The Bigger Picture

The Bigger Picture

Family is so important. Being a military brat has taught me that family is not always the people you grew up with or have a blood connection with. A lot of the people in my life now that I call family I’m not even related to but I have either known them most of my life via the military or they’ve come into my life during a crutial period and we developed a strong familial bond. Growing up military and marrying into the military I have a slew of aunts and uncles scattered all over the world; people I haven’t seen since I was a child but I still call them aunt or uncle. My kids have the same connections with people that they’ve known all of their lives that they call aunt or uncle with cousins attached.

I think because of the experiences I’ve had with having so many people in our lives not be actual relatives but become “actual” relatives it opened my mind up and allowed me to be more open to certain situations in my life. If you’ve read some of my previous blogs you’ll know that I am divorced and remarried. One of the toughest situations in divorce is when your spouse moves on and brings another person into your children’s lives. It is not an easy process and there are a lot of mixed emotions. Sometimes it depends on the circumstances of the situation and other times it could be personalities that clash but my situation didn’t start off on the right foot. I had no desire to meet or get to know the person that my ex had brought into my children’s lives. This was part immaturity on my part and there was still alot of pain that I was trying to work myself through. Many times my ex husband brought forward the recommendation of us meeting and building some type of report under the premise of if something happened to him he wanted to insure that the children stayed in touch. I would always respond that won’t be a problem. I would never keep the girls away from their brother. I think it was easier for my ex and his wife to want to open the lines of communication because they were both products of divorce and I was not. I did not understand why it was even necessary for me to talk to his wife as long as I could communicate with him. As long as she was kind to my children, communicating with her wasn’t necessary for me.

Over time, as God began to work on me, I started to see things differently. I started to grow and learn more about myself. I started moving forward and I stopped operating out of a place of pain and anger. Most importantly, I stopped thinking about what wasn’t necessary for me but more so what was necessary for my kids. I still had a great relationship with my in laws and would still go and visit. This meant that there would be times where I would have to share space or be in the same area as my ex and his wife. Initially this was uncomfortable but over time the more I saw them and spoke to her the easier it became to continue to speak to her. We would see each other during drop offs for summer or the holidays and these moments also further increased my openness to learning more about the person that was aiding in raising our daughters.

By the time I met my husband I had gotten into a much better head space. I was able to directly communicate with the girls stepmom and even sometimes preferred communicating with her over my ex! (Who would’ve thunk it?!). But getting married again further opened me up to the importance of building relationship with the girls stepmom. I further saw the value in it because once again I removed myself and my feelings from the situation and focused more on what was best for the children. Not only that I further understood my ex husbands position when he wanted me and his wife to get along. I wanted him and my husband to get along as well.  I also found myself thinking how blessed are my children that they have two sets of parents? It doesn’t seem like a blessing initially because they are going back and forth between two homes, with separate sets of rules and expectations but really it is. They have two rooms full of stuff, they often recieve lots of gifts at Christmas not just because of us parents but the grandparents they’ve inherited and other family members that send them gifts.  They get to go to places like disney and other theme parks in Florida sometimes twice a year because they get two separate family vacations. But the most important thing is the amount of love they recieve from all parties involved; people who want the best for them and want to see them succeed in life.

Too often I have seen relationships fall apart and the parents can’t seem to get on the same page especially when there’s a step parent involved. While we may not always agree with the other parent or the step parent, they aren’t the enemy. (It took me a long time to come to this realization). The girls didn’t always have the strongest relationship with their dad but over time it enhanced and grew to something beautiful. I have always encouraged that relationship and I think his wife did the same. No matter what we may feel about the other parent what is most important is that we push our kids to connect with that parent, to love that parent, to respect that parent. It is immature and selfish for us to stand in the way of that relationshiop with both the biological parent and the step parent. The best advice I can give someone who is in this type of situation is stop making it about you. It’s not. It’s not about your feelings or how much you’ve been hurt or what they have put you through. Your feelings have nothing to do with the kids and they are something you need to personally work through on your own or in therapy. I am aware that there may be extenuating circumstances that make these types of situations difficult or even impossible but for situations that aren’t parents need to learn to step outside the box of what people normally do or your friends saying “I wouldn’t want anything to do with her/him!” Believe me I get it. I stated numerous times that I would never have a relationship with or even speak to my kids step mom. Let’s just say God made me eat those words!

Now we are in a place where we can share holidays together and other family events. It’s not weird or uncomfortable for all four of us to be in the same space and hold conversations, have dinner, talk about the kids or other experiences. It took work. A lot of hard work for all parties involved. And it’s still not always easy. Often times when people over hear me talking to my ex on the phone or hear about us all doing something together they stare at me like it’s the craziest thing that they’ve ever heard. But what I think is crazy is that more divorced or broken couples don’t aim to make these kinds of situations their goal for their kids. You don’t have to be best friends. You don’t have to talk everyday. But establishing that relationship helps make it to where your kids don’t feel like they have to choose between parents. It makes it so that for some holidays or some birthday parties your kids can have all of their parents and siblings together in one room (which makes my kids really happy and that’s the point). I am grateful that my children have a stepmom that is caring and wants to be there for them. I am grateful that she is active in their lives just as I am sure that my ex is happy that my kids have a step father around to play an active role in our girls lives, to protect and care for them. Family isn’t always the people you choose but they can be the best people for the life God has blessed you with.

