New Year, No Resolutions

"Living" - 2016bestnine

“Living” – 2016bestnine

I stopped making New Year’s resolutions a few years ago.  It seemed extremely counterintuitive to keep setting lofty goals that I would likely abandon before making it past the first 30 days of the year.  There I was thinking that resolutions were supposed to get me pumped and excited about all that I was convinced I was going to accomplish while not once considering that perhaps the ingredients to this particular life recipe wasn’t something I would be good at cooking.  I stopped making New Year’s resolutions and started taking on my dreams and joys in Twix fun size pieces (fitting of course since it’s my favorite candy).  No longer would I subject myself into believing that on this one day out of the year was I required to critically think about how to make my life better.  Was I not equipped to do this on a regular basis?  Is champagne and confetti somehow supposed to ignite an everlasting superpower that will make me want to run to the gym, open an IRA, eat more carrots, save my change from a Hamilton, sail the ocean blue (yeah right, I’m all about the Boeing), tell people who are simply taking up space to go fly a kite…I mean you get the picture.  In my mind, that was a puzzle with a ton of missing pieces.

My “one day at a time”/nix the resolutions philosophy couldn’t have been more real than in 2016.  Sans a whole lot of details, I can tell you that you begin to understand the  multitude of privileges in each day when you wake up with pressure cuffs on your legs in the hospital, lose teammates to reorganizations, have to let go of relationships, get awakened by a phone call from the paramedics, and see a loved one intubated in the middle of a room that’s inhabited by professional strangers on a routine schedule.  All of that was my 2016.  And it reconfirmed my personal need to take each day in stride while taking on tasks fitting of the success for one specific day.  So, whether that has meant slipping away to write one page for a multi-chapter book, buying enough food to cook meals for three days of the week as opposed to five, or spending 20 minutes catching up with a friend between meetings instead of listening to Alessia’s “Wild Things,” I’ve opted for the celebratory factor of crushing the small tasks to get me closer to the fulfillment of my own happiness.

It’s funny because on my 2016 vision board I had pasted the word “living” that I’m sure I cut from some fashion or home and garden magazine (I swear those things are magnets for cobwebs, and we all know spiders ruin my life).  I wanted to see those six letters every day so I could get about the business of embracing my sometimes ordinary yet often unpredictable journey that I had the power to fill with some of what I hoped for.  Little did I know what meaning that word would take on throughout the year literally and figuratively.  But, through the highs and the lows, I can say the days were more bearable and/or exhilarating because I chose to consider what I needed to do or how I could be better for the very moment in which I was breathing.

A new year will happen every 365 days whether we have new year’s resolutions ready or not.  And the “new you” intimation that gets thrown around like that brown thing on Sundays happens in all of those days in between.  Because it’s the tiny victories in a single day that are resolved into a living, thriving, and happy being whose inscription will sparkle well beyond the stroke of midnight.

Happy New Year, friends! xo

Full Plates Fortify Futures

It’s something about the twinkle in their smiles.  The way they can make a long, monotonous day into one of the best of your life with a simple stick figure drawing of the family that they enthusiastically request that you hang with all the others on the refrigerator.  Children.  They restore the gray areas of our once colorful imaginations and give us a reason to want to be the best versions of ourselves.  But, what happens when children dream in black and white?  What happens when the best they have to give is being a consistent classroom attendant but not an active participant?  What does it mean when the last bell of the day rings and a child goes home unsure whether there will be enough dinner to go around for the entire family?

In America, over 13 million children are lacking one of the basic necessities of life – food.  They walk along our sidewalks.  They swing on our playgrounds.  They sit in our classrooms.  They play with other children we know and love in our communities.  Some may have even sat at our tables.  In the most industrialized country in the world, one in five children are unable to access nutritious food on a regular basis.  While federal food assistance programs like the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), National School Lunch Program (NSLP), and the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) have attempted to close the gap, there remains an ongoing need for food assistance in this country.  Poverty plays a significant role in food insecurity and continues to perpetuate a cycle of inadequate access to food and other resources.  I encourage you to read this article about the way the U.S. Census Bureau measures the poverty rate and this one about the reasons it hasn’t really changed.

