Actively Authentic

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Photo courtesy of Urban Bush Babes.com

“But here’s the thing,” I wrote in half print, half lazily but legibly curled letters, “Don’t call me if you don’t know Jesus,” and left him my phone number.  I showed the note to my friend who laughed a laugh that was somewhere between good luck and don’t you think that’s a bit much, to make sure my handwriting was legible. I sat the note atop the receipt, gathered my bags as my friend gathered hers, and slipped out the side door of the restaurant just as easily as we slid through it, tired and ready for drinks and appetizers. “Well, I guess we’ll see, ” I told her. “Oh he’ll call, ” she said. “Only if he knows Jesus or is illiterate. Cause I said don’t call if you don’t know Jesus.”

The following morning I was relaying the story to another friend while I picked over a veggie frittata and sipped a soy chai latte, telling myself I can indeed leave the cute little shop on Connecticut Avenue without a slice of caramel, carrot, or chocolate cakes, cookies, tea bread, or any of their decadent desserts staring me down across the marble table. “Oh, so did he call? ” she asked. “No, or at least not yet. But that’s the thing. If he doesn’t call it means he doesn’t know Jesus and I don’t want to waste time getting to know someone who doesn’t share the same faith as me. Or he does call and unless he’s rebellious, then at least I know we have our faith in common, ” I responded. “Oh Ahyana that is so smart. I love it. No wasting time- yours or his.” “Exactly!”

It was bigger than not wasting each other’s time though. For me, it was about being actively honest about what I want and don’t want. It was the commencement to me living out a renewed commitment to myself to not settle for knowing what I want and not going for it, taking a wait and see approach, but knowing what I want, owning it, and living it out.  The reality for me is I am not even close to interested in getting to know a guy who does not have the same faith as me. I’m not into missionary dating (Oh if I date him, live out enough Jesus, he’ll come around and join my faith). I’m pretty open to a lot of things in the guys I do occasionally date (race/ethnicity, hobbies/interests, them not liking the Warriors the way I do, political views, etc.), but the faith piece, that is a non negotiable. Because it’s a nonnegotiable, I need not negotiate my time to get to know someone who doesn’t share my faith. I need not get attached or let them get attached, when that’s not what I want in a partner.  I need not buy a dress, shoes, get my hair done, sty up past my bedtime on a work night, or force myself to watch a sci-fi movie for someone who doesn’t share a core value of mine, something I know I honestly want in boo and is a part of a lifestyle I honestly seek to live out.

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Photo courtesy of Lolo Bu.com

It’s also been me getting my stride as I keep striving on a journey that has been painfully difficult for me the past couple of years. The past few years have been riddled with this weird strange now I see you now I don’t phenomena. When it’s convenient all of me is seen  and when it’s not convenient bits and pieces of me are seen and desired. When I’m visible it’s what can be taken for their gain and when I’m not visible it’s rejecting what I have to offer despite my knowing or the research to say it’s necessary at this time. This moment however, this moment of here’s the deal sweet guy with all that southern hospitality and humor, if you aren’t interested in all of me which means knowing sweet grown man Jesus, then you gotta keep moving was my refusing to be seen or shared in bits and pieces. I’m done with the folks who like bits and pieces. I want the folks who are interested in me as a whole, a whole person who really sees and engages the world through how I’ve come to know Jesus and how I’ve come to make meaning of my faith and living it out.

Here’s what I’m hoping for you this week. I’m hoping that you do something, anything, that reflects you actively living out what you know you want and or need in your life. That you get past the list on your phone, picture you posted on your vision board from Glamour magazine, swiping right, inserting the chip, and actually do something that really reflects the person you desire to be. My hope is you take a moment to be honest with yourself and then with others in some real way. You say “Not today,” “No, ” “I’m not interested,” “I’m not comfortable,” “That won’t work,” “I’d like to try that,” “I don’t need that,” “Don’t call me if you don’t know Jesus.”  There is something wonderfully liberating when we choose to move past thinking, wanting, longing, envisioning, praying, and imagining the person and the life we want for ourselves and start doing.  Some might have said as someone who doesn’t date much and hasn’t had many boyfriends, it was risky saying that to a a guy who could be a potential partner. That I’m not getting any younger. Maybe.  I know. I think it would have been risky if I consciously made one more decision that wasn’t aligned with what I want and  my own potential. May your week serve up moments to live out your honesty and authenticity.  Oh, and yes, he called 😉

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Photo courtesy of Start Handing Out Stars Tumblr.com

Glow Through What You Go Through

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Photo courtesy of 41 Media Tumblr.com

“My name’s Dan,” he said and extended his hand.

I smiled and extended my own. “Ahyana,” I said.

He complimented my hair, made a joke about his own mostly silver cropped bone straight tresses, shared he’s a regular at this particular Starbucks and has no idea how we’ve never crossed paths. I told him I tend to come in the mornings and being here in the afternoon was not my norm but is where my day had led me.  He smiled, said he didn’t want to keep me from whatever I was working on, but just wanted to say hello. “You’ve got this glow and you’re just really giving off some good energy. You’ve got great vibes.”  I smiled, returned to the project that brought me to Starbucks on a sunny gorgeous Saturday afternoon, and was grateful that it was just a light short conversation-  nothing more. He strolled over to the high top two seater table near the pick- up counter to wait for his order.

Staring at the presentation on my screen, highlighting the text to change the font, I laughed. He was perhaps the fourth person to mention this “glow.” The others previously weren’t acquaintances, but friends. They were friends I’d known for the past 8 to 15 years, friends who knew that the past 8 months had been really hard, two who knew that just the past 48 hours had been really painful, like headed to the hospital kind of pain. Shucks, the past 48 minutes had even been a struggle. Seriously. Starbucks on a sunny gorgeous Saturday afternoon was in part because I needed to focus and get some things done, but it was also the best I could manage in an attempt to deal with my anxiety.  Anxiety that came as an attack just a few days before and had been coaching me to stay home, inside, in my bedroom where it was safe, familiar, and I had some control.