It’s Your Unique Journey

It’s Your Unique Journey

Have you ever watched something happen for someone else and wondered “How?” I know I am not the only one who has had experiences where I really needed something to happen. I’ve prayed about it and done all of this leg work behind it and just knew that all of my efforts were going to pay off only to turn around and see that exact thing come to fruition for someeone else. While I expressed joy and excitement for them I would also think “Wow, how did that happen so fast? What did they do differently from me? I wonder if they have any ideas that could help me?”

Truthfully, most of the time the situations where we see things happening for others and not for us has more to do with our journery and not someone else’s. We can talk to that person and say “Hey what did you do to get your home sold so fast?” or “What did you do to get 1,000 followers?” or “How did you find your husband and know that he was the one?” but the steps that they took and the decisions that they made can be shared with us- doesn’t mean that it would work for us. While it’s awesome to share and acquire knowledge, when applying what we’ve learned sometimes that exact blue print that the other person shared may not yield the exact same results that they achieved.

I’ve learned that often times people may not share everything that they had to go through behind the scenes to reach that level of success or to meet that particular goal. Because a lot of the times it’s hard. There are a lot of things they had to struggle through and overcome to get there. There may have been a lot of preparation and work, blood, sweat, tears, doubts, frustrations that they had to endure to reach those results. A great reminder is a message I’ve heard in church where the Pastor says “Don’t be jealous of what others have. You didn’t have to walk through what they walked through to get what they have.” I’ve found this to be so true.

When I started dating my husband, many people would ask me questions about our dating process. They would ask how I knew he was the one. When we got engaged people really started asking more questions about pretty much how I got this man to propose and eventually marry me! I would even find myself encouraging other single friends about how to trust God and how to find contentment in their lives because that’s how it all happened for me. Those were some of the steps I took to prepare myself for my future husband. But exactly how I did what I did may not work for the next person. I could try to explain things step by step but that doesn’t mean it would happen for them exactly as it happened for me by following those steps. Not only that, the hell that I had to walk through to get to where I was at was not something anyone would choose to walk through even knowing the end result. Don’t get me wrong I would choose my husband a million times over again in this life and the next and the next but I know he was meant for me.

What I didn’t know was that I was going to choose to get married at an early age without knowing the importance of seeking God first and secondly, ensuring that the person I was marrying had the same goals in life as I did. I didn’t know that over the course of that marriage I was going to lose my mother, my father, my mother in law, myself. I was going to endure some very tough situations regarding infidelity, physical assault, consistent arguments, anger, unbearable pain, birthing a child without the father being present, long deployments or other separations, raising two kids mostly alone, divorcing with no job and struggling to survive depression. If I had said to the people asking all of these questions about my love life hey this is how you get there… “First you have to go through all of the things that I listed and then tack on several years of being alone yearning, desiring so deeply for God to send you someone to love and to love you that you’ll make really poor decisions in the dating department; decisions that you hope your daughters never make. Then after walking through all of that you’ll eventually get to the good part.” well that wouldn’t be as appealing.

It’s not about how someone does something. It’s more about their personal journey. We all have dreams and goals that we are trying to achieve. For some it’s having a family for others it’s having a career or traveling the country. We may encounter people along the way who motivate and inspire us. We may learn from people about their different experiences or what it took for them to reach their level of success. We can hear about or read about how someone achieved their success or met their goal  and we may be able to take certain parts of their journey and apply it to ours. But every step they took will not benefit us because we have to take our own path. Our journey is unique to us. We can overcome different circumstances and obstacles via encouragement from others’ words or examples, but applying what we’ve learned and how we learned it is unique to us. 

I have a home that we have been trying to sell and it hasn’t sold. Yet. But I have prayed and believed with so many people on the selling of their home. When we put our home up for sell I was confident that it wouldn’t take long. We had sowed seed and fasted so this home was as good as sold, right? Then the strangest things started to happen. At least three people that I was in relationship with put their home on the market to sell and literally within a day or even a week’s time frame their homes sold. Meanwhile my home is still just sitting there months later. I can’t tell you how many times I rejoiced with them and then had thoughts of “Ok what did we do wrong? What are we missing? How in the world did that happen? Maybe we didn’t put enough work into it?” I mean the thoughts would just start pouring in. But one day I stopped my word spiral and as I prayed God reminded me that I was not on the same path as them. He was doing something different for me and in me and that I just needed to trust the journey that I was uniquely on. He reminded me not to worry about how it happened for them and when it was going to happen for us, but that IT WOULD HAPPEN. 

