Monday’s Mantra: Give Yourself Some Grace

A broken printer inspired this post.  I was grabbing papers from another printer that actually had toner available to create my pages when it occurred to me that I’ve repeated the same phrase in multiple conversations over the past week.  As I’ve listened to stories from close friends and acquaintances or been asked to give my opinion on a few things, my parting words were the same…”Give yourself some grace.”

For much of our days, we’re battling against ourselves.

We try something new.  We question it.

We put action behind our idea.  We doubt it and whether what we’ve produced is worthy of recognition.  

We use our voice in a space outside of our comfort zone.  We think our contribution isn’t valuable.

We achieve goals that we’ve set.  We fear that we’ve still missed the mark.

We never honor the energy we use to prepare, produce, and present the skill or gift we’ve been given.  This is negative self-talk, and it inhibits the ability to operate from a place of confidence, love, and power.  While life may constantly feel like a race, it’s not.  I can’t even dress that up, because it’s a fact that doesn’t deserve a few extra minutes of my time scrolling through an online thesaurus to make it sound eloquent.  We’re not here to race each other to the top (because really the “top” is subjective and doesn’t even look the same for everyone), and we shouldn’t go to war with ourselves every time we attempt to do what represents who we are.  So, when I say “give yourself some grace,” I mean:

Release the thought that your work has to be perfect for someone to care or enjoy it.  If you gave it your best and showed up authentically for the task, anything you think is an error will probably go unnoticed.  And besides, we’re all entitled to a mistake.  Get it out there, and fix it next time.

Recognize that conflict is part of life and you won’t agree with everyone on everything. Have the dialogue, respect the differences, and don’t feel guilty about your stance.  The keys to resolution are respect and communication.  We can all learn from each other and expand our isolated views.

When someone or something is draining you, be okay with walking away to protect your peace.  This doesn’t make you a bad person.  It actually makes you smart, because you’ve demonstrated self-awareness by establishing personal boundaries.

Acknowledge and celebrate your accomplishments.  It’s easy to feel like you haven’t done enough when you’re comparing.  The reflective part is whether you pursued and achieved these things for yourself or the approval of people who weren’t going to clap for you anyway.  Clap for yourself!  There are many people who could only dream of having some of your opportunities.  Don’t discount where you’ve come from by getting so focused on doing more that you question whether you’ve done anything at all.  I’m sorry, but that certificate, that community event, that home you wanted, that promotion, that (insert achievement here) is something!

The moral of the story is that the next time your thoughts are teetering on the ledge of crudeness and compassion, choose to give yourself some grace!

 

Birthday rEVOLution

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I’m a little over two weeks into what many presume is my “Jesus Year.”  While I had never heard of this reference during any of my previous decades on Mother Earth until recently, I did some perusing of online sources to understand the significance.  In short, I learned that this is the year when I’m supposed to get serious about life and perhaps experience a spiritual awakening.  The connection to Jesus is centered around his age at the time of his crucifixion and ultimately resurrection at what’s believed to have been 33 years old.  Now, I could’ve found myself crawling down a hole of additional searches and historical fact checking, but instead I’ve elected to ascribe this reference to our propensity as humans to look for associations and links to everything in order to find meaning.  It’s just what we do, and I don’t see it as good or bad.  I guess it also further proves that I am much farther removed from the Internet than I thought.  *shrug*  But, as I think about how another year of life has shaped up for me, I can honestly say that I’m proud.  I’ve done much more before 33 than my family probably could’ve imagined.  And I’ve definitely had to ascend a few mountains along the way that increased my capacity to breathe, endure, and hold on in what often seemed like an interminable cycle.  None of that happens without a progression in maturity, faith, and a comeback!

In today’s age, life can feel so rushed and/or it never seems like you’re doing enough in any aspect.  It probably doesn’t help that it has become incredibly easy to hop on the comparison train when our technological capabilities have propelled us into a new era of communication.  I will not claim to have figured it all out and done anything perfectly.  But, for every opened door and nudge to leap, I know that I’ve done A LOT that has given my life new meaning and certainly required that I step into the challenges of adulthood long before adding the 33rd candle to the cupcakes.

Even though this birthday is now in my rear view, I celebrate every time I had to redefine my attitude, perspective, and plans to become more in tune with myself and acknowledge my need for God.  I know that in this year and in those to come, there will be more transitions.  My hope is that I will continue to grow through this life with love for myself and the uniqueness of my being for the good of the world we all share.  So, here’s to me continuing my revolution!

Mental Mazes

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As an accumulator of words, I tend to randomly record my thoughts as I’m moving about and navigating the labyrinth that is the DMV commute.  Oddly enough, these colloquies that I have with myself in my head and then jot down in a frenzy to avoid forgetting and to clear some space for more mental capital, will often surface in one of my online repositories at what seems like a very relevant point in time.  The story you will read below is an example of one of those moments when the discovery of things I’ve written on the go and the context of a personal experience align and seem appropriate to share.  And although this is something that occurred several months ago, it’s still so relevant in light of our current state of affairs surrounding mental health and wholeness.

