“The struggle is a part of the story” – Unknown
Sometimes I ask…
Who knows you, past the simple perfections that you portray to the world daily? Who knows the angst you fell asleep with last night, that still remains with you this morning? Who knows you past the superficial smile you greet the world with everyday, yet inside you are longing to be held, understood and accepted? Who knows what you truly feel about the world, when the music stops and the friends head home? Who knows that you cry when you are alone, for reasons that you cannot even articulate yet?
Sometimes I wonder…
Does anyone really care about I feel, like really care? Why is it so hard to engage people about real life stuff? Perhaps I know deep down, they really don’t care enough to do anything even if they did know. Would my life be different, if I had decided to take that right versus the left that I now question? Is happiness overrated, or am I pursuing the wrong dreams? Is my heart really in this thing, or am I fooling myself as well? Is all the effort and late night talks really worth it, or am I simply wasting my time? Is it only me that thinks this way? Is this just me doing that over thinking again, or am I really scared where my life is right now?
I have learned that if your are not taking the time to occasionally take an inventory of your own life and all of its complexities, you will eventually hit a wall, become overwhelmed or lose sight of what you are doing and why you initially began. Whether you are fully engulfed in a career pursuit, just beginning with a college dream, or pursing love with that signficant other, we must ask ourselves questions that provoke thought, challenge our borders and cause us to pause and think deeply about what we are doing and where we are headed.
Sometimes it’s not enough to reflect in a silo, although it may be safer and feel better, but occasionally we need to deliberately place ourselves in an unsafe zone and allow discomfort to happen. This is the place where you allow that close friend, spouse or counselor to have their way with you, so to speak. Give them license to dispense some raw truth into your heart and mind, and be prepared to listen and accept it, even if you ultimately decide to go a different direction.
This is more than simply seeking advice. At its core, it is becoming fully transparent and fully vulnerable. A scary concept for most of us, however imperative for growth, transformation and the ability to authentically connect and holistically love. If you could imagine that one can only love and connect as deep as they are willing to be vulnerable, what would that look like in your life? If that were the measuring stick for your current relationships and life pursuits, how deep or shallow would they be? And more importantly, how satisfied are you currently with them in that state?
Life is amazing and equally difficult, complex and downright hard at times. We struggle everyday, like a broken car on the side of the road. We can all stand a helping hand at some given point, but in order for that hand to enter our lives, we must make it known that we have a need. It’s not to say we should wear a sign that signifies our needs, but someone must know us as well as our struggles in order to get through them. Who is that one for you? That one that you have allowed into that deep place. You know, that place you rarely go yourself?
At the end of here day, I want to love hard, work hard and play hard. Not just to say that I did, but to know that I lived my life in such a way that transcended my ego, my fears, my traditions and embraced my faith, my heart and my hope to be loved and understood in a meaningful way, not just past my struggles, best because of them.
I want to say this…
You know my struggles, therefore you know me, because I chose you. Not because you were safe, quite the contrary actually. You scared the living daylight out of me, but I knew I wanted you to know me, feel me and deeply connect with me. So you didn’t start by asking me a list of questions, you simply shared your own intimate life and made it okay for me to share my own. Thank you for saying yes and being more than my friend, but a light into my preferred future.
Sometimes I ask and sometimes I wonder, but I am grateful for you because the questions ultimately reveal their own answers as I live, love and remain hopeful. You know my struggle…
“Don’t wait for the perfect moment, take the moment and make it perfect.” – Zoey Sayward
Most of us can relate to knowing what it looks like to not quit or give up, but willing ourselves to hang in the battle does not necessarily equate to doing better. One can strive to hang in there and keep pressing along, but what if you have not found a way to not just improve your process or life outlook, but answer the question of what actually inspires you to remain, believe and fight for what you want? I will tell you what happens. You will go along for a while on sheer determination, but eventually succumb to your tank being empty, once again.
For a season of my life this was definitely my practice. I was often so quick to just keep going, that I failed to recognize, understand and assess why I became frustrated in the first place. This led to quick restarts, but quicker stops because eventually I lost momentum and realized my mind and heart were not aligned with the steps I was currently taking. And because we seldom know what we don’t know, I remained on this vicious cycle until things came crashing down on me.