We know that in order to strengthen bodies and develop our minds, we need nutrients, particularly in the early stages of life.  I don’t think I need to present any scientific or psychological findings to convey the fact that when you’re hungry, you’re not focused or productive and in many ways you’re disengaged.  Raise your hand if you’ve ever been “hangry!” This is reality for millions of children who without food assistance programs and other community initiatives to combat hunger, they would not be able to sustain much less excel in their learning.  I wonder how many times a child has been labeled a “problem” at school for performance or behavioral issues, when the root of the problem was a growling tummy.  Things that make you go hmm…

LKO - Snack Packs

LKO Social Action Committee & Volunteers

Fortunately, there are organizations that have made it their business to address childhood hunger.  You may be familiar with several national organizations and initiatives, including Feeding America, No Kid Hungry, and Childhood Hunger Ends Here.  Often times in your community, there are opportunities to get involved and support local efforts.  My chapter of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc., Lambda Kappa Omega, is one of many service organizations in the D.C. Metro area that partners with local agencies, food banks, and pantries to increase access to nutritious food.  I have personally had the privilege of donating my time and money to assemble after school snack packs for elementary school children.  These snack packs become critical when a child might not receive another complete meal until breakfast the next morning at school.

We’re all here to help shape the future of the children who will become the next leaders in technology, education, business, medicine, music, sports, arts, politics, and beyond.  After all, we’ve only come this far because others have assumed responsibility for our growth and success.  So, on this National Childhood Hunger Day, I encourage you to share your heart, lend a hand, and take a stand by donating food, money, or time to initiatives in your community that ensure our children grow up with full plates that will help feed their imaginations and empower them to be extraordinary.

Snack packs for the children of Fairfax County

I Choose My Peace

garden of peaceIf I had a choice between $1 million and my peace, I’d choose my peace.  First off, $1 million isn’t a lot of money once Uncle Sam gets his cut.  Secondly, peace can stay with me for the duration of my life; if you don’t make money work for you, then eventually it runs out.  I don’t ever want to be in a place where I no longer have my peace.  That tranquility.  That stillness.  That unshakable love for who I am and where I am (and even where I’m not).  Those are all things that money can’t buy, keep you happy, or plugged into the miracles of life.  I look for peace in everything.  And with age I’ve learned how critical it is to make a concerted effort to be peace, give peace, and accept that peace isn’t always going to look like you have the upper hand.

To be peace means that you choose to approach each day with gratefulness and an expectant heart for that which is good.  Every minute of every hour is not going to be something to write home about.  The volatile details that make up our lives can be challenging, annoying, and unnerving.  But, allowing those things to alter your attitude and drain the delight from your character will not change the story.  You have to be intentional about maintaining the energy that makes you bright, bold, and bountiful in your love for the delicate tapestry of your being.

To give peace means that you choose your battles.  I can think of more than a few things and offenses in my life that didn’t warrant a response or reaction, but I gave one.  And what exactly did that do besides cause a volcanic eruption of emotions between all parties involved?  I’d venture to say…nothing.  Sometimes it’s best to let things pass right on by.  And it’s not because you don’t have valid points, but because making those points is going to infringe on the harmony you need to be a better human.  In that moment, there’s so many more things of importance.

To accept that peace isn’t going to always look like the odds are in your favor means that you understand everyone you encounter is walking a path that you don’t know much if anything about.  Living ain’t easy, and all of us govern our lives according to our personal experiences.  The fact that we process and internalize differently can sometimes lead to rifts in relationships because we all want to be understood.  But, typically no one understands why we are who we are until the dust settles.  Frankly, some people have a little more living to do before they know what it means to give peace.  You have to be attuned to the concept of loving people where they are to tap into the peace of what it means to win the war instead of exhausting all of you on the battle.  A lot about life isn’t about you, and 99% of the time people know when they’re wrong.  So, when you have to be the mirror, be patient enough for people to see their reflection.  Accept that you haven’t lost anything or been forgotten.  You’re really a lifeline for someone who probably hasn’t had the courage to divulge and embrace they’re imperfections.

