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.

Maybe It’s Your Confidence

Maybe It’s Your Confidence

When I was a teenager I started to bake. Not a whole lot and not anything too fancy. Mostly cookies; chocolate chip and peanut butter. My mom was awesome at baking pies and cooking as well. She made the best sweet potatoe pie I have ever had to date. Now this baking that I used to do came from my mom and a friend that she had. My mom’s friend had a daughter that was around the same age as me. Every now and again the mother and daughter would come over for a visit but the mother came over more by herself just to hang out with my mom. Every time my mom’s friend was going to come over my mom would ask me to make cookies. Peanut butter to be exact because my mom loved peanut butter cookies. I thought she was just asking me to make them because she loved them but I later found out that wasn’t all there was to it.

One day my mom and her friend were in the kitchen talking. I had already baked the cookies and was coming into the kitchen for something when I heard my mom tell her friend that I made the cookies from scratch. It took all I had not to burst out laughing because I most certainly did not (although the cookies were good)! I was not overly crazy about baking or cooking but I knew the basics and was fine helping my mom in the kitchen if need be. I most certainly was not a professional in the baking or cooking area. I later learned from my mom after her friend left that there was some motherly competition between the two moms and their two girls (we obvioulsy were oblivious to this). They were often bragging about us to each other and it kind of became a fun pass time between them.

When my mom became ill with cancer, it’s what she taught me that allowed me to cook when she was too sick to do so. But because at such a young age I kind of had to grow up to take on more responsibilities like cooking, cleaning, taking care of my little brother etc., I didn’t think that I would ever enjoy baking or cooking. Even when I got married (the first time) I would cook things and sometimes my husband would look at me, after he had eaten the entire meal, (bless his heart) and say “Yeah don’t make that one again.” Usually this happened with meals that I was trying for the first time, ya know, trying to step out of my comfort zone. So I would trash the recipe and continue on to cooking what I knew. It wasn’t that I couldn’t cook it was more so whatever it was that I was attempting to cook I wasn’t sure or confident that it would turn out well. I wasn’t certain that I knew what I was doing (and sometimes I didn’t) or confident that the meal would turn out well. I wasn’t certain that I could do this new recipe justice. I would try to make it my own and that would sometiumes backfire which made me lack even more confidence.

This lack of confidence in my cooking ability even translated over to group meals with friends. Some of my oldest friends will tell you when we were having a big meal together to avoid having to bring a dish and it not quite meet the standard I had set for myself, I brought the same things each time we gathered: corn on the cobb, hawaiian sweet rolls, drinks and I would make a cake or two. Sometimes I even threw in paper products LOL. That’s all they were getting folks. These friends were really great cooks and I was intimidated by that so I stuck to what was easiest and couldn’t really be criticized. But over the years after divorcing, being a single parent, and learning how to try new things, all of this gradually began to change. There are two things that will thrust you into stepping out of your comfort zone: being a military spouse and single parenthood. I started cooking more and even picked up some new recipes from other friends. The more that I started cooking things out of my comfort zone the more my confidence began to grow.

My confidence really bloomed more when I met my spiritual mother who is an amazing baker and cook. Over the years of getting to know her I learned more about different spices to use as well as trying different recipes in the baking area. As I practiced and started bringing new dishes to parties or group functions, I realized that not only did I like to cook and bake but I was also pretty good at it! My husband now is currently reaping a lot of the benefits from that. He thinks I can bake and cook anything! And truthfully there isn’t any recipe that I see now that intimidates me. I pull up new recipes all of the time and bake or cook them on a whim. Not just that, I will try a recipe for the first time and take it to a party or group function and not stress about it because I’ve become more confident in my ability to do so ( I also taste stuff before I bring it…..I mean I want to ensure it does taste good! LOL). I even cook without measuring now! And, sure, sometimes I burn things or it doesn’t turn out right but that doesn’t stop me or change my confidence.

The point to this story is somtimes we think we don’t like something or aren’t too good at doing something to include trying new things and in some cases this may be true. But sometimes it’s our confidence or lack thereof that is standing in the way. We allow the times that we have made mistakes or didn’t do as well discourage us from trying again. I know we’ve all heard the saying at some point in our lives “If at first you don’t succeed try and try again.”  The more we work at something the better we become and the better we become the more our confidence is built up. Don’t get discouraged and resort back to staying in your comfort zone.

