.

17 December 2009

It's JUST a wig, people...

I have been on a hair odyssey all my life. My mother tells me of how I was a "cue ball" (as in "bald as a") baby and how, in desperation and despair over the fact that everyone kept commenting on what a cute little baby BOY I was, she once TAPED a bow to my head to stop the comments. That was the beginning of 45 years of hair drama...which is why I TOTALLY relate to India.Arie's anthem to women everywhere: I am NOT my hair! I have posted blogs about this subject matter before, but feel the need to do it again after my firm's holiday party this week.

First, a little recent hair history: I went "natural" with my hair over 10 years ago, culminating in locking it (not "DREADING" it - ARGH! I hate that word!) in 2002. I kept my hair locked for six years before the weight of the locs caused me to cut them short, and then eventually off in November 2007. During that six year period, I was always amazed at the amount of vested interest people took in MY hair. From the people who would constantly tell me, "you know, usually I don't like locs, but you at least keep yours neat." to the brother at church who threatened every Sabbath to bring scissors to church so he could cut my hair and free me from the demons that surely were possessing me (he actually said, PRAISE THE LORD when he HEARD that I'd cut them off!) to strangers who offered unsolicited advice about how to care for my hair or to ask for my loctician's name and phone number to the sista who when I cut my hair told me (with a straight face, mind you) "Well, now you'll finally be able to get a man" and further responded when I said that I had dated in the six years that I had locs, "Well, now you will get a better class of man." REALLY? SERIOUSLY? Unbelievable. Drove a sista to tears and almost to drink.

So, for the last year, I have been trying to grow my hair out. (And all African-American sistas around the world sighed in great sympathy with me...) Most of the time, I rock a short Afro with a variety and mixture of products to help enhance the natural curl of my hair...yeah, it hasn't been easy. Some days, I can pull it off and others days, I want to head to the nearest barber's chair and say, cut it all off! Let's start over from the beginning. I see sistas with cute short hairdos and am tempted tempted tempted. To keep me from cutting it off, I have put tree braids in my hair, straightened and curled it (ok, that was only once in the very beginning, but I may do it again in the very near future) and occasionally, I plop a wig on it...as I did yesterday. Actually, all this week. As a result of last week's fender bender, I discovered it is a little uncomfortable to have to do my hair...so Monday, I washed it, braided it down, and walked out of the house with one of my momma's wigs perched on my head. And I did the same thing on Tuesday for our firm holiday party...

OK, why did people act like ... I don't know ... like Jesus Himself had descended from heaven and bestowed multiple blessings on me just because all of a sudden I have straight hair!? Almost to a person, everyone made a comment, ranging from "oh, I just love your hair!" to "I didn't even recognize you, you look so different." to "You look so beautiful" (uh, hello! Not bragging, but it ain't like I'm Quasimodo's sister on a regular day...I'm just sayin') One "sweetheart" made a point of walking across the room just to say to me, "I really love your hair, you should wear it like that all the time!" Eventually, to deflect all the unwanted comments and attention, I made jokes: "Well, if you like it so much, I can send it to you interoffice, but you might have to wait a while, there are several other people in front of you who have requested it". I mean, it was either make jokes about it or bust into tears (which I have done before...over my hair...so uncool and totally unnecessary)

All that to say, hair is just an accessory...it ain't that big a deal. Why do we make such a big deal about it - and allow others to make value judgments about us based on what style we decide to put our hair in at any given time? My worth, my beauty, who I am as a person is NOT TIED UP IN MY HAIR!!! I wish other people could look past whatever hairstyle I am wearing and look to the beauty of my heart, my soul and my bubbling personality (and if you don't know that about me, you truly need to ask somebody!)