I saw something on the train this morning that found a cozy seat in my mind for the remainder of the day. As we whizzed past the trees and buildings and I attempted to focus on my morning ritual of reading, I happened to glance up and noticed another young woman reading too.  Ok, what’s so surprising about that?  Well, she had her e-reader open that was shielding what she was actually reading – a book on depressive illness.  I can still see that title in big, blue text with the image of a person holding the world on her back.  And in that moment, my world literally stopped because I had so many thoughts swirling.  First off, this was the same woman whose curls I had just finished admiring as we climbed the escalator.  The curls were poppin’!  I remember saying to myself, “I wish my curls were that cute!  Go girl!”  But, then I started feeling sad and wondering why such a young, beautiful, and Black woman was trying to hide from a train full of strangers that she was reading a book about depression.  Now, she could’ve easily been reading it for a class, to help a loved one, or for her professional development.  I shall never know.  But, I do know that it troubled me that she didn’t feel like she could be free.  And then, it was like wow, how many of us are riding into the city every day to do work that we like but aren’t passionate about while also trying to juggle emotional scars, financial woes, racism, and/or relational drama?  Or how many of us don’t feel like we quite fit where we thought we would?

Those are heavy questions that are coupled with elaborate situations and complex answers.  But, no one should ever feel as though they have to carry it all alone.  The load is always lighter when there’s help.  I hope that one day we can all experience the freedom of riding through this life with genuine company and some consolation that we are not our insecurities or fears, or the misrepresented labels that others have deemed appropriate for characterizing our being.  My hope is that we also figure out how we can freely rise to…reach out to those around us and reach deep within ourselves to embrace our individuality.

We’re All Crazy!

So, let me telIMG_5481l y’all about this thing called love!  It’s big.  It’s scary.  It’s hard.  It’s exciting.  It’s work.  It’s fun.  It’s forgiving.  It’s work.  It’s passionate.  It’s breathtaking.  It’s kind.  And it’s work.  Did you get that?  It’s work!  I think somewhere between a Disney princess story and ratchet reality TV, we’ve embraced an illusion that love is flowers, hearts, name brands, and shiny karats.  But, if you’ve ever loved another human being with your whole heart, then you know it’s so much more to it than that.  In no way am I suggesting that love doesn’t feel like sunshiny days.  It does.  And it can certainly produce those butterfly feelings.  However, it’s not perfect either.  And it’s what?  Work!

I’m sure most of us have learned by now that humans are very special creatures.  We’re beautiful, but we’re annoying.  We’re kind, but we’re stubborn.  We’re compromising, but we’re selfish.  Basically, we’re all made up of a hell of a lot of contradictions, and that’s why loving each other is hard and somehow in an oddly glamourous way also rewarding.  While I’ve yet to understand the complexity and rationale of such a formula, I know that embracing the crazy and unlovable parts of one another is what makes love worthwhile.  Because there are going to come times when romance is the center of your desires for the one you love, and then also times when you want to poke your eyes out because this same person has gotten on what you thought was your last nerve!  Like can someone pass me a mountain so I can stand on top of it and scream?  Woosah.  Yet and still you’d rather have them on the mountain next to you so you don’t have to camp out alone under the pitch-black sky.

There will also be times when your love shows up in sacrifice.  You’ll watch his favorite sarcastic comedy, wake up early to iron her shirt, double back to the store because you know he ran out of something, eat enchiladas instead of pizza because she loves Mexican, or take a personal day to make him endless cups of tea until he feels better.  None of this will ever be about you not being true to yourself or doing things you really don’t want to do.  Let’s face it…if you didn’t want to do it, you wouldn’t.  It will simply be a small gesture of adoration to say, hey, I see you and in this moment you are greater.  Because when you’re comfortable in your own skin and love wholeheartedly, putting someone else before you isn’t a sign of weakness or diminishing of self – it’s a demonstration of humility.

Love is an exquisite form of actively showing, giving, and committing yourself to being the best friend, supporter, and partner you can be.  It’s looking at his flaws and still saying, yup, he’s the one.  It’s declaring that no matter how she sees herself today, you’ll still think she’s worth it tomorrow.  It’s reveling in that state of human contradiction with someone you thought you could live without, but now recognize you’re stronger when you’re together.  Love is probably going to be your toughest challenge and your best example of meaningful work.  You won’t be able to sit idly by and hope it all comes together.  With that posture, it won’t.  There are requirements, and one of them is you.  That’s part of the reason why “love” is my word of the year, because I want to give more love, receive more love, and watch love manifest into my wildest dreams.  So, yes, live in the fairytale and keep chivalry alive, but when the pixie and chariot dust settles, be about the work!  Only then will you benefit from love’s magic.

P.S. These words are a representation of my perspective and experiences.  I am not and likely will never be a professional love doctor.  I’m out here every day trying to balance love with logic and emotion with reality.  #thatisall

This is 32.