Keep in mind that as you branch out and try new things; as you push the boundaries of your confidence people may come out of no where and say or do things that may be discouraging. They may not mean it to come off as discouraging but people don’t always see the back side of things. They don’t always know the work or effort that you’ve put into something before they respond in criticism. Sometimes they think they are helping you. Either way remind yourself that you won’t always have everything perfect but that’s not going to change the path that you are on. Keep going because soon enough you will see the results of all of your efforts and well, confidence in yourself and your abilities is always a great result.

Now I do bake cookies and cakes from scratch and I imagine that my mom is in heaven smiling down at me because I rose to the potential she knew I had. I bet she wishes she could call her friend and really get her brag on now! But what really warms my heart is knowing that she bragged on me anyway-before I came into my potential and confidence. You may not have someone bragging on you right now but brag on yourself! Consider it the beginning of your confidence building journey.

Let It Go

Let It Go

I tend to hang on to feelings a lot longer than I should. A part of me wants to redeem myself or make people see how their rationale for treating me a certain way does not make since and isn’t right. You can feel like you’re a really good person. You can know that about yourself. You know that you’re kind and caring and giving. These are all things I know to be true about who I am. I know that my goal is to be helpful and to bless people. I know these things to be true because I tend to treat people and do things for people based off of how I would want to be treated. I aim to love people and show them that love through my actions.

But what do you do when you feel like you have been there for someone and they have not consistently been there for you? What do you do when you feel hurt or let down in life or relationships? First of all, be grateful and secondly, learn to move forward in forgiveness. Be grateful that your eyes have been opened. If you’re anything like me you constantly want to see the good in people. I have stayed connected to people that I should have walked away from because I believe in the good in them. And truthfully I hate letting people down. I don’t want to be the person that is not there for someone I care about (even though I can say there were times that I’ve failed to be in some way). But walking away from a relationship does not always mean that the person is not a good person and that you’re a bad one. It does not mean that you don’t care about them as a person. It means that you care about yourself more. We have to stop thinking that caring about ourselves and what’s best for us makes us selfish. We cannot pour from an empty vessel.

I recently watched a sermon online and  the pastor was preaching on releasing things. Sometimes that can be ill feelings towards someone that we are harboring. It could be resentment. The release could also be a person but we have to let go because these things or people are literally holding us captive emotionally and mentally. Especially if we are in a particular space in life where we are looking for God to do something big. We are sometimes wanting God to do something major and we sit around wondering why we are still in the same place a year later (we have baggage).

I have come to a point where I no longer chase relationships. The people that value me and are meant to be in my life are already here and if they aren’t God will send them. If they aren’t meant to be I pray that God gives me the strength to let go and move forward. I used to chase relationships. If there was a disagreement or I felt like I did something wrong I would frequently be the one to initate repairing the broken pieces. It’s not that initiating or attempting to resolve conflict is bad but watch out for relationships that make it seem like it’s always YOU that’s the problem. I have apologized for issues that weren’t necessarily my fault just to move the relationship forward. This isn’t good if the other person takes no ownership in the situation. Everything isn’t always your fault and everything isn’t always the other person’s fault either. You both should evalute the situation and determine the role you played.

I stopped chasing relationships not because I didn’t value the relationship or the person but because I valued me! If it is easy or necessary for that person to walk away without attempting to resolve the situation or to communicate with you any further then you need to let them walk away. Let them walk away and don’t harbor any hard feelings. Understand that they are doing what’s best for them just as you are doing what is best for you. In that moment you are being released from a situation or relationship that wasn’t meant to go with you on your next journey for whatever reason. Trust God on that release. Personally I don’t want a relationship with someone who doesn’t want to talk about or confront issues. It’s how we learn and how we grow. And I don’t want to be in relationships where I give more than I get.

However, there are circumstances where you have to determine what discussing certain things resolves. What does it change? I had a moment one time where someone said somethng to me and in that moment I thought “Well that’s interesting. So you’re going to totally discredit everything that I’ve contributed to the relationship because I’m not who I once was?” That’s kind of painful and frustrating and I thought about taking the time to have a private meeting with them and then I thought no or maybe it was the holy spirit. The comment revealed more about the person than it did about me. And,well, why should I have this conversation when what they said made it clear what their expectations were. I don’t meet those expectations and wasn’t going to try. So if I wasn’t willing to make those changes then it wasn’t necessary for me to address it. And guess what? GOD KNOWS. God knows the things that I have done in the relationship. He has seen the good things (and the bad things!!!!) that I have done out of my heart. He has seen the sacrifices I have made and He is who my reward (and conviction for the bad things) will come from. I know without a shadow of a doubt that His reward will be bigger and better than any person could ever give.