I wanted to go to the art festival downtown. I wanted to go capitalize on the semi annual sales with my collection of rewards and coupons. I wanted to get my nails done before heading to DC to present at conference about mental health and wellness for Black and Latino students. I wanted to go to Target and see if that light weight white and multi colored striped tassels at the ends throw that I thought would look great draped over the chair in the corner of my bedroom was still there (and still on clearance).  But I was too anxious and thought that perhaps I’d stick close to home today and maybe later try to do some of the things I wanted to do, or maybe Sunday would be better than Saturday. After all Saturday was better than the anxiety I was feeling Friday, and Friday was better than Thursday.

So, I took my differently styled blonde curls, made up face, fun floral printed swing dress I snatched up with whispered thanks to Jesus at Nordstrom Rack during my last trip to Philadelphia, grabbed my laptop ad went half a block to Starbucks and met Dan, who said I was glowing.

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Photo courtesy of Pinterest.com

I’m calling the glow friends and Dan the random older guy coffee shop man are referring to as my glow through what I’m going though glow.  More simply stated- my making it glow.  Because after all, that’s all I’m doing- I’m making it. Not barely and not swimmingly, but slowly, purposefully, creatively, tenaciously, rebelliously. I’m committed to pushing, pulling, and pumping the breaks when I need to. I’m devoted to advocating for myself as fiercely and persistently as I have for the students and clients I’ve been privileged to work with other the past 12 years.  It’s that don’t call it sweating, call it glistening kind of glow. That flickering flame in dark moments that just keeps burning because it keeps getting fanned, sometimes by myself, sometimes but my tribe of family and friends glow.  It’s the glow that comes from a deep knowing that I’m going to be alright, everything will be okay, and despite the circumstances, when I focus, I don’t need to worry about a thing. It’s the result of a decision to constantly be in touch with myself, letting in who and what I need to let in (wine, chocolate, Redbox movies, a smaller and tighter circle of friends, church, etc.), and keeping at bay who and what I don’t (an entire pizza, candy/sugar, too much wine, brother man  who tried it and brother man who keeps trying it, etc.), and not beating myself up for those necessary decisions kind of shine.  By the way, if you need to let in that whole pizza, go on and do your thing.

I started this post when I was so over editing my presentation for Friday afternoon. I’m finishing it the following day, in Stabucks, but no Dan. I’m finishing it having managed to get my nails done, gone to Target, tried lunch at a new coffee shop downtown that I stumbled across while meandering the streets of the art festival (mhmm, I made it there), and having made peace with the weekend coming to an end and capitalizing on those semi annual sales online…or while I’m in DC this week.  I’m finishing this post with the same glow.

I’m also finishing it holding space in my heart and prayers for those reading this who feel like you’re doing anything but making it and made it is nothing more than a cute artsy font mantra on a canvas or mug you rolled your eyes at while making it to the line in TJMaxx. You’re making it. We’re making it. You’re glowing and I bet you don’t even realize it. You’re glistening girl. You are oozing with the hope that comes with knowing that your current circumstance is not it. You are working this life thing out-refinancing, downsizing, parting ways with relationships that are more harmful than healthy, applying to go back to school, applying for the promotion, filing the HR discrimination or harassment complaint, going to the gym, admitting that your anxiety, depression, grief, etc. is more than you want to handle on your own. You. Are. Glowing.  Your light is shining and it’s lifting others and you. Trust me.  For those of you whom life has granted you some reprieve and overall things are pretty good, that is awesome!  You got a glow too. Just do me a solid- point out the glow in others this week. Someone might need to hear or read (mhmm, you can send a little text, email, tweet, direct message, snail mail, etc.) that you see their light, even if it’s embers from a fire that is so close to being out and needs you to speak life to fan the flame and kindle a full on bonfire type of glow. Shine on this week. Don’t give up. Reach out to the people you trust care for you and let them know what’s up and what you need (or don’t need, or think you need). Glow through what you go through. Stay lit! xxoo

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Everything Isn’t for Everybody

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Photo courtesy of Jasmine Sanders via Instagram

“Everything isn’t for everybody,” I told myself perplexed by the events that had just taken place. I couldn’t wrap my head around the behavior and I knew it was behavior that was so not me. “Don’t judge,” I told myself. Then I let that one go cause we, I and you, judge all the time. All. The. Time.  “Maybe I’m old or it was how  was raised,“ I thought and that was why the behavior seemed so strange and confusing to me.  Then I circled back to “Everything isn’t for everybody.”  And  trust me, what I observed, sure enough was not for this body.

 

A few days later shortly after listening to a podcast I called a friend to recommend it to her. I was going on and on about how great the podcast was. It was spot on for things I’d been pondering, praying, and journaling about. I found it both convicting and comforting, insightful yet strangely reminiscent of a conversation my friend and I had three springs ago when I was taking a walk down one of my favorite endlessly winding roads while still living in the pacific northwest.

Her enthusiasm did not match mine. Like wasn’t even close. Like I could have said I found a five legged puppy or a dress that was a little snug on me a few months back now fits flatteringly well again and I would have heard the same lack of enthusiasm. She listened patiently, threw in an occasionally “Oh okay” or “Mmm. Mhm.” She even offered an “I see.”  To which internally I was like “Um but do you really though?” I  thought she must be distracted. But I could tell she wasn’t, mostly because I have gotten good at being able to tell when she is.  She was really listening. I just didn’t understand her lack of excitement about my experience, my revelation, my reminder that the prayers prayed and thoughts pondered, had not gone unnoticed or unheard. I called her to share what I thought was a great experience and recommended the podcast so that she could experience similarly. Yet it didn’t seem like she was headed down the road to my experience, because the reality is, it was my experience and everything isn’t for everybody.

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Photo courtesy of Urbanna Tumblr.com

It’s not uncommon to hear me say that “Sharing is caring,” or “Teamwork makes the dream work.” I’m a believer in “Better together”, and a fierce fighter against misery loving company when it should be joy and happiness and all things positive that loves lots of company.  I write this blog because I refuse to believe I’m the only person rocking this planet with the thoughts, experiences, disappointments, joys, ponderings, strivings, successes, or need for reminders to keep going and that I get to choose even when circumstances in life strongly suggest otherwise. I love me some me, but I also have a huge soft spot for some we.