A life without peace is a life without joy.  And if you don’t have joy, then you simply don’t have life.  So, as long as I’m here, I choose peace because with that there are mountains I can climb, roads I can travel, seeds I can plant, and no limit to the skies that I can touch.

 

 

Monday’s Mantra: Show Up for You!

It’s about time some of us learned how to be selfish.  I know that’s prohibited and doesn’t sound all that compassionate or “churchy,” but that’s because it’s not meant to be either one of those things.  Women, in particular, don’t spend enough time loving who they are and celebrating what they do.  Instead we’re out here stressing ourselves to the max trying to

make our homes look like something from HGTV,

cook meals to satisfy a few picky palates,

refrain from being seen as “that employee” in the board room who goes against the status quo because you have a few non-conventional ideas,

make our selfies look like we’re having the time of our lives every weekend

and find the right outfit for a date with a stranger we’ve somehow been convinced we absolutely must impress because the holidays are coming and our eggs are vanishing one by one.

Well, that’s all fine and good until you recognize that you’re doing all of that for other people, and you’re basically a non-factor in the equation.

This week I challenge you to show up for y-o-u!  It’s not a bad thing for you to want to do something for yourself…to say no because you don’t feel like it…to spend your lunch break actually taking a break…to leave people behind who choose to act oblivious of your feelings…to confront who and what is giving you pause…to believe for a dream that’s so big that you have to chuckle…to let him figure out how you manage to make dinner, monitor homework, and pack lunches simultaneously (that’s what I call bad-assery!..he has no idea)…to take yourself out for dinner and pinot because you know you’re not desperate…to go outside and let out a scream because life is hard…to get in the car and just ride with no particular destination simply because you want to enjoy the scenery…to stop apologizing for how you feel…to present your business idea to the investors…to soak up every moment for what it is and continue handling life like a boss. Every day you have to live with you.  If you don’t ever invest anything into understanding what helps you to be great, everything you do, attract, and care for will be below average.  So, yes, do for others, but do for you too!

Grown Woman

Something happens when you hit 30.  It’s like you’ve spent the first two decades of your life with the lid on who you are because 1) you’re too busy trying to figure out exactly how to find yourself and 2) because planning your adventures with your friends seems more appealing than spending the night dissecting your psyche.  But, then 30 comes a’knockin’ and the lid is pulled back ever so slightly and suddenly you get a wift of wisdom and truth of where you are and who you’re shaping up to be.  Here’s what I know happens after the crossover…

You stop wasting time.  In your 20s, you think you have forever.  Why?  I can’t even begin to tell you.  Then, you realize that just like credit cards, there is a limit.  You start getting ish done so when you’re 40 you’ll look back and see your footprints.

You are okay with spending days (and nights too) alone doing absolutely nothing.  After you’ve exerted a considerable amount of energy trying to save corporate America or resolving vendor issues for your business, you really just want to sit on the couch with a glass of wine and a bowl of spaghetti (make that organic…perhaps spaghetti squash for the homemaker in you).

You tell people how you really feel, especially those you love, because your brain no longer has the space for sugar-coated and censored thoughts to reside.  IRAs, mortgages, gowns, and Gerber have now made a home there.

You stop putting up with the bull.  I think a large part of the reason why we choose to deal with drama is because we think it’s normal to take on someone else’s problems as our own.  It’s one thing to be there for someone, but it’s another thing to perpetuate lies, excuses, and immaturity because folks don’t want to deal with their stuff.  You are not a dump.  Stop taking trash.