So, for all the haters out there, you might as well get prepared...just as I set some goals for styles that I wanted to do with my locs, I have some style goals for my free, natural hair now (can someone say "afro puff" with me!?)...and then...drumroll...I'll be locking my hair up again. (Goal date: November 2010). So prepare your hearts now...like it, hate it, love it, despise it. But whatever you do, accept it (and me) for what it is. If you don't have anything positive to say, keep it to yourself. And if I'm obviously wearing a wig and you start gushing about how great I look in it, don't be surprised if I pull it off and give it to you! I betcha that will shut you up! 8-)

Be blessed.

13 December 2009

Engaging in THIS moment...

I had a great conversation with a girlfriend today. During the course of our conversation, we started talking about how technology has impacted how we communicate with each other. Phone calls are no longer the norm and we have become addicted to social networks (my personal favorite: Facebook), text messaging, and emails. Without fear of dating myself, I spoke about answering machines (to my younger generation friends, the precursor to voice mail) and how when they first hit the scene, I HATED them! What is the point of a machine taking a message when I want to talk to my friend? But as they became more "the norm", I became frustrated with people who didn't have them..."I just wanted to leave a message, I didn't want to TALK to them." And here is a confession that is probably gonna get me in trouble: I use caller ID all the time to "screen" calls and decide..."do I REALLY have time (or the desire) to speak with the person calling?" Cause the reality is, sometimes it is NOT convenient...sometimes you cannot be the listening ear or shoulder to cry on...sometimes...you just have to screen the call.

And sometimes, you need to put the phone down and engage in what is going on in the moment. I cannot tell you how many times I have been out with a friend and had our time together interrupted by a buzzing BlackBerry or a ringing cell phone. I have one friend that I ONLY see twice a year - his birthday and mine - and yet, every time we are together, I have to compete with his BlackBerry! It is so very rude! (my opinion). There should be times (I think) when we can (and should) just "disconnect" and engage. When I am sitting across a table from you, I should be interested/engaged enough to interact with you. When my mother and I eat dinner together, for the most part, I try to make it a Facebook/BlackBerry free zone. Believe me - ain't nothing gonna pop off in the hour we eat together that cannot be handled whenever I get the message. When I go to church, the phone stays in the car. You'd think that would be a no-brainer, but I cannot tell you how many times I have ushered people out of the church sanctuary and/or lobby of the church as they talk on their cell phones. C'mon people! It ain't THAT important! In the movie theatre...in restaurants...disconnect...enjoy the moment where you are. I read a Facebook status of a friend who posted, "Having a great time hanging out with my girls" - really? How great a time can you be having if you are stepping outside of the moment to go on Facebook to post a status about it? I just don't get it.

And then there is the other side of it: when you are on a phone conversation with someone - devote your attention entirely to that person! I understand the convenience of call waiting, but in the olde days before call waiting...people used to get a busy signal if they called you and you were on the phone - and you NEVER KNEW they called you until they called you back or you got a message on the answering machine. Yeah, it wasn't always "convenient" to have to call someone back, but at least your conversations weren't interrupted over and over and over again. Today while talking to my girlfriend, the phone beeped a few times - she never knew it because I never jumped off the phone. I checked, saw who called and realized that I could call them back. As a result, she and I had a meaningful LOOONG conversation that I believe was a true blessing to both of us.

It is great to be connected. There is nothing wrong with that. I love being on Facebook and being a "voyeur" into the lives of my friends who live all around the country and world. To see what they are doing - how they are living and enjoying their lives - finding out what we have in common, and what makes us so very different. But when it is time for one-on-one, face-to-face, me and you experiences...disconnect, unplug, and engage in the moment. Otherwise, I think you are gonna miss out on some wonderful blessings that God has in store for you. Things that will sustain you on the days when you are feeling all alone and unloved and lonely. Shared xperiences that will nourish and nurture your spirit and soul when the world seems cold and lonely and bleak. Your life will be richer, more colorful, more textured...at least that has been my experience.

So put down the mouse. Pick up the phone. Become engaged.
Be blessed.