What I’m learning however is that some things in life are meant just for me. Some things aren’t meant for sharing and that doesn’t make me less caring.  Sometimes it’s a party of one situation and that doesn’t make me any less team oriented or deter from the goal at hand.  There are times that things will resonate with me so strongly because it is truly a response to something that I have been seeking insight about. There are parts of the journey in life that are not meant to be shared, that aren’t a bus trip, girl’s weekend, staff retreat, coupes seminar, family reunion. Nope, it’s a narrow path in a strange land, sometimes with just enough room for me to inhale and hold my breath for safe passage.

Furthermore, if we don’t learn to identify those me, myself,  and I moments, we hijack our journey, delay arrival to our destiny, pitch a tent on the periphery of our purpose. We  waste time trying to get folks to board a kayak for one, swearing it’s a cruise liner. We linger with our backpacks on waiting for folks to pack theirs, to join us, on a trip whose itinerary was set for just us. We forgo getting started, continuing, or even finishing different jaunts during the journey because since they were so positively life changing, we can’t bear the thought of not having others join in. We thoroughly enjoyed the shrimp linguini that we buy some for them, waiting impatiently for them to eat it, not realizing they have an allergy to shrimp and what we found to be extremely delicious will kill them. Everything is not for everybody.  We give up time, perspective, progress, peace, joy, and so many other things when we don’t take a moment to discern if this is a moment that is meant for us and us alone, or for others.  Sometimes there are seasons in our lives that are intently and intensely just for us. The same way there are things we only learn about ourselves in context and connection of others, there are some things we can only discover, experience, love, or change unless it’s just us.

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Photo courtesy of Vogue Spain 

My hope for you this week is that you pick up on what’s meant for you and you alone, and that you treasure that, hold onto it, be selfish with it. It was meant for you.  May you begin to come to peace with the fact that there are some things that aren’t meant for you to share, and you need not feel guilty about that.  Take the love notes, lessons, and reminders offered to you this week and make sure you acknowledge that the sender sent it you- not you and your partner, you and bae, you and your family, you and your staff, you and your bff, but you. The moment , revelation, podcast,  etc. was addressed to you. Open it, enjoy it, live into it.

Plot Twist

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Photo courtesy of @EvellynLousye

I first saw it on blessed Pinterest. It was a cute reminder in some cute font probably named something pretty and random like the Arielle font or the Pinky Promise font (I wouldn’t mind getting a gig naming font types), “When something goes wrong in life. Just yell Plot Twist! and move on.” That’s what I yelled  (Internally I yelled this, you can’t be outside by yourself at a bus stop yelling, on the phone or not. You either look disrespectful or slightly left of center) Wednesday afternoon on my way home from work talking to my mom.

 

I “yelled” this as soon as I heard myself say to her “I keep going to the toxicity and I just can’t anymore. I don’t want to.”  It took saying those words aloud, verbalizing the sick habit I had of constantly re entering that which I knew was chronically toxic and unhealthy, for me to declare a plot twist, that things as they had been were done (for real this time).

We hung up shortly thereafter and as I rode home, I rode quiet and content with a decision that I had been putting off at that point almost two months. A decision that would alleviate if not obliterate the dysfunction.  I was hoping, despite just finishing a book about decision making (don’t judge me) that if I waited it out things would change and I wouldn’t have to decide. If I did more of this, less of that, tomorrow, next week, or next quarter, it would be different.  If I re evaluated then maybe I’d see where it was actually my fault, that I wasn’t being gracious enough, was too quick to judge without all of the information, they were busy, I needed to learn to be more patient, maybe I was making mountains out of molehills. But nothing changed, except I was getting sicker (literally getting physically sicker) and found myself increasingly low key angry (I don’t know if low key angry exists, but I know when you are constantly the minority as a Black woman you work mad hard to keep that rational angry response under the surface as hard as possible), sad, or numb.

I arrived home, changed, and headed to the gym smiling. In part because I was hoping to cross paths with my super fine gym crush whom. Think Jesse Williams with a dash of Brian Austin Green, and that’s him.  In part smiling because the nausea I felt for the last two months about my decision had dissipated and despite knowing that there would be many more decisions to be made after this one, and I’m gonna have to step my emotional resiliency game way up, it aligned with who I am,  what I believe, and who I aspire to be.

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Photo courtesy of Ebone Coffee 

Gym guy was not there, but was there as I pedaled, walked, and glided was the realization that I’d had enough of all the toxicity in my life. Somehow someway in the past couple of years, dysfunction had become a very regular bedfellow of mine. Just like the rise and fall of the elliptical, memories, decisions, relationships, circumstances  came to the forefront of my mind that each were colored with various shades of dysfunction, toxicity, default. I’d been experiencing life in default.  I was over it.

Dysfunction may seem sustainable, but honey, it’s not. It presents as low maintenance (and as women in particular, we like a break every now and then. We love a good deal, something that will make our lives just a little easier even if just for a moment), and it is low maintenance if the type of low maintenance you are looking for is death. Because that’s what it does. It squeezes life from us, our goals, dreams, relationships, etc.  It leaves us less in a deficit and tricks us into dysfunctional default until we aren’t us anymore.

I took to my journal highlighting the various themes of unhealth. It was fascinating to see the overlaps and the commonalities. Moments where decisions seemed very independent of each other because it was a different physical environment, guy, area of study, charge card, number on the scale, age, but at the core, same patterns and familiarity of learning to settle, accept, and function in dysfunction and toxicity.

Post Wednesday’s epiphany, I’ve been looking at the themes and patterns of dysfunction in my life and what I keep saying I want (but am moving at a snail’s pace towards).  It’s been everything from knowing I need a solid morning pre work routine that’s been hard to establish since moving to Buffalo so this week purposefully getting up earlier to go for morning walks and drink green tea and take in my favorite part of the day.  There’s been a pause on communicating with folks who I should just wish them well, send up a prayer, and keep it moving  to communicating with someone and letting them know that it just ain’t gone work.  There’s been more reading, a balance of non fiction and fiction, because while I love a good book about helping me be the best version of me, sometimes reading and laughing about the lives of  fictional characters and imagining their southern accents is what I need.  There’s also been some time really planning my future, coming to terms that I’ve done more wishing than actually planning and making calculated decisions and steps to manifest the life that I want and believe I was created to live.