You find out who your real friends are.  So many milestones can happen in your late 20s and early 30s, and everyone you thought would be there for the downs and even the ups will fade into black.  But, not to worry, you now know that one element to happiness is quality over quantity.  The smaller the circle, the easier it is to “live for the nights with the people you won’t forget!”  Shout out to Drizzy.

You learn how to enjoy yourself.  We are our own worst critics and rarely do we cut ourselves a break.  It’s okay to dance like no one is watching and do what YOU want to do!  You only get to do this life thing one time.  Eat the pizza.  Take the trip.  Tell him you love him.  Just be happy!

You discover your body’s fragility.  You understand that if you don’t take care of yourself physically and mentally, things will start to break and you’ll need more than an herbal detox and meditation to fix it.

You have now assessed the number of times you’ve been extended grace and you clearly see that all of life ain’t about you!  You’re the key to a blessing.  You’ve messed up (a lot!), but you’ve been cleaned up, packaged up, and set up for a larger path to greatness that others will travel.  At some point, you truly accept that God loves you enough to forgive you and He’s just waiting for you to forgive yourself.

You recognize that it’s okay to be less than impressed with yourself sometimes because let’s face it, we’re all liable to be human at some moment.  But, it’s never okay to reduce any part of your character to fit into a job, relationship, or “situationship.”  Everything and everyone is not for you, and whatever is for you, you won’t have to force.

You unearth a bit more patience for yourself and others.  You know perfection to be a lie and convenience to be a privilege.  No one is always right and sometimes you just have to wait on everything – from fast food to apologies.

As the song says, I do sit and wish I was a kid again sometimes.  And I don’t know that I truly believed people when they said your 30s will be different.  But, thankfully I survived the first year of what I hope will continue to be my most productive, stress free, and personal years of slayage.

Monday’s Mantra: Remember When

It’s amazing how quickly time passes. Can you believe we’re less than 20 days away from the 100th day of 2016!  Over the weekend, I found myself thinking about all that I’ve accomplished so far this year and the many opportunities I’ve had in my short life span. I try to make it a point to do some type of reflection on a regular basis as a way to be reminded and grateful for my blessings. I guess you can say it’s my mental exercise for cataloging my gratitude. Some people choose to make this a written exercise, which I do too.  Regardless of your preference, just the act of recalling has a way of helping you plant more seeds of confidence and expectancy for greater.

This weekend’s reflective moments brought me back to the time  I was selected to attend the first young adult conference at The Potter’s House about a year and a half ago. I was volunteering as a team leader for the young adult ministry at my church at the time and received a call from one of the ministry leaders inquiring about my interest.  The Potter’s House is the mega church in Dallas, TX led by the world renowned Bishop T.D. Jakes. Thousands of people from all walks of life attend this church every week in-person and online. Of course people have their opinions about mega churches, their pastors, clergy lifestyle, etc., but my comments on that are too lengthy for this post. But, I can say from firsthand experience that a church is only “mega” when you sit on the sidelines (again, another post for another day). Although I had heard Bishop Jakes speak on several occasions at my home church, I never thought I’d have the opportunity to hear him speak in his house. I mean Texas is cool, but I don’t get there often.

My trip to this conference turned out to be insightful, engaging, and fun! There were young adults there from countries I may not even get to in my lifetime! From a structural standpoint, the church itself was massive and indeed situated in what seems like the middle of nowhere (I wore flats just about every day)! I met a member of the Planetshakers (the Australian band most known for their song “The Anthem” – a very popular praise and worship song in churches all over the world), acquired good study material, and was able to sit in a front section seat for Sunday service. For anyone who has never attended a service at a mega church, that’s prime real estate! Now, whenever I see The Potter’s House or any of the Jakes’ family on TV programming, I think of that trip and how little ol’ me had a chance to experience all of that.  And the best part…it was at no expense to me at all.  *insert happy dance*

I can recall so many other moments in my life like this when I’ve had the ability to do things, go to places, and connect with people from other continents. It’s important that we remember where we’ve been and how we may have landed there, particularly as the young adult years begin to pass us by. We need those “remember when” moments for a few reasons: 1) for encouragement as we usher in new phases 2) as the spark that may facilitate a much needed laugh, and/or 3) perhaps as a reminder that all of us can be used to do anything. There may be things, people, and places we all want to be part of our story, but I think it’s imperative that we embrace where we’ve been in order to see the bountiful beauty in blessings big and small.