So sometimes instead of focusing on the plan; instead of thinking of what steps we can take or trying to mimic the exact process of others, we need to learn how to remind ourselves that we are on our own separate journey. As we walk our path we can and will pick up different things that may fit into our puzzle but we should not get discouraged by the fact that everything we picked up to use didn’t work exactly how we thought it would work. God tailors certain things specific to each person because He knows us better than we know ourselves. He knows what we need. He knows what set of skills we need to acquire to move forward into the next phase of life. Embrace your unique journey. Ask God for the wisdom and knowledge you need and as He leads you continue to walk your path in confidence knowing whatever it is that you desire IT WILL HAPPEN.

The Lessons of Pain

The Lessons of Pain

There are so many things I’ve learned in life either via others or through the mistakes I’ve made. Nothing has taught me more lessons than pain. If it wasn’t for the whippings I got as a kid, I wouldn’t have learned to stop doing things I had no business doing. The pain from getting in trouble taught me what boundaries not to cross. If it wasn’t for mistakes I made in relationships early on such as dating the wrong person or allowing people to treat me a certain way, I wouldn’t have learned what I needed out of the people I choose to be in relationship with. The pain from those encounters taught me what I wanted out of relationships but most importantly what I deserved. Pain is good at opening your eyes to the areas of life you need to grow in.

Pain is a great motivator. When we find ourselves in situations where we are dealing with a lot of emotional or even physical pain we use that pain to become more determined not to get into this type of situation again. For example, I’ve had moments where I’ve said some not so nice things about someone. Whatever I said got back to that person and while I was sorry that their feelings were hurt it wasn’t until I experienced the pain of this exact thing happening to me where I learned that I needed to change. The pain from that experience motivated me to be a better person. It taught me that if you don’t want it to happen to you then don’t do it someone else. My parents would always tell us growing up to treat people the way you want to be treated. Learning the true meaning behind this saying has taught me how necessary it is to genuinely treat people the way you want to be treated.

Pain is a great boundary setter. Sometimes we find ourselves in relationships where we put a great amount of trust in someone. We convince ourselves that this person would never hurt us, lie to us, manipulate us, or mistreat us in anyway. While that person may have the goal to never do those things, people are human. They make mistakes and we often make bad decisions out of self preservation. When this person that we trust immensely does something to hurt us, whether intentional or not, it opens our eyes to how one, we’ve maybe set up an unrealistic expectation, and two, we need to set some boundaries for ourselves. It’s good to have people that you can trust and confide it. It’s good to have people who you can lean on and trust during difficult times. Relationships are meant for those reasons. That does not mean we should not have boundaries established, not to prevent us from being hurt-I believe that’s inevitable, but so that we can teach people how to treat us. It’s good for us to let those around us know what our expectations are in relationships so that can eliminate the possibility of unnecessary pain from unknown expectations.

Pain is a great reminder. Have you ever had a situation where something bad happened? You made a bad decision? Someone you knew you shouldn’t have trusted did something awful to you? You tried something one time and it didn’t go well but you tried it again anyway? We initially tell ourselves when something we don’t like happens that we’ve learned a lesson and will never do that again, but we don’t always stick to that. For instance, I am a giving person. I love helping people. If I have the means to help financially or in any other way I will do my best to make it happen. I have siblings and other relatives who would often find themselves in financial ruts and would call to borrow money. I would help them out every time that I could. When I was married to my ex we both helped out people in our family a lot. Sometimes they would pay us back and other times not so much. We’ve lost thousands of dollars helping people. You would think that alone would be the lesson to us to not loan to those same people or loan at all. Well, not initially. At least not for me.

The biggest lesson I learned from this was when I became a single mother. My finances were often really tight. I stayed on a strict budget for many years. I had a family member who was known for being shady and untruthful but, me being me, I always give the benefit of the doubt. This person asked to borrow some money and I allowed them to borrow it with the stipulation that I would have it back by a certain time because I needed it for a bill. Well that time came and passed. Reaching out to this person resolved nothing. I got no response and here I was trying to figure out how I was going to pay this bill. It was the pain from this lesson that taught me not to ever put myself in this type of situation again. And I haven’t. Every time I think of letting someone borrow money the pain of this situation kind of dings me. If I can’t afford to lose it then no one can borrow it- meaning if I’ll miss it if the person doesn’t repay me then that would be a no to them borrowing anything from me. Being remarried with a different mindset we aim now to bless. We’ll pay a bill for someone, treat someone to dinner or do whatever God leads us to do with no expectation from the other person.

Pain is great at revealing the truth. Especially about ourselves. In certain situations we experience we tend to want to put most of the blame, if not all of it on the other person. We convince ourselves that we didn’t do anything wrong, we didn’t deserve this, we are like 98% perfect so we definitely played no role in what happened. In some instances this may be slightly true, but I’ve learned in almost every situation there’s a small or significant role we played in to what happened. We can be so wrapped up in our pain that we don’t see how we are partially to blame. We don’t want to be held accountable for our actions. Going through my divorce was one of the most difficult experiences I have ever encountered in my life. Most people who have been through this experience will compare it to the loss of a loved one. You feel like someone has died that is how painful the experience is.