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Photo courtesy of We Heart It.com

Sometimes we need to disrupt the stories of our lives. To do that, we have to be reading and willing to edit what has been written.  It was not until those words left my mouth, intended for my mother to hear, that I heard them too and was jolted out of the haze of dysfunction I’d been recently navigating my life through. It wasn’t until I heard my own voice in my own story that I was able to say I don’t like this, and not settle for “it’s got to change” or “something’s got to change”, but that I’ve got to change.

So my hope is that this week, if your story needs disrupting that you go on and disrupt it. You don’t have to wait for someone else or something else to disrupt it. Truth is, it may not happen. The person may never apologize, pay the large amount of money they borrowed from you and has now left you in a financial bind three years later, tell you why they broke off the engagement, ask you out on that date, promote you, etc.  The environment may not get any better  despite how often you’ve gone to HR, senior leave administrators shuffled into new roles and more trainings, how much bigger the house is and it being in the suburbs, etc.   You can change your story.  You can re evaluate, re imagine, and recreate. You can yell “plot twist”.  And if you aren’t ready to yell it, maybe you whisper it. Maybe it starts with a resolve to sit down and look at the dysfunction to see how isolated or pervasive it is. Maybe it’s just taking a break from seeking validation on social media. Maybe it’s giving yourself permission to actually leave the office at 5pm or tell your mom that you actually can’t take her to bingo this week but maybe your sibling who lives with her or the sibling that lives in the apartment of her can do it. Maybe it means you are going to the library to read after work instead of going home to make dinner, because well your 14 year old is totally capable of dinner for herself even if that means a bowl of cereal and your partner is capable of doing similarly.  Maybe it means going to the gym and making sure that if you and cute gym guys cross paths, you’ll actually speak. Be brave enough to write your story and yell “plot twist,” and move on when necessary. Be well!

When something goes wrong in life. Just yell Plot Twist! And move on

 

 

Managing the Middle

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Photo courtesy of Dear Frances.com

If you’ve ever lived on a  super cute little side street,  with porches and front yards that make you swoon, the occasional barking dog, and trees that beg you to step up your multi tasking game of looking up and watching where you walk, book ended by two main thoroughfares or even one main thoroughfare, you can relate. I live on said super cute little side street.  In order to make it just about anywhere- work, the gym, the grocery store, Target, or Starbucks, I have to cross a big ol’ busy street.

Now, there’s a method to crossing at the end of my street which intersects smack in the middle of the busy street.  First, the traffic lights at one end of the busy street has to be red and at the other, they need to be green.  Then, I have to make it to the middle of the street before it narrows into turn lanes. If can make it to the middle, getting all the way across the street is typically easy peasy. Make it to the middle then make it all the way to my final destination, which depending on the day could be to work or to get a tall soy green tea latte.

I’m learning in this season of my life, it’s important to get to the middle but not to get stuck. The middle is not the final destination, just a place to pause, so I can strategically get where I am trying to go. It’s important to start. To make the lists, to apply, to purge, to let go, to shift. It’s necessary to take the class, download the app,  meet with the financial adviser, unsubscribe from your favorite shops so you don’t feel like you’re missing out on “a great deal” every time an email comes through,  do your homework on the best counselors in the area, etc.

It’s even more important to accomplish work through the list and get stuff done, submit the application, attend the class, use the app, stick with the budget prescribed by your financial advisor and use that budget to empower you to not re-subscribe to your favorite shops for “a great deal”,  and complete an intake with the counseling practice you think will best meet your needs.

But what’ most important, is to make it all the way across, to get to the other side, journey on to our final destination.

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Photo courtesy of By Tezza.com

Can you imagine if all I ever did was get to the end of my sweet little side street, make it safely to the middle and stayed in the middle? Can you imagine if I just stayed there? If i never paid attention to the changing lights at either end of the busy street that created the conditions for me to finish the process I started? If I ignored the slowed cars, waving hands, and usually smiling faces that signaled “Danger is not present, be cautious, but go for it, cross the street, continue your journey, get to your destination”? Someone would probably call the police and say “There is a woman who is just standing in middle of the street. While she’s not disrupting traffic per se, she may end up getting hurt or causing someone else to get hurt.”

It sounds pretty ridiculous, right?

Yet, we do this. We make it to the middle and we hang out there. We are somewhere between grateful, surprised, excited that we started and made it past the first part of the journey to the middle. We didn’t get hit, no broken bones, no EMT coming to our aid. But then, we stay in the middle. We stay  longer than necessary, ultimately foregoing  our destinies.

We settle for the job because it pays the bills and provides insurance.  Never mind that it’s not even close to the work we’ve dreamed of doing or went to get a graduate degree for.  We stay with the partner because they’re not that bad really. They pick you up from work in your car. They help out with the kids (or your kids, depending on their mood)  as long as it’s not when the game is on, they aren’t tired, there’s another happy hour, or overtime isn’t being offered. We don’t apply to the ivy league school because college is college and if you got a scholarship to Princeton you can surely get one to the state school.  Slim thick is the new black, so no need to really go to the doctor about the weight we’ve put on that we know is a result of our job, because we’re not leaving the paycheck or the comfort of being there at what was supposed to be two years tuned seven  or the half priced appetizers where we go on Tuesday, Thursday, and Friday after work. We’re not going on a date after the divorce. In the middle “taking time” is acceptable. So we take six years and we look forward to year seven, even though the marriage ended because the abuse needed to end before someone’s life did.  We don’t let anyone get too close romantically because they may see the scars from when we used to cut or notice we tense up at their touch because of the attempted sexual assault, so we text a lot, talk a lot, and after the third date we find the reason to cancel date four, block their number, and try a new dating app. And we’re definitely not leaving the church we’ve been going to since we were four.  They depend on us to lead the small group bible study at our home, set up and tear down for the events, step in as second soprano if sister Angela does have to go visit her poor sick momma in Kentucky. It’s familiar. It’s manageable. We haven’t been hit.  It feels safe. The middle of that big ol street can be safe, but only temporarily.