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I’ve always been tickled and slightly perplexed by the fact that once you surpass 25, the years seem to go by faster!  You blink and literally 10 years are on the books and you’re sitting there trying to figure out what happened on all of those days in between!  I mean if I can be honest, Jeopardy, Sudoku, and Lumosity are a large part of the reason my memory is still somewhat sharp!  However, I’m fortunate in that I can look back on even the last year and be mesmerized by the experiences that have cheered me on, made me cry, accelerated my thinking, granted new opportunities, and doubled my sky miles.  There were times when I knew undoubtedly that the only reason why all of my being hadn’t fallen into a sea of despondence was because of grace.  I learned how to receive the gift that it is, but more importantly, how to give it when every part of me just wanted to step aside from the palm trees so I could throw some real shade! There were also moments when I’d be in a room full of highly accomplished and financially prosperous people wondering how in the world is there a seat at this table with a perfectly placed name tent in Arial font for ME.  Who am I?!  You should know that imposter syndrome is a real thing, and it can zap every bit of your happiness about any of what you’ve done that you personally deem successful.  And as a Black woman, it’s heavier than any words I could ever formulate into a sentence.

What you’ll likely discover is that one of the best things about life is that so much of it is bigger than you.  With everything happening all at once, it’s easy to be overwhelmed, lonely, and feel like you’re living in the twilight zone.  But, somehow the universe has a way of helping you to balance the scales and continue to move full throttle toward another day.  So, on this birthday, I celebrate the topple and the ascent of who I am as a growing adult and complex human being.  While the voyage to whatever adulthood really is can be volatile, I know that it will continue to be one that I pursue with confidence, peace, and that extra dash of splendor as a woman who is proud to be bold, Black, and excelling under the mantle of the Highest angel.

This is 32.

Basic & Proud

My mom always says that my kids are going to have to come to her house to eat the “bad” foods because the only things I ever have are carrots, crackers, and broccoli!  While there may be some truth to that, let it be known that the odds of me ever parting with French fries or chocolate chip cookies is pretty slim.  Therefore, I’m quite sure they won’t go their entire childhood without “bad” foods!  In my mom’s most recent attempt to IMG_2913jokingly point out my preference to buy healthy and sometimes organic foods, it inspired me to share my desire for the “good” stuff.

I am not that woman who buys EVERYthing organic and always remembers my reusable shopping bags.  I need my grocery budget to go the distance.  I don’t grind my own peanuts in the fancy machines to produce peanut butter on the spot nor do I always have the discipline to bypass the donuts on the way to the cash register.  But, I am the woman who loves food.  And I am the woman who has started investing more time and energy in reading labels and caring about what I eat.

The real reason I have less of the “bad” and more of the “good” in my pantry and fridge these days is because much of the food that’s available to us is made with ingredients I can’t even pronounce!  Have you ever picked up a loaf of bread and actually looked at the label?  First off, if it says “high fructose corn syrup” I’m definitely dropping it like it’s hot.  Most of the time if you keep reading, it’s a chemical alphabet soup.  I thought bread was supposed to be basic??  Flour, yeast, sugar, salt, water?!  Of course the reason why all of these preservatives are in a typical loaf is to increase shelf life.  But, umm it’s bread.  And I like basic bread!  So, I spend the extra few bucks to get basic bread!  Oh, and let’s talk about oatmeal.  Again, I am that woman who has to take shortcuts sometimes, so I buy instant oatmeal packets.  I save the hearty oats in the canister for weekends.  #winning   There was a time when I never cared about the ingredients in these packets.  I just knew one packet was enough sustenance until lunch.  One day I flipped the box over and read the label.  Let’s just say I never bought those same packets again.  I switched to the organic oats because I wanted a basic and fast oatmeal breakfast.  You know…whole grain oats, sugar, and salt.  Why are we overcomplicating this?  And trust me when I tell you that the organic version tastes completely different than the regular one.  What a novel idea that real food tastes better.

Although I would love to spare my wallet a few dollars and get back the time I’ve spent trying to find healthier alternatives to the foods that I like, I’m becoming more invested in what I choose to consume.  I’ll spend 30 cents more on organic bananas and strawberries if it means less pesticides swirling around with the cells that constitute my anatomy.  And I’ll buy the organic chicken breasts for my stir fry if it means the pieces aren’t full of antibiotics and as big as a toddler’s arm!  The truth is that every day I’m learning more about “organic” versus “natural” and our country’s food standards.  I don’t ever intend to be a farm girl where I have more control over what I grow and eat.  But, for some things, give me the basics, because the overabundance of processed food and our contaminated environments are slowly deteriorating our bodies.

I can’t promise that I won’t eat an Oreo before the night is through or grab some waffle fries for my next lunch.  Let’s face it…I do like to indulge and be happy, so Mom can stash a few “bad” foods for me too when I come to visit.  However, I will balance it out with some foods that are whole and foods that should never be anything more than basic!

Eat, drink, and splurge on organic when you can, my friends!  It does your taste buds and body real good!

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