I wanted to and did put so much of the blame on my ex. I did not want to face the truth in how my actions played a role in and also lead to the destruction of our marriage. While he was unfaithful several times and did a slew of other painful things, I was not perfect. I talked too much! I created an uncomfortable home environment by not being in control of my emotions and expecting him to consistently read my mind. I was controlling and didn’t listen to his needs well enough. I broke the trust in our marriage by sharing things that he shared with me in confidence to my friends. I expected him to make me happy instead of doing what I needed to do for me to make myself happy. If it wasn’t for the deep, deep pain of going through this divorce, taking the time to stop and self reflect and then start applying what I was learning so that I could become better I wouldn’t be the woman I am today. I wouldn’t be remarried to the awesome man I have in my life now. I wouldn’t be able to take the lessons I learned before and apply them to my marriage now.

So don’t run from the pain you experience in your life. Don’t let those moments where you feel like you don’t know what to do or the pain is so difficult that you don’t know how you’ll make it through take away from the lessons you could learn. We need pain. Pain alerts us that something isn’t right. Pain tells us that changes need to be made. Pain encourages us to learn, grow, and be better. Examine the areas of life where you are struggling. Look at the pain tied to those areas and use it to help motivate you, teach you to set boundaries, remind you of decisions you made previously and to tell you the truth about those around you or yourself. Don’t block out pain or shy away from it, allow pain to push you into greatness!

What Are You Saying to Yourself?

What Are You Saying to Yourself?

We all have thoughts wondering around in our head all throughout the day. Some of those thoughts might be a list of things we have to do at home, with the kids, with our significant others, at church. The list could be endless. Other thoughts could be positive and encouraging while some maybe not so much. As often as I try to stay on the positive side of things in my mind or in reference to others, those negative thoughts creep in more frequently than I would like.

Truthfully I’m much kinder to other people than I am to myself. I often give the benefit of the doubt to people when they respond to me a certain way or exhibit certain behaviors. If they’re rude or say something that hurts my feelings I usually go “Well maybe they are just having a bad day.” If they make a mistake I’m more likely to lift them up and remind them that mistakes happen but for a long period of time I didn’t do this for myself. I’ve gone through some rough patches in life where I really wasn’t too kind on myself. I realized when I was much older that the things I said in my head to myself had not been so kind for years-going back as far as my teenage years.

One particular stage I went through was very hard overall but especially mentally. Maybe one of the toughest stages of life that I have encountered in quite some time. While I was balancing a lot and dealing with a lot of things emotionally my mental thought process did not help me at all. As hard as I tried to encourage myself or be positive I still had thoughts of “You’re not good enough.” “You can’t do anything right.” “You just keep messing up!” “You’re not valuable.” “You’re not important.” “You aren’t helpful to those around you.” Some of these thoughts even carried into feelings of just wanting to be left alone. I didn’t want people to rely on me or ask me for anything because I struggled with being able to rise to the occassion. My thought life gradually got worse and worse. Have you ever noticed when you’re in a negative space that it will seem like there are people in your life that will confirm the negative thoughts you think about you? That’s how I felt! And it wasn’t always what people were saying, it was how they responded to me or how they didn’t respond that would send me into a mental tail spin of self condemnation.

I dug myself into this black hole. I couldn’t get over the feelings of inadequacy and loneliness I felt. I would just sit in those thoughts for hours. They would build up and spill over bit by bit every day. Things that I used to be able to overlook or move on from with little to no effort grew like weeds in my mind. I felt like I was constantly at war with myself. The positive attributes I knew I possessed; who I knew myself to be were constantly battling who I had convinced myself I now was. I had moments where I would be like “How did I get here?” “What is wrong with me?” “Why am I doing this to myself?” It was a vicious cycle that I wanted to be free from but didn’t know how to get out of it. Even if someone said something positive to me I couldn’t recieve it. I had one person who consistently told me how great I was. She wasn’t the only person who said kind things to me but she was most consistent. She would tell me how great I was or how much she appreciated me and it got to a point where she would say it and I’d think “She does not know how badly I messed up today! Otherwise she wouldn’t think I was so great!” How sad is that?!

I got to a point where I knew something had to change. I couldn’t continue to operate like this. With several different steps and the support of those around me I started to turn the unworthy train I was riding on around. It takes work, real work to change your thoughts. It has to be something you are conscious of and that you practice on changing. It’s not an overnight fix or an easy, quick turn around. There are steps that have to be taken to see growth and change. Before I share some of the things that helped me get better I want to ask you to think of the things you say to yourself. Write them down and then write things that contradict those thoughts. We are all confident in certain areas of life but struggle through something else.