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Photo courtesy of Because It’s Amazing Tumblr.com

The same way my chances of being hurt or causing hurt the longer I hang out in the middle of the street as opposed to finishing the process of actually crossing the street, we increase our chances of self harm and harming others the longer we linger in the middle of our journeys toward our purpose.  The longer I stay in the middle of the road, the longer I expose myself to the driver who is not paying attention to me and hits me, or swerves to avoid me at the last minute and hits someone else or something.

When we don’t figure out how to strategically navigate our middle or look for others who signal it’s safe to keep on keeping on, we rob ourselves of abundant lives;   lives that were meant to also help others on their journeys. We aren’t the best employees, partners, parents, entrepreneurs, daughters, friends, cousins, artists, leaders, versions of ourselves we were created to be.  We cheat our partners, children, friends, community members, patients, clients, and students-  offering them a hologram of us.  And, we know this.  Our bodies know this. We heap on unhealthy habits that typically lead to some type malady. We say we’re tired, feel stuck, just need a vacation, but it’s more than that. It’s the cost of settling for an illusion of safety. The middle offers an illusion of safety.  It offers the promise of almost. Let’s us take pride in starting, but it deters us from moving forward, reaching, completing, thriving, living- if we’re not mindful to manage the middle.

I’ve spent the last few years in the middle.  At first, it was exhilarating to make it to the middle. To observe enough to know when it was safe to make the initial cross- to start. There was entering a new field of work, a nice title, solid salary, new freedoms, new people, travel, and so many experiences and opportunities. However, I’ve noticed recently that it’s time for me to finish crossing the street.  The middle has served its purpose in facilitating my journey to the other side. It’s given me the time needed to note how temporary it was and how much more I’ve still got to do in order to be who I was created, gifted, and called to be. It’s given me the time needed to note the pain that results from hanging out there too long and the living that I am missing out on just hanging between what was and what will be.

My hope for you as you are on your own journey is that you stay mindful of the middle. Use it wisely, but don’t linger, don’t get stuck.  Let it serve its purpose in your life, but don’t let it hijack your purpose or your role in someone else discovering and living out their purpose.  Pay attention to the lights, the drivers, the signals so you know when to proceed with caution, but proceed nonetheless.

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Photo courtesy of HuffPost

 

 

Help My Belief

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Photo courtesy of S. Hammeck via Pinterest.com

We had issues. Like serious issues. Like sitting in those meetings in that room with the blinds tightly drawn to perhaps protect us or maybe spare him from embarrassment, felt like marital counseling for issues that were there long before I arrived on campus only a few months prior. Marital counseling for a wedding I never had, a dress I never purchased and danced the night away in, a groom that was nor favored Idris Elba or Simon Baker.

We muddled through, the nine of us assistant deans. First meeting with the president of the university, then with HR, and then with a consultant the president hired over the course of about six months. During the time with HR we all took the Strengths Finder assessment. It was an attempt at assessing strengths as a team, where some of the conflicts we were having may stem from, and how to leverage strengths to move forward.

We gathered in a house the campus owned just behind several of the office buildings on campus. We made our way down to the basement that must have at one time been a family room. There was a kitchen area and catered treats were in abundance, around a slight corner tables had been arranged in a circle of sorts with just enough space to allow us to still enjoy the beautiful fireplace.  As we took our seats and pulled out tour sheets of paper with our top five strengths the woman from human resources smiled empathetically at us and then shared that she would be reviewing the profile of all 34 strengths, including the strengths that no one on our team had in their top 5. She started through the list alphabetically and in no time we were at belief. “Now no one on your team had belief,” she started. I looked up at a few of my colleagues, who were aware that belief was one of my top 5 strengths. “People with this strength need to be a part of things they believe in. If they don’t believe in the work they are doing, the task required of them, or the outcomes, they will have a hard time completing tasks or really being on board. The internal struggle to do what they don’t believe often becomes too much for them, “ she went on. My colleagues and I exchanged glances once more. “This person won’t last long in an organization or a job that doesn’t align with their beliefs.  They are most likely going to quit,” she stated. We started laughing. We being almost all of the assistant deans. She looked up, tilted her head to the left slightly, and asked what did she miss. “Belief is one of my strengths,” I said.  She apologized and then asked if any of what she shared resonated with me “It’s spot on I shared.” A few months later, I submitted my resignation.

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Photo courtesy of Devine Art.com

I first took the strengths finder assessment in undergraduate school as a member of our residence life team. I don’t recall my strengths other than relator. I remember that all of my strengths seemed to really fit what I was studying in college, human development and family science. When I took the assessment  with my team of assistant deans relator wasn’t in my top 5, but I as okay with that. I liked my current list of strengths, felt they made sense to me and the way I see and navigate the world, with the exception of belief. For some reason that strength didn’t seem to really resonate as much as the others, although I had a deeper appreciation for it once it was explained to me.

Yet, here I am almost three years removed from taking the assessment a second time, wrestling with belief being strength, and now I laugh at how I ever doubted or questioned the role belief plays in the way I see and navigate the world. It’s why I curated the list of guest lecturers for my campus this semester, because I believe we need to learn more about what it means to communicate effectively across cultures and partner through coalition building and community organizing.  It’s why I stepped down from a search committee and reached out to human resources when I knew inequity had been ushered in and integrity shown the door.  It’s why every couple of weeks I spend some evenings before bed writing love notes to friends and family members to be snail mailed to their doorsteps. I believe we should open more than bills and that if you don’t tell people you love them they might not know or circumstances in life may cause them to question if they are loved and I don’t want that. So I believe in sending reminders on cute stationary, sometimes designed by me and sometimes in the sweet dollar section of Target. I believe in the dollar section of Target.

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Photo courtesy of Target (2015 Ad Campaign)

Fast forward to my sitting in a different coffee table writing this post after taking a day off from work because what happened the day before violated several of my beliefs. Clearly, my beliefs matter.