09 December 2009

Journaling has a purpose

I just started a historical romance novel by Julia Quinn entitled THE SECRET DIARIES OF MISS MIRANDA CHEEVER. Ok, I know it's "brain candy", but every once in a while, that is exactly what you need...ok, let's be honest: sometimes that is exactly what I need. Anyway, the premise of the book is that at the age of ten, the heroine decides to keep a journal. This struck a chord in me because it was around the same age that I first started keeping a journal (as if at age 10, I had something vital and important going on in life that needed recording) Some of her initial entries remind me of my original diaries/journals (and yes, I still have most of them): "Today I ate string beans and they were really good." (even then, I was all about food!) Looking back, I recognize that there were other things I probably should have been journalling about (my parents' divorce and subsequently living in a household with two mommas and five sibling/cousins, moving to NYC and the horrors of living there), but I didn't have the words within me...or maybe I just hadn't embraced the idea of my "voice" and the importance of it...so my early journals are pretty pathetic and funny. (And no, you cannot read them! hahaha)

Then as I got older, my journals took on the usual "oh, I am so in love" vein of the typical teenager and young adult in her early 20s. But even then, I wasn't necessarily "true" to my voice. There are a lot of experiences that I went through that I should have recorded that are lost in the annals of time because I didn't write about them at the time. Friends will say to me, "don't you remember when we...?" and I must confess that I have no recollection of whatever they are talking about. Maybe that is why it is so important to me now to commemorate EVERYTHING. Everyone knows I will pull out my camera in a minute and take the picture - what they may not know is the picture usually ends up in a journal with the whole story behind when the picture was taken and what the story is behind the picture. I have photo books of almost every vacation taken, most birthdays celebrated (mine and others), and lots of meals cooked and/or eaten. It's all about preserving the memories.

BUT when things get tough...the journaling stops or gets suspended. It's like I lose my voice again when I get overwhelmed by stuff. Even with this blog - when I am in a "good" place, I write (and write and write)...but when things are spinning out of control (as it has for most of this year), I get silent. It's not that I don't have anything to say - in fact, it is probably the opposite and I probably have TOO much to say. But since I find it difficult to express my own voice, I definitely am not trying to hear the voices of others making comments/suggestions/opinions. Because just like Job's friends when he was going through his trials, everyone who comes at you with their advice and opinions doesn't necessarily have your best interests at heart.

I am finding out though...there is a purpose to journaling and some times it ain't even about me. The sharing of experiences - good, bad, horrific - has inherent within it a blessing. I guess that is why we are encouraged to "testify of the goodness of the Lord" - by telling you how I overcame a situation, you may be encouraged to keep holding on through your trial. So, it is my determination and hope that I will keep journaling (or blogging) and giving voice to...well, my voice. I understand that everyone will not understand what I choose to share...or how I choose to express myself. I may be setting myself up for backlash and moments of "why did that person feel they had the right to say that to me?" But you know what...that is not (necessarily) my problem and may be more their issue not mine. It ultimately is MY life to share or not share as I wish.

I keep telling y'all that 2010 is going to be a different kind of year. I trust that my true friends will not judge me - or at least, not too harshly. After all, you all really should know me by now, I would think. And I am confident that the "haters" will show themselves for who they are and will subsequently be weeded out (with a quickness). My new mantra for 2010: Life is too short to surround yourself with people who make you cry or feel bad or make your skin crawl. (hahaha) Only positive people and supportive energy going forward. I think it is going to be an interesting ride, don't you?

Be blessed.

08 December 2009

It's not that I HATE Christmas...

Everybody should recognize this picture: Ebenezer Scrooge is iconic. Known worldwide as the man who hated Christmas, he made the phrase "bah humbug" famous and every year, millions of people go to theatres around the world to listen to the tale of how he finds redemption in changing his mind about Christmas. Make the statement that you don't "do" Christmas and watch how many people start calling you by his name. I know...it happens to me every year right about this time of year.