So when you find yourself wrestling with resentment, hurt or frustration; when you find yourself hung up on the same issues remind yourself to let it (and sometimes the relationship) go! Especially if you’ve addressed or decided against addressing the issue and to move forward. You know who you are. It’s not necessary to try to constantly convince someone of that. Easier said than done I know. If you’re anything like me I have a replay button in my head and that sucker stays on a constant loop-reminding me of how I could have handled something better or how I feel misunderstood. But I am learning to press stop. I am learning that what has happened-well, has happened. I cannot change it. I care about my well being and peace more than I care about being right. (Trying and wanting to be right all of the time will mess you up! You’re not always right.) I don’t care to prove to someone that I am right or justified in my actions. I care to show my heart but you can’t make everyone see your heart or recieve you. I aim to let my character speak for itself and to focus on being a better me. I am content knowing that God has searched my heart and He knows what’s in it. He’s making it easier for me to release old habits, old ways of thinking, past feelings, past frustations and pain. He’s making it easier for me to let go of anything and anyone that is holding me back from where He’s taking me. Allow Him to do the same for you!

You Are Valuable

One of the best memories I have to this day is when I worked at the shoe store The Finish Line. I came in at 17 years old as a cashier and eventually became the head cashier. There wasn’t anything I didn’t know about the system. I could trouble shoot and work my way around certain issues. I learned how to find the reports needed by management. So much so other stores came to know how well I knew my job and managers would call to ask me questions with things that they needed help with.

Not only did I know how to do my job well, I knew a little bit about every area of the company. One thing I learned from the managers I trained under is even though you may not have all the answers, you should be able to answer basic questions about the company and the different areas within the company. You should know who to tell customers to talk to or how to help customers resolve basic issues. I took that with me to every job I worked after that. I always made sure to keep myself informed.

By the time I turned 19 I was asked to be an assistant manager. Not just by my boss, but my regional manager, who was a step above my district manager, specifically stated that he thought I’d make a fantastic assistant manager. It was a big deal! I was hesitant but eventually accepted. You have to pass a test so to speak to get keys to the store as a manager. You can be promoted to assistant manager or an MIT (manager in training) but you can’t work alone and close the store if you don’t have keys that give you access to do several things within the facility. You have to run the floor for a full day (9am-9pm) successfully to earn your keys. This means handling employees, shift changes, making sure every area was covered, ensuring employees are meeting their goals, delegating, customer complaints/issues, opening and closing the store, etc. You had to do this on your own all day while a senior manager evaluated you. They would then report back to your manager and the district manager and you’d learn whether you passed because you’d get keys.

This is a lot of work and trust for an organization to put into any employee. Yet alone a 19 year old. But those people around me saw something in me that I didn’t see in myself. They saw my value. They recognized that I was an asset to the company and they wanted to ensure that they not only kept me as an asset, but also wanted to nurture and grow my worth as an asset by teaching me, encouraging me, and training me to be the best that I could be. Because of this I was one of the best assistant managers in my district. Managers wanted me at their store.

My district manager, Bruce, further recognized my value. Whenever he came in to check in on our store or to evaluate our store he always, always made a point to take me out for ice cream and just talk to me about my thoughts, the store, my goals within the organization. He treated me, not like I was some 19 year old kid filling a space needed in an organization, but like I was a valuable tool in the organizations success. Because of that I worked harder and made it a point to ensure I represented the company well.

You’re just as valuable. Maybe someone hasn’t told you lately. Maybe you feel like you don’t contribute much to your job or your family or your friendships but you do. Maybe you don’t think that certain thing you do at work is noticeable. You’re doing it to be nice or you’re doing it to ensure things run more smoothly but day in and day out you’re putting forth your best effort. Someone has noticed and when you aren’t around to do that certain thing at work the value that you bring to it is missed.

Don’t discredit yourself because someone hasn’t confirmed your significance. In due time all of the work and effort you are putting into your job or your friendships or your family will began to produce fruit. God sees all that you do and all that you are. He has a way of recognizing and reminding you of your worth and there’s no one better at doing it than Him. At one point in my life I was struggling with my self worth and God sent someone to be with a brand new coach purse (at the time almost every purse I owned was a Walmart purse-nothing wrong with that) but I didn’t think I was worth much. Certainly not worth owning an expensive purse that I never would have bought for myself. I didn’t think I even deserved it. But take away the focus on the name brand purse and focus on the value being brought to light. I didn’t think I was worth much and God was reminding me that you’re worthy and valuable-just like this purse. He’ll do the same for you. So walk in confidence knowing that you are treasured not just to those around you but to God. He values and adores you!