For instance, we may be confident at work but struggle as a wife/husband. We may feel like a great partner but struggle with parenting. We may feel like an awesome employee but a terrible friend. Sometimes because we are thriving in one area of life when we say negative things about where we are struggling we feel like we are ok saying those negative things to ourselves because it doesn’t apply to everything. Because it doesn’t apply to everything then the harsh way we treat ourselves about that one thing isn’t so bad is what we think. Or we convince ourselves that every one says negative things to themselves so it’s not that big of a deal. I’ve done and said both of these things. I felt like a great friend but an awful employee! A great wife but an awful mom. Because I felt like I was doing well in one area I convinced myself that it was ok to condemn myself in the area I didn’t feel great at.  But that negativity seeps over into every area of your life at some point. You’ll start speaking things that are not true to yourself even in the areas of life you initially felt you were prospering in which is why it’s important to learn to control your thoughts. 

Some of the steps I took to help me get into a better head space were:

  1. Seek therapy. What I like about therapy is that it’s a neutral party. They don’t know anything about you except for what you tell them and what they observe while you are with them. They don’t tell you what you should do about whatever issues you may be experiencing but they give you the tools to figure things out for yourself. They help you to think more clearly.
  2.  Pray & read the Bible. During this particular time frame I found it hard to pray for myself. It was difficult for me to find the words so I consistently asked God to help me. Whenever I had those overwhelming moments when I would doubt myself or tear myself  apart I’d catch myself and just say “God help me! Help me to see myself the way you see me.” Then I would look up scriptures to read about who God is and who God says I am. This opened my prayer life back up.
  3. Write things down. Journaling helps. Not everyone likes to journal. Writing isn’t for everyone. I like to journal and it really helps me process my feelings. I can often look back at what I wrote and recognize how irrational I am being in that moment. If you don’t like to journal get post it notes. Write nice things to yourself and leave them on your bathroom mirror or where you will see them most.
  4. Talk to friends and family about how you feel. When you have a great support system it really helps because often times people around us see us totally different than we see ourselves. Those that love you can be realistic with you but you’d be surprised at how much more positively they see you than you see yourself. 
  5. Go against the bad, negative, poor thoughts that you say to yourself. I am currently reading a book recommended to me by someone that I respect and admire. It’s called Me, Myself & Lies by Jennifer Rothschild.  One of the things she shares is an interview she had with someone and this person discussed how she went against the negative thoughts in her head. She has a three step approach that goes as follows: Refuse things that are inaccurate, unkind, or unedifying; replace them with what is good, pure and just; and then repeat that process for as long as it takes to bring your thoughts under control.

We all go through hard situations in life. Life is not always easy but somethng that can help us get through those tough moments is how we talk to ourselves. How we treat ourselves is important. I remind myself everyday that I am not perfect but I am doing my very best. I am amazing, I am loved, I am valuable, I have purpose and whatever negative thing somene else feels about me is not my problem. I really want to encourage you to get some positive affirmations about yourself and start speaking them to yourself. It will change how you handle life and how you respond to those around you. You can do it because you’re amazing!

Where’s Your Focus?

Where’s Your Focus?

Have you ever been in a situation where someone has come in and decided that there needed to be some changes made? Maybe it’s new management or people new to a church or place of business. From our perspective walking into something we can see how so many things need to change without knowing anything about the people, organization, or the insides. We don’t have the inside scoop but we’ve already determined how something can be better than what it is that we visibly see.

For example, I’ve worked places as a regular employee and as an assistant manager. At times, new managers would come in to replace the current manager and this could be for several reasons. The current manager could have gotten promoted or they quit or they got fired. Either way there’s a new person walking in and they’ve got a lot of great ideas. There’s nothing wrong with that but before making all of these changes they didn’t stop to take the time to learn the current environment. They didn’t take the time to sit back and observe how things were currently operating. They didn’t ask us, the people who are most familiar with that current area or business, any questions. They just started changing the things that they perceived could work better or look better.

After these changes were made they expected that things would run more effectively. They anticipated that the changes that they made would result in better production, better numbers, increase in customer satisfaction, increase in employee performance and satisfaction. Things would now run more efficiently and as the new manager in training or manager they would be able to report to the district manager all of these amazing changes made that equaled these amazing results. But strangely, that wouldn’t be what happened. Things either got worse or didn’t change at all. Employees got frustrated or felt overlooked and quit. Employee morale went down and we were less productive. This new manager is wondering why none of the changes actually helped. What happened?

One of the most valuable tools I learned from a previous manager who came into a new store after the manager we had got promoted was don’t walk in and change anything immediately. She explained that every time she took over after another manager that she at least spent the first two weeks to a month simply observing. Watching the employees and how they interacted with each other. Watching the employees interact with the customers. Talking to the customers and watching the flow of the store. Watching the different shifts and how the transitions were between the morning shift and afternoon shift. Taking the time to meet with the assistant managers or employees that have been there a long time to get to know and understand them a little before having an all staff meeting. She would ask questions. Sometimes to everyone as a group. Other times she’d speak with individuals asking them different questions.