Now, for the record, I do not HATE Christmas...not in it's true, pure form. What I hate is the commercialism and the expectations of others because someone, somewhere decided that December 25th is the day we are supposed to celebrate the birth of Christ. (Y'all do realize that ain't His real birthday, right? He was born in the springtime, otherwise, why were the shepherds out watching their flocks by night?) And with retailers starting to push Christmas toys and sales and bargains in September, long before Halloween (another "holiday" I don't do) and Thanksgiving, it seems like all year long, all people do is talk about Christmas. Well, I say, BAH HUMBUG!!!

Sad thing is: I used to be such the Christmas holiday person - buying the cards and mailing them, putting up the lights, getting little trinkets all through the year for people because I thought they might enjoy this or that, planning holiday gatherings and marking the calendar for others' gatherings as well, buying and listening to holiday music - it was truly "the most wonderful time of the year"...but about 3 years ago, I'd had enough. Not that I'm into the "tit for tat" of it all, but I was mailing out over 300 cards each year and getting maybe 75 cards in return...giving gifts to EVERY secretary I worked with on my floor and it not being reciprocated - and yet hearing comments like, "Ooo, I cannot wait to see what she gives us this year, she always gives such good and thoughtful gifts." REALLY? And the running, running, running was wearing me out! So, I just decided one year I wasn't doing it anymore. I wrote up a little notice that I put in all my holiday cards stating, "next year I ain't doing this." and made up my mind that I wasn't.

Can we talk about the resistance I received? You woulda thought I was crucifying Jesus on the cross all over again all by myself! I was questioned about my Christianity and faith in Jesus - I was called unAmerican - and I was definitely called Scrooge - over and over and over again. But I held firm and now, 3 years later, most of my friends have either joined me in my protest of the day or really really wish they could. This year especially, with the hard economic times and job losses, people tell me that they are finding it harder and harder to have the "Christmas spirit". I would propose it is because we have lost the true focus and meaning of the season.

So, here is my suggestion if you are not quite ready to give up the lights, cards, presents, and all the other busyness of the holiday: take some time to just reflect on the true reason for the season. Jesus and what He might do in today's trying times. Hmmm...how 'bout going to the nursing home and visiting with an older person who may not have any family or friends to visit them? How 'bout inviting a single person or parent over to your house for dinner? How 'bout giving your child one toy and not the entire toy store? Or better yet, have them pick a favorite toy and then take the rest of the stuff they receive (and probably do not need) to a local shelter to bless another child or children who might not receive any toys at all? Participate in a feeding program at a church or other outreach center. Make the holiday about someone else other than yourself. Just a few suggestions. (and I'm talking to myself as I write). We need to step outside our boxes of comfort and touch the lives of others in tangible ways. Why not start this Christmas? Baby steps...baby steps.

Be blessed.

07 December 2009

Loving me is...not that easy

I have often said that I wish I could find someone who would love me the way I want or need to be loved. Now, let me state for the record, there are plenty of people who love me...family, friends, old boyfriends...but if you have ever read the book THE FIVE LOVE LANGUAGES by Gary Chapman, you know that there are different "ways" to love people: acts of service, physical touch, receiving gifts, quality time and words of affirmation. I am not going to tell you which is the way I prefer to be loved, I am just going to leave it at this statement: the people who know me the best tend to love me the way THEY want to be loved and not necessarily the way I NEED to be loved...and that causes conflict, confusion and disappointment some times. It is not that they don't love me - they are doing the best they can and showing love the way they know how to...we just seem to keep missing the point with each other. I am learning to accept that things just will not change in that regard - people are who they are and for the most part, they really are doing the best they can do, but it is still hard to realize that some things are never going to change in that regard. But because I try to be honest about myself and my role in my relationships with others, I recently came to realize that I am guilty of the very same thing.