I’d been taught to pray “Lord, help my unbelief.” To seek help in growing my faith and diminishing doubt. But to be honest, these days my prayers have been “Lord, help my belief.”  There’s a boldness, a conviction, a forthrightness, a serious pursuit that comes with belief. It’s strong, deep, unwavering, and rebuffs any requests to be mediocre, settle, or subtly and quietly fade to the background. It looks, it listens, it leads, and in recent years I’ve learned to appreciate it.  

Today,  I’m learning how to live it. I’m learning how to live my beliefs in every area of my life. In the way I communicate,  pray, exercise, eat, relate, steward my finances, the work I do, the dreams I dream and work towards, etc. I’m learning to live in congruence with what I know deep in my soul to be what is best for me and what I’ve been designed and fashioned for on this side of heaven.  I’m learning to question more, and not out of insecurity or defiance, but out of assessing if it jives with who I am and desire to be. Cause if it doesn’t, I reject that sucka. If it does, I take care of it, protect it, bask in it, own it, live it.

The heart of the simply lived life has always been grounded in my belief that we have choice and that when we recognize that and own it, magical things happen for us, our friends, our families, our communities.  I’ve also believed that my words, strung together, will resonate with someone who needs help with their unbelief. This week however, my hope is that these words resonate with someone who needs help with their belief. May you live well this week. May your wellness spring forth from what you believe. May what you believe be healthy, loving, and gloriously reflective of who you were created to be and the life you were crafted to live.

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Photo courtesy of Riches for Rags Tumblr.com

Listen to Your Life

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Photo courtesy of Marie Claire

I sent this lovely picture (to the left to the left) of the oh so stylish SJP to one of my close girlfriends, Serena, and said “I’d like a photo op like this please.” Her response was “I can make that for you.” I didn’t doubt that she could because she is one of the most talented creatives I know and I am beyond grateful that I get to call her friend. We continued texting, about anything and everything including the winter storm threats both of our cities were under, her asking in response to my day not being what I needed when I was going to let it go and go be the best version of myself,  and good words I heard earlier in the day from one of my favorite podcasts, Chrystal’s Chronicles with  Chrystal Evans Hurst. “Listen to your life.” I texted Serena. Her response “And what’s your life saying?”

 

Can I just say that only a real friend  responds like that. Only a real friend asks the necessary question and waits for the vulnerable, unmasked, scary to text or say out loud answer. “It’s saying there’s a lot I need to shed/let go of.” 

She called me after that text and kept doing what good friends do. She shared some things she noticed when we last got together a few weeks ago over tea but waited for a better time to speak on them. She encouraged me and shared how excited she is and has always been about my gifts, talents, and goals. Lastly, she agreed that there are still some things that I need to shed.

We ended  the call with me expressing deep hope for a snow day the next day, because what I needed almost as much as I needed to go to sleep, was to be purposeful about listening to my life. I just wanted a moment.  A sweet tea, journal, pen, bible, moment to listen to what my life was saying.

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Photo courtesy of LaBella Tumblr.com

Well blessed grown man Jesus heard my prayers. Around 6am, jut after hitting snooze for the second time (I was listening to my body) a text came through from my college saying campus was closed for the day. Hallelujah!  I tried to go back to sleep after a round of group texts with family, but only for about a half an hour. Then I was up, sipping tea, and reading the devotional I purchased for Lent. The overarching theme in the passage for the day- timing, including the time for what was. I took it as a hint to make sure I made time to listen to my my lie today about what there still was for me to shed and let go of.

I won’t lie. I didn’t immediately grab my journal from my side table, ink pen, and curl up in the chair by the window in my bedroom. Nope. I got on Pinterest, Instagram, checked personal email (it was a snow day, I was not trying to check work email), etc. I got up and enjoyed some banana chocolate chip pancakes and then made my way to the gym. Don’t worry, the snow in my part of the city was still fairly reasonable to navigate and my gym is like three- ish blocks away. Walking there would be my warm up.

In fact, there was no “sweet tea, journal, pen, bible, moment” because life isn’t a moment. It’s a series of moments. So throughout the day, throughout the moments that made up my day, I did more tuning out and more tuning in to listen to my life. I paid attention to what I was attracted to on social media. I took a 2 hour nap. I didn’t answer each call that came in and was only the initiator of a few calls that went out. I didn’t even immediately respond to each text that came across my phone screen. I chose low impact machines at the gym and didn’t watch any of the televisions playing a steady stream of political news. I was selective about how I spent my time today, tuning into the decisions to be made about upcoming travel, financial commitments, time commitments, heart string commitments, telling my entire truth to a student who emailed me from my former institution about the ways in which racism, discrimination, and inequity were pervasive on campus (and from what she shared, still is) during my tenure there.

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Photo courtesy of Q. Taelor

I’m still working through Valerie Burton’s book Successful Women Think Differently. Recently I answered a series of questions helping me understand what helped me to be at my best in my relationships, finances, career, health, and faith. When I look at my responses to those questions and think about the words of Chrystal Evans Hurst, “Listen o your life,” it was crystal clear that during my best moments, I was at my best in terms of listening to my life. My boundaries were firmer, my work aligned with my beliefs, spending wasn’t a means of coping or purchasing items to look happy in an effort to overcompensate for misery, exercising 5 times a week wasn’t something I even though twice about, and I made decisions that aligned with my beliefs and the goals I had that best allowed me to live from my strengths and on purpose. The more I listened to my life, both to what I needed and wanted, the better I was. 

I want to encourage you to start listening to your life this week. Listen to what your life is telling you. Don’t hush the whispers for rest, for connection, for exercising. Don’t roll your eyes at her voice to write more, connect face to face over coffee with a friend instead of texting, make reservations for date night with your bae to nurture your relationship. Resist putting your fingers in your ears when she says call a therapist to help you navigate the burn out, depression, anxiety, or PTSD. When she says you need to spend some time dreaming a new dream, dream on. When she says you need to assert yourself, strategically and confidently go forth. When she says draft the resignation letter, draft it on the nearest napkin if you have to. When she says you are on the run, it’s okay to ask if you running from or running to. Listen to your life. Can you hear you now? 