After observing and asking questions she would then start making gradual changes. Some of those changes would be non-negotiable. Other changes would be a group consensus meaning she would ask us all which change we thought would be most effective. She explained this process to me, when I’d started the journey to become an assistant manager, as part of my training. And how she explained it to me is something that has always stuck with me. She said “When walking into a new situation or when there has been a change in management your most valuable assets are the people that are currently there. Naturally, when coming into new environments we see things differently and want to make changes. But it’s not always the appearance of things that need the immediate change. It’s not always how things are set up that contribute to whether something is successful or not. It’s the people. They know more about this store, the system, the customers, and the environment than I do. They know why things are done a certain way because that’s what makes things more productive. So it would be a huge mistake on my part to come in and decide that everything they’re doing needs to change without actually learning anything about this store or the people who operate it. It’s also an insult to them and communicates that I don’t think they know what they’re doing which not only affects employee morale, but now also affects how they receive instruction from me. So anytime you step in as a new person or new employee or new manager always take time to observe and ask questions.”

My question is how often do we do this? How often do we watch someone doing something and think of ways we can do it better without having all the information? How often do we walk into to places and think how much better something would look or run not knowing anything about the business? How many times do we observe someone doing a particular job and create a list of things mentally we think they could do better, should do better or how we think certain things should operate without knowing a thing about what it takes to do that persons job? Do we give the benefit of the doubt? Do we show grace? Do we tap into the most important resource (the people) and ask questions?

Often times our focus in life can be on the wrong thing. We focus so much on what we perceive things to look like without taking the time to dig deeper and acquire more information. We fail, at times, to use our most important resources. I’m reminded of the story in the Bible where Jesus is there and one sister is flustered, running around trying to prepare things. She’s upset that her sister isn’t helping her and is instead sitting at Jesus’ feet. She even says to Jesus “Hey don’t you think my sister should be helping me?” and Jesus tells her she’s focused on the wrong thing. Her sister is where she should be. All the pomp and circumstance to prepare for Jesus and the other people seemed important but how many opportunities did she think she would get to just sit with Jesus and talk to Him? He’s right there! Be present in the moment. Pay attention to what’s most important. Ask the questions you need to ask. Take value in the people you have with you in that moment. Take advantage of what you can learn or what you need so you can be effective. So you can prosper.

Sometimes the reason things aren’t successful initially or at all is because we lost focus. We didn’t take advantage of the resources we had. We aimed to make changes in a situation without having all the facts. We sometimes don’t see the success of something the way we think we should because we are focused on the wrong thing. We’ve looked at a situation for a short time and have then deemed we have all of the answers when in all actuality we know little to nothing. We haven’t asked God for direction, wisdom, knowledge or even if this is what He wants us to do but then we want Him to bless it after the fact. We want Him to fix the things that are not going well but we didn’t seek Him before we made the change. We made the change in haste without seeking the change agent.

I know I’ve done this before- even recently. So when God reminded me of this I went 😳🤦🏾‍♀️. If you’ve got things not going quite right in life. If you’ve started a new business, a new job, made new friendships or relationships, had some transitions in the work place and you seem a little frustrated or irritated take a step back and reevaluate your initial point of focus. Stop and look at what changes or decisions you’ve made without asking questions or having the facts and readjust. Pray! Ask God to forgive you and then ask Him to make it plain what changes you need to make going forward. Then take it all as a lesson for the next time and remember to adjust your focus. Ask yourself what’s most important in that situation so that what you do next prospers.

Be The Difference You Want To See

Be The Difference You Want To See

I remember being in middle school and during lunch time I would stop by the table with the special needs children. I would say hi and ask those who could communicate with me how their day was going. I would sometimes even sit with them and talk for a little while before heading on my way to my next class. I’d like to think that it was comforting for some of them to be surrounded by people that were like them but that it hopefully brought some joy into their lives that someone who was not quite like them took the time to engage in conversation with them or to just say hi. Even though this kind of thing was frowned on by my peers and no one really understood, I did it anyway. Instead of being the one picking on them or laughing at them I choose to be kind and love on them.

While this is a good memory and a kind act, I didn’t always make these types of choices. I’m sure that we all at some point have had choices to make and didn’t make the best one because at times I think we make choices without regard to how they will affect the future. For example, I grew up in the baptist church. And for so long the encounters and experiences I had with church I thought were limited to just me. But as we grow older and meet more people, we start to talk about our experiences more. The more I talked about how I grew up and the things I experienced in reference to baptist churches (not all of them were the same just some of the ones I went to with my parents) the more I learned that I was not the only one that had this experience.

Going to church was not always the greatest experience. I do have some memories of fun things such as going to vacation bible school or sunday school with kids my age. Most of my experiences that I can remember are tied to having to always wear a dress. How you looked when you went to churh was important. Girls wore dresses, not pants. I had to wear panty hose or tights. I also had to wear a slip under every dress or skirt I wore. As an adult I don’t own one single slip. I haven’t worn one probably since I was a child! I also recall being older and just growing in life. I was a responsible young adult. I worked a full time job. I was also coming into a space of freedom. I didn’t attend church as regurlarly as I used to but when I did attend I didn’t feel welcomed. I felt judged or like I was being reprimanded for missing church. Because of this feeling it lead me to gradually stop attending. Not to mention I didn’t really understand why I needed to go in the first place. I got baptized at the age of 9 and while it was explained to me I don’t think I got the full magnitude of it until I was much older.