Gift Small: Businesses That Bring Me Cheer

The holidays are definitely upon us.  The fresh smell of pine and evergreen makes my soul happy!  Although I can do without the copious shopping ads I’m receiving in my inbox every hour, it’s beginning to feel and look a lot like Christmas!

Christmas to me is about honoring the birth of a Savior who is selfless, faithful, and loving even in this present day. His message encourages us all to live in a way where we can cheerfully give, uplift, and support the needs, dreams, and talents of others as best as we can.  So, in the spirit of this season, I wanted to take a moment to highlight a few small businesses created by individuals who I can personally attest are thoughtful, gifted, and inspiring.  I’ve patronized all of these businesses and believe in their vision as entrepreneurs and as givers to the communities in which they live and work.  And while I don’t think that Christmas is all about Santa, presents, and reindeer sleighs, I do think that it’s an opportunity for us to show the small business owners we know and adore that we believe in their dreams and what they have to give back to the world. Together, we can build and spread wealth to our family, neighbors, strangers, and friends.  I hope you will take some time to explore the businesses I’ve outlined below and what they have to offer. I’m proud of all of their accomplishments and look forward to what they’ll do next!

Happy Holidays to all!

Iyabo Alli, Accent Me
Iyabo is a woman of many talents and someone I have the pleasure of calling a dear friend.  Somehow between her responsibilities as an engineer, health coach, and model, she also makes customized bracelets for her jewelry business.  Each of her bracelets are unique to the individual(s) who will wear them because they are designed to represent personalities, promote unity within an organization, and/or bring awareness to a philanthropic, health, or social cause.  I have no idea how many bracelets I have accumulated at this point, but one of my favorites is pictured below with minty green beads!  To browse other designs and/or order a custom bracelet, you can like Iyabo’s Accentme Facebook page or contact her directly via e-mail.

 
Elaina & Alysia Bright, Skin Scholars
I still remember the day when Elaina & Alysia eagerly committed to this venture.  Their zest for creating pure and fun products has not wavered. As sisters who love nature and value the authenticity of ingredients in their rawest form, it’s no surprise that they have developed a skin care line made only with what your skin needs.  I’m a regular user of the The Healer Salve and the limited edition Gingerbread Body Polish.  Both of these products have helped to keep my skin supple and moisturized and are gentle enough for daily use.  There are a variety of other products to choose from that make perfect gifts for family and friends.  You can check out Skin Scholars at the Arlington Holiday Bazaar this Saturday, December 12th or order online at any time on their website or Etsy shop.

 
Kimery Williams, LeMark Photography
As an event planner and my particular love for visual curators of all kinds, I’m always scouting for uniquely skilled, personable photographers.  Taking a photo is so much more than pressing the shutter button on a camera.  To properly capture the creative and emotive essence of people and events, you must be able to genuinely connect to those from all walks of life, adapt to distinctive qualities of individuals and environments, exercise a considerable amount of patience no matter the client or situation, and quickly negotiate postures and props for a quality photo.  Kimery does all of this very well and with an exceptional level of professionalism, which I think is partially attributed to his studies and work as a soon to be criminal defense attorney.  I had the pleasure of working with him for a personal photo shoot this year that was relaxed, delightful, and even educational. It has also been exciting to see the results of his shoots with several of my other friends and colleagues. To view his portfolio and schedule a session for you or someone you love, you can visit his website.