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Photo courtesy of Start Handing Out Stars Tumblr.com

 

 

 

Madam Know It All

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Photo courtesy of Pinterest.com

It was #SelfcareWednesday and while part of the routine for a little over a month now has been a ballet body workout class, last week I didn’t put on the tights, pull up the hair, or put on the shoes. I needed a bubble bath, tea, and some adult coloring time. So, I did just that. I knew what I needed and this time, I made sure I got it.

 

In fact, it was the third day in a row where I managed to make sure I got what I needed. Whether it was extra sleep, coconut cream tea at one of my favorite coffee shops in West Philadelphia, not telling a few friends that I was in town so I didn’t run myself ragged trying to see and catch up with everyone, surprising my east coast nephew with pizza for dinner, chatting with my grandfather, or curling up in my aunt’s oversized chair and watching the Lethal Weapon shows she keeps on her DVR for me to see when I visit- what I needed took precedent over what others wanted or even needed.

As I pushed my little blue cart down the aisles of Marshalls looking for a new travel coffee mug that was double walled, cute, and reasonably priced but totally fawning over throw rugs that might introduce a little more spring into my space, I found myself declaring what I’d been doing to my friend on the phone. “It’s been costly and exhausting,” I told her. “So the way I see it, if I could spend all of that time, energy, and money trying to make other people happy, I could certainly start doing the same for me,” I continued. “AK, yes. Make sure you out here getting what you need,” she said.

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Photo courtesy of Tendances de Mode

I’ve had the fortune of seeing women in my life go for what they need. I’ve watched some grow into it, others fight for it, and others strut with a madam know it all stride as if it was in their genes. However, it’s only been in recent years that I’ve paid attention to what I’ve seen these women do. As I’ve pondered how, I’ve been able to recall the numerous times they made a decision to honor what they needed. Whether it’s been ending unhealthy relationships, quitting jobs with unhealthy environments, boldly starting new businesses, going back to school, no longer enabling adult children, taking a real vacation or even a staycation, end their thing for unavailable guys, or actually go to all of their annual appointments even after the last one turned up to reveal a lump, I’ve seen these women identify and go for what they knew they were in deep need of.  I’ve watched these women wrestle with the guilt that so easily leeches onto so many of us when we say “no’ to others and “yes” to ourselves, successfully managing to slip from its grip. I’ve watched them glow brighter and brighter each time they’ve made a sound decision that allows them to honor what they know they need even if it is interpreted as selfish, ridiculous, or ill timed.  But perhaps what I have witnessed that is most powerful is the peace and the joy that these women have. With each choice made to truly honor what they needed, they had more peace and more joy.

We’re working our way through the first quarter of the year (craziness right?) and maybe yours has been a little like mine, not exactly what I expected. Maybe it’s demanded a little more fight and offered a little less reprieve. What I’m learning that the best thing I can do is to honor what I know that I need. Recently that’s been to exercise self compassion, speak kindly to myself, keep up my #SelfcareWednesday routine, and even step down from a committee at wok that was adding way too much unnecessary stress, and spend time with people who add a bit more joy to my life than drama.  With each firm no and confident yes, I’ve had more peace and more joy.

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Photo courtesy of Luise Brimble.com

I want to encourage you this week to listen to what you need and honor it. It might be a little tricky. Wants can seem like needs, and needs can seem like wants. Be patient, quiet and still as you distinguish between the two.  Quiet the naysayers and escort the guilt out the door, off the front porch, and of the property.  Turn the phone on silent, get the bagel and the cream cheese, buy the shoes and wear them straight to that networking event where Mr. Not So Right will be, take the day off and go to the movies by yourself and get the large popcorn.  Put in for a few days off, book the appointment at the hair alone and not with your homie who always gives you a discount but only because she’s cancelled and rescheduled five times in the last two days. Take the yoga class, call the counselor and make the appointment, sleep in on Sunday and trust that the Reverend and the Lord will forgive you.

The better we are at knowing what we need, the better we are at supporting the people we love and need us. We get more peace, we get more joy, and honestly we get to know ourselves that much better. Besides, you are the only person on this planet you will have the longest relationship with. You might as well get to know yourself really well. Invite Madam Know It All over for some coffee, tea, or a cocktail and let her stay as long as she (you) needs.

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Photo courtesy of Donna Hay.com

#smallvictory

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Photo courtesy of Pinterest.com 

“I made it to Starbucks. #smallvictory”

That was the text I sent her. It took a lot to walk the half of block, in the blessed sunshine, amid the unusual warmth of a western New York city in February. Sliding into sweats, exchanging glasses for contacts, putting on my favorite little pair of faux diamond post back earrings, took more effort than it should have. But I wasn’t going to get lost in how it should have went. It went. And here I was  sitting  at the dark stained reclaimed wooden community table sipping a Blood Orange Pellegrino and munching on kettle cooked BBQ potato chips (Don’t judge me. It wasn’t a soy green teal latte kind of moment),  was a small victory.

The day was one that would be a series of small victories, following after the days before it. I had barely managed to survive the week at work. And by barely I mean Friday started with me crying on my way to work and ending the day with a workshop I led with plenty of crying students.  I was tossed one curve ball after another and they missed my bat, yet managed to hit either my head or my heart every single time. By Friday’s end, grateful was an understatement. By Saturday morning, I didn’t yet have the language let alone a word for the haze I found myself in.

I sent myself to the gym and barely managed 40 minute on the stationary bike. It was hard for some reason. I pedaled  until I couldn’t and gave myself permission to stop. I went to the grocery store and decided that my funk would be lifted by frying some fish, fixing some grits, baking some cornbread. Between that and a house filled with music, it was working. It was fleeting. By afternoon I was under covers and grateful to be there, yet equally appreciative to have errands to run with my friend and housemate later that evening.   I was better ‘til morning.