I moved back to the town I would consider “home” in many ways because it was the place the military had allowed our family to live in the longest. I started going to one of the churches I attended as a teenager. The church was familiar to me so when my friend invited me to attend one Sunday morning I said sure. I was always warmly welcomed every time I went. I always enjoyed service (even though the first month I cried every Sunday. God was doing something new in me). It became my church home and later the place I would work at.

When I first started working there one of the main challenges I encountered was my attitude. My face often told what I was thinking or feeling and I often responded before thinking about how my response would be interpreted (rude is how it would be interpreted). It took many moments of me getting scolded, watching how people looked when I responded or even having people tell me that they didn’t like my response before things started to eventually click. I often thought in my head that I just didn’t like people and that’s why I responded the way that I did. Even though I had loved people all of my life and hadn’t always responded in this manner. However, at this time in my life I had gone through and was still going through some very tough things. It changed me in ways I did not like. Over time I came to learn and understand that it wasn’t that I didn’t like people, it was more so that I didn’t like me. I had some things that I needed to change about myself. I had some growing to do.

When life has taken us through tough situations we often don’t want to connect with people because we feel ashamed, hurt, and often times people can see the things in us that we are struggling with but we don’t want to face. Being around people consistently and building relationships means we have to grow. If we’re in the right relationships they will push us to grow and change. Sometimes we just aren’t ready to face it. We aren’t ready to deal with the hurt and pain so that we can grow. But with the people I surrounded myself with I really didn’t have a choice. And as I began to make the necessary changes I started to see things differently. I started to think differently which then resulted in my acting differently.

I got to a place where I really loved the people that I came into contact with each week either during Wednesday or Sunday service or during the week in the office. I didn’t have to constantly tell myself to be nice or to respond in love or to smile because I genuinely already felt those things inside and that resonated with the people I came into contact with. I stopped seeing the looks people gave when I responded poorly. I started hearing things like “You bring so much light into the room.” “Your smile lights up the place.” “You’re such a pleasant person.” “You are so kind.” Hearing these things further encouraged me and reminded me of how far I had come. I started making it a goal to learn people’s names and to learn a little about them. I interacted with people more. What I came to realize is that I had come to a place where I loved myself and that showed. Because I loved myself it was much easier for me to love and connect with other people.

How does this tie into my experiences at church when I was younger? God put me in a position to be the change. He put me in a place when I was wounded and needed growth. I needed to be stretched beyond my comfort zone. And then after all of the changing and growing and discomfort He allowed me to be the opposite of what I had experienced. Although initially I was similar in attitude to what I had grown up in, I allowed God and the influences around me to change me and grow me up so that I could be different. I wanted people to come to church and feel welcomed and loved not judge. We had a great team that did that when people came on the church campus but that didn’t have to just stop with them. We convince ourselves sometimes that because someone else is doing the good thing or volunteering to help that we don’t need to. We make ourselves believe that we aren’t needed or that we don’t need to be apart of the change.

I hear so many people complaining about churches. They have things they don’t like, experiences that they’ve had that have deterred them from attending church or other events. And I get it. But I wish people would think more along the lines of their reasoning for attending church…..is it so that everything will line up with their list of demands so that they will feel comfortable or it is it so that they can change? Is it because they’re seeking something and they know they need to go to church to receive it? Churches are often full of damaged people. No one is perfect. Everyone is in some way trying to be better. But whether it’s church or sitting with kids who are different at school, connecting with the strange co worker no one talks to, be the difference you want to see. Find something to connect to in that church or school or job, examine your reasoning for going and then be apart of the change there. If you want people to experience something other than what you’ve experienced learn to be the change. We too often wait for somene to change things in our enviroments when we can be the actual change.

Love Your Uniqueness

Love Your Uniqueness

Growing up I would say that I was considered to be weird or didn’t quite fit the mold of what some would consider a black girl should fit into. I was an avid book reader, still am. I remember being in between duty stations (I was an army brat) and we were at my grandmothers house. Some of my cousins were fascinated at how well I read and the type of words I could recognize at such an early age. I think I was maybe 8. My cousin set me up on the washing machine and handed me a newspaper. Then my cousins would just ask me to read it. They’d sometimes interrupt me to point at certain words and look at me in awe as I said them.

I’ve also always loved to write. English or Language Arts have always been my favorite subjects. As a teenager and young adult I’ve written several short stories and I’ve had a few poems published in a compilation book of poetry. I used to think someday that I’d be an author of some sort but I didn’t quite find the genre I was passionate about writing.