For example, my mother and I live together. I figure that since I provide the roof over her head, do most of the cooking in the house, pay the bills, etc., I am showing her love (acts of service). However, for my mother (who prefers physical touch and words of affirmation), she'd rather I tell her every day that I love her, that I hug her occasionally (I am NOT a hugger, for the record), and that at least once a week, we sit down and eat a meal together. Now, all of this sounds easy and uncomplicated, right? But it is "difficult" for me cause that is not the easiest way for me to show her love. Not that I don't do these things, but it takes more effort on my part to do them because it is not "natural" for me. Close friends think it's funny when they tell me "give your mother a hug and/or kiss for me" and I turn up my nose and say, "Yeah, I'll tell her you sent one." Just not in my nature to do that. Just as it is not within her to naturally love me as I would want her to. (and since I don't want to put her "on blast", I will not give an example, but she reads this blog, and she knows what I am talking about.) Don't get it twisted - my mom loves me, very much, and I know that and I am by no means implying that she doesn't...she just loves me in her way, which is not necessarily "my" way.

And it's the same way I interact with my friends as well. Recently, a friend and ex-boyfriend of mine told me that his mother wasn't doing well and asked would I please reach out and call her since she would love to hear from me. I responded that I would drop her a card in the mail. He insisted that a phone call would be better. Now, my immediate reaction was, "Shoot. You asked me to contact her. I'd rather send a card cause it lasts longer and she can look at it often in the future and besides, I really am tired and don't have the time and energy for a (long) phone conversation with your mom." And I told him this in so many words, but he was kind of insistent that I call his mom - which, honestly, made me a little salty and a lot resistant to the idea, but I was convicted to call her, so I did (under duress) and discovered that, for his mom, the phone call was more important than receiving a card in the mail - she wanted to hear my voice, not read a card from me. So, I am glad I stepped outside my own personal box of comfort to do it because of the joy it brought her.

Last example, my grandmother recently popped her hip out of joint and has been in rehab for a while. I went to visit her and as is my thing, showed my love by bringing her food and cooking while I was there because she kept complaining about the food in the rehab and how she wanted some "real good food". I love to cook, so it was a no brainer, easy way to show my love for her. But sitting in the rehab center on Saturday evening, I saw love in action. My mother and one of my grandmother's play daughters, Pearlstine, recognizing that my grandmother had been laying up in the hospital bed all day and that her skin was kind of dry from the stale air in the hospital room, took out some sage and chamomile shea butter that I'd given my grandmother a long time ago and lovingly massaged it into her skin to bring her some relief and comfort. As my grandmother ooo'd and ahh'd under their ministrations, I realized that she needed and desired that physical touch kind of love - which I never thought about and never would have considered doing unless she asked me (and admittedly, I probably would not have done it so lovingly and patiently either...hey, I know my limitations and shortcomings!) But I am eternally grateful that Pearlstine and my mother recognized her need and desire for that - and willingly gave it to her.

We all need love. We all need love the way WE want to be loved. And while I have not yet found the person here on earth who does that for me (which totally explains why I am still single and yet content in that state), I am glad that my Heavenly Father does know me and knows how I need and want to be loved. He shows it to me every day in a myriad of unexpected, surprising and "just for me" kind of ways. I could go on and on with testimonies of how, just when I am at my lowest, He sends an unexpected blessing my way in the form of a word of encouragement, or a phone call, or a card in the mail, or an email that brightens my day - something that lets me know that, not only am I on His radar, He knows just WHAT I need and in what form I need to receive it. I get called on the carpet for calling myself His Favorite Child, but I honestly believe that I am because He shows me that all the time just how much He loves and cares for ME.

And something tells me, He knows YOU and shows His love for you in just the same way. I am so glad that we don't serve a God who "cookie cuts" His blessings to us as if we are all exactly the same. The Bible tells me that He knows each one of us so intimately that He knows the number of hairs on our heads, which tells me that He knows me better than I know myself and He treats me accordingly. I really ought to serve Him better. Thank you God for loving me as I want and need to be loved and for showing me Your love every day.

Be blessed.