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Photo courtesy of @Effortlyss via Instagram 

Sunday morning came and I wouldn’t let myself think about how I felt. I wouldn’t let myself give into my feelings and miss church. I was up, dressed, protein shake consumed, and at church just in time for the small talk to close and worship to begin. I sent Jesus a thank you for getting me there and slid into the back pew, only managing a quick smile to the woman a little further down the row, and Lindsay, the pastor’s wife.  The sermon progressed, driving home the point of being honest with God. He used David and the Psalms as an example. He reminded us of how in all of his range of emotions David remained brutally honest with God. He didn’t hide his sorrow, his jubilance, his anger. As the service closed we were encouraged to go and do likewise.

So, I did. I sobbed.  I sobbed and sobbed and sobbed until my insides hurt. All of my 32 year oldness was more like 3 or 2 year oldness, at least that what it seemed like. You know the toddler who is so distressed and cries and cries until their face is red, hot, and they are coughing. That was me. Back hunched, eyes closed, heaving hot and hard, crying.  I am sad I mumbled. I am so so sad.  Lord I am sad.  This too  I would count as a #smallvictory.

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Photo courtesy of Afroklectic.Tumblr

I started to strive to give you a pretty ending to this post, but I don’t got one and honestly, I don’t think that’s necessary right now. Maybe because I’m not at the end. I’m smack in the messy middle. Middle of  the day. Middle of Starbucks. Middle of decisions.  Maybe because small victories happen in the middle. In the messy parts of life before we get to the end. They happen when we manage to get out the house and walk half a block to Starbucks in the sunshine and amid the unusual warmth. They happen when give it a go and let God know that the prayer won’t be a series of your awsomes but sobs and I’m sads, trusting that in all his awesomeness He can decipher it all- all the pain, the angst, the disappointment, the loneliness, the frustration, the deep deep hurt that aches, aches until the next day which is why sliding into sweats takes longer than it should.

My hope for you in reading this (I know right, me, hoping, and hoping not just for myself, but for you. I think I’m gonna count that as another #smallvictory) is that you too just take in the small victories, and may they build momentum as you muster your grit, manage to keep sight of grace, and muddle through the messy middle, inward, upward, forward.

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Photo courtesy of Black Guys Love Black Girls.Tumblr

Yes White Women, We’re Still Friends

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Photo courtesy of Dr. Jill Biden’s Twitter

We’re still friends. I still like many of them. I still love the ones that I’ve always loved. I still smile, answer my phone, reply to the text, show up to lunch, dinner, or coffee. Their birthdays are still on my phone, along with their kids. I haven’t erased any of our pictures together on Instagram, Facebook or Twitter. I’m headed to lunch with one next week, just got in from dinner with another, and currently strategizing how to visit a few of them in the early spring when I g out west to visit my family. I may however just be a little miffed by them. Not all of them. Just the ones who have spent the past few days after the US elected it’s newest president in shock, anger, and deep grief. I’ve read the texts, answered the calls, exchanged the emails, seen the post on social media, sat next to them, yet, many of the White Women in my life have left me choosing confusion, sadness, and pity, over perhaps the well deserving anger and doubt about the authenticity of our friendship so easily deserved after recent political events.

One said “It’s so personal. This election of someone who has been so openly hateful about so many people with those identities I care for.” “I’m worried for my daughter,” another said. “I think we may need to wait on having kids, “said another. “We’ve got work to do. I am determined to do something.”  I nodded, knowing it was the shock. I also pondered if every time I told them about my experiences of discrimination that I knew had its roots in racism, sexism, and ageism they thought I was joking, exaggerating, using my way with words to create fanciful stories gingerly constructed by a vivid imagination. Did they think my melanin was a perfected version of Trump’s tan? Did they, like the White woman president at my former institution, think that when I said  half of the Black administrators left the small college on the Eastern Shore of Maryland, it was “a coincidence”, because we had nothing better to do after we all relocated, some as far as the west coast, only the year prior?  Did they imagine me to be a master manipulator or a pathological liar who’d charmed every counselor I had over the past 10 years into believing I just had situational depression and the occasional bout of anxiety that could be managed with the right support network and increased knowledge of coping skills?

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Photo courtesy of LA Snoot Tumbler.com

Maybe they thought my expectations too lofty, like one of my White Women friends out west. I told her that I didn’t think I could take a job that would move me closer to the west coast, because I just didn’t see enough people who looked like me in the area and some of the questions asked during my interview made me question their commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion. She responded with what seemed more like thinly veiled disappointment and exasperation than understanding or empathy .“Well I think if that’s what you want then you’re going to need to move to the south or work at an HBCU.”  I’ve resisted calling her and telling her that if she wants a better circumstance for her children given our President elect that she may need to move to another country. 

My narrative, as to what it has meant and continues to mean for me to identify as a woman of color with a disability in the United States of America has not changed just because you started reading it and decided it was a work non fiction instead of fiction. My experiences are not new, more acute, or more, because you suddenly woke from the comfort of your White Woman in the United States of America coma and feel the sharp impact of what it means to live in a country you call home that is considering whether or not it will tolerate you or your children (especially your daughters), and what acts of violence it will inflict on you (systemically and institutionally) or rights it will strip or ignore should it find you intolerable. 

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Photo courtesy of Moi Sab.Tumblr.com 

But yes, we’re still friends. Despite our recent collision early Wednesday morning, that’s knocked us to the ground of our current political climate, we are still friends. I think your wounds may be deeper. With all of my brown-ness, woman-ness, and differently able bodied-ness, I saw the collision coming and began to slow down. But you, you did not see the political upset that has us sprawled on the mosaic tiles of our country’s floor of grief, anxiety, anger, and fear. As I tend to my wounds, many just old scars re opened, I will wait for you to fully regain consciousness, to fully awaken to the same United Sates of America I and many of those who share in my identities or other identities that have been under a delicately stitched tulle blanket of tolerance in this country, will wait for you to awaken. I will extend my hand to you and help you off the cold floor, and will walk the miles with you on your new journey,  in your new narrative, that are appropriate, until our paths diverge again. That, White Women, is what friends do. We see the hurt, we believe the hurt, we join in the hurt, we actively support the recovery as best we are able, and we journey on and let you do likewise, never to far to journey with, just acutely aware that our journeys are not the same. 

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Photo courtesy of Sandra Semburg