I often got called a nerd or accused of wanting to be white. I spoke proper English and in complete sentences so I was frequently accused of talking like a white person. I couldn’t figured that one out. Not all white people talk proper or speak in complete sentences so there was always a question mark there for me. I liked school and didn’t like missing school. I was there everyday unless I was sick or had a family emergency. If my parents signed me out for an appointment and there was still time to go back to school I would ask them to take me back. Senior skip day? I was one of the few present. Like who gets a freebie day to skip, so to speak, and still shows up to school? This girl. Boys often called me stuck up because I wasn’t super interested in dating and often didn’t respond to the way they’d try to talk to me. And honestly most of the guys I liked didn’t like me back.

I got picked on a lot. Even by my own family. I got bullied on the bus. To this day I can’t even recall everything the bullies said because I’d ignore them intentionally and then get off the bus as quickly as possible. I didn’t always dress like everyone else. I got my first pair of Nikes’s when I was about 13 I think. My parents had 5 kids and Nike’s were really expensive back then so I saved up my babysitting money and bought my first pair. They were black and white. Lord help you if you stepped on them! Lol.

I was different and often didn’t relate to a lot of my cousins my age or black kids my age. Not all of them of course, but growing up a military brat moving around all of the time I was exposed to different people and different cultures and that’s what I related to. Moving to an area that was predominantly black when I was halfway through my 6th grade year was eye opening. I remember coming home from school telling my mom that I had never been surrounded by so many black people in school!

Fast forward to now having two kids with ADHD and my oldest daughter being diagnosed with Aspergers, a high functioning form of autism, at age 8, you could say I have some pretty unique kids! My oldest daughter required a lot of my attention especially during her elementary school years. Raising her during this time was exhausting, overwhelming, emotionally draining, funny and inspiring.

She did not fit in with most of her classmates and didn’t have a lot of friends. She still doesn’t. Interacting with her peers is difficult for her because well, she’s weird. And I can say that cause I’m her mom. She was really into animals and would talk about them all day depending on which phase of animal obsession we were in. She stayed in the dinosaur phase the longest, which was my favorite phase. She loves things like avengers or anything marvel. She is not girly and didn’t like wearing dresses. There’s a slew of other quirky things about her but the point is she’s different. As soon as I felt she would understand that she was different I started telling her that. I’d have conversations with her and say “You’re weird and quirky and funny and smart and all of that’s ok! Don’t change. Keep being who you are no matter what. I love you just like this.” As she got older and people would tell her she’s strange or weird she would smile and say “I know.”

My second daughter is all girl all the time! Exact opposite of her sister. From a very early age she was all diva. I think she got that from her Grandma Becky! She loves lip gloss, getting her nails done, pink and dressing up! Sometimes I’d take her to the grocery store all dressed up in whatever little princess outfit she was in. She was just so cute but it was mostly because she refused to take it off and I didn’t have all day to fight with her about it. Unlike her sister, she’s a social butterfly. Kids flock to her. She’s friendly, intelligent, hilarious and super sweet. But she talks incessantly. I mean it is nonstop! She’s always got a story or something to say. She can go all day. I consistently have to fight the urge to yell “Hush!” Honestly I have more times than I can say. She knew she talked a lot. I told her so but I tried to steer away from making it a negative thing as much as possible. It didn’t stop her from coming home one day really upset with her feelings hurt.

I was at the bus stop waiting for her. When she got in the car I could tell she was upset. I asked her what was wrong and she said “Mommy this girl made me feel bad. We were hanging out and she says to me loudly in front of everyone ‘Oh my gosh Ari you talk so much. Can you be quiet sometimes?!’ I know I talk a lot mommy. I just can’t help it!” My heart broke for her. I’m sure she was embarrassed and hurt. I said to her “Ari, yes, you talk a lot. Sometimes it can be too much for some people. But that’s ok. There are people who love you just the way you are. Mommy’s loves you just like this and I think it’s one of the best things about you. You’re smart and it’s ok that you talk a lot. If people don’t like it then don’t be their friend. Pray for them and remember that you’re loved just as you are. It’s ok to be different.”

My point in sharing all of this is we are all unique in some way. We all have things about us that not everyone will get or like. People may even say mean or cruel things to us but we have to learn to accept and love ourselves in all of our uniqueness and pain. The difference between my story and my kids is I wasn’t celebrated in my uniqueness or weirdness. No one really told me that I was loved just the way that I am. Even growing up in church I never got the concept that God loves me just as I was because you had to look a certain way at church. Girls always wore dresses. You had to be present at every service all the time and you were criticized for missing one. I felt more judged than accepted. It’s taken me years and well into adulthood to finally embrace who I am and to love myself. I love me! So it was important to me to tell my kids early on that they are loved for who they are even with their quirkiness and flaws. I don’t always get it right. I’m sure I’ve said or done something that has hurt their feelings but I always try to go back and apologize then remind them that they are loved. There’s nothing wrong with being different.

We should remind ourselves of this as much as possible. Being different changes the world. There are so many people who stepped out of the mold the world was trying to force them into and they have created amazing inventions or advancements in science. Being uniquely you is beautiful. Embrace it and encourage those around you, especially your kids or children you influence, to do the same.