Life lessons can be so hard to ascertain, I mean like really get them, to a point where you are making changes that impact how you live, how you think and you fully understanding why. The why is so important, because that it is where our inspiration lives. The thing that breathes life when we are down, the thing that speaks yes to our hearts when outside forces are saying no, and the thing that empowers us to continue to believe when we are surrounded by doubt and unbelief.
So I ask again, what inspires you to do better? Whether you are seeking to become a better parent, a better spouse, a better partner, a better student or a better employee, whatever your situation is we all need to dig deep and find out where our inspiration lives. Like the wind beneath the wings that causes an eagle to soar through the air, it is essential, invisible, yet powerful. It will give you life amongst dead things and cause you to walk tall throughout discouragement.
What inspires you to do better?
“Be strong enough to stand alone, smart enough to know when you need help, and brave enough to ask for it.” – Unknown
For some it just comes naturally, while for others it requires discipline, commitment to the cause, and hard work. A description that usually depicts the natural talents of a star athlete or an academically strong student, but I am not speaking of either on this occasion. What I am speaking of is the ability, personal choice, strong desire, attitude and character it takes to walk alone at times, especially when it seems less popular or will inevitably impact friendships negatively and other parts of your intimate relationships and life connections in unknown ways.
Even with the potential risks of missing out on something or that someone, usually when we arrive at this juncture in our life journey it is for good reason, even if we do not fully understand the overarching purpose just yet. What we usually are aware of is the deep need to slow down, reconnect with ourselves and refresh our outlook on life, and our place it in. Oftentimes, we simply fail to acknowledge this need lying deep in our souls, or have not learned how our triggers work to give us warning that something is out of balance inside.
What we are usually unaware of is the amount of energy we are exerting to maintain our relationships, careers, current lifestyles, basically what have come to call our normal routine, until we become completely depleted and find ourselves stripped of all passion, competitiveness or desire to engage at the same level that we once had in the past.
So how did we get here? I mean at that place where it seems we are spinning, ineffective, frustrated and easily provoked more often than not? That is indeed the million-dollar question, and for each person there lies a unique answer, but at its core the answers are fairly common. Yet, as we know common sense is not necessarily common, so below is my attempt to list a few things that usually get me off my best course. See what you can relate with and add your own.
1. Doing too much at one time. – We have all been guilty of this. We forget the art of saying “no” to others and take on more than we can handle. At some point soon we recognize our inability to manage all the stuff and something begins to suffer. Unfortunately the one that suffers is usually us, and how we suffer is usually dynamic, meaning it has multiple layers that are not always easily remedied.
2. Failing to ask for support. – I have always taken pride in knowing that I can get things done. Not so I can say I did it alone, but once I make a commitment I try my best to do what I said, but when things start falling a part at the seams I am certainly guilty of becoming a Lone Ranger. Simply asking for help could have made things a lot lighter for me.
3. Not weighing the impact of saying “yes”. In the beginning it all seems fine and manageable, but a few weeks into it, we quickly learn that we are becoming overwhelmed and this added “thing” just does not fit in our lives at all. We have to learn to not quickly agree to anything and see how it will impact our daily routines. Does it work, why or why not?
4. Our inability to see when we are becoming fragmented and frustrated. – The Ancient Greek aphorism “know thyself” can be applied here. Have you learned when it is time to reflect, take a nap or reset or do you just keep going, simply because things are not finished yet? You are certainly headed for a crash if you said yes. The signs are usually everywhere, we just need to become a little more sensitive to them and act accordingly.
So how does this all apply to standing alone? Well perhaps if we can better understand how we arrived at a specific place, we can better plan how not to arrive at that same place the next time, and once we learn the lessons we can spend more energy staying balanced versus getting balanced.
Standing alone can be hours for some and months or years for others. The key is we are actively taking time for ourselves, independent of everyone and anything else. The most important things/people in our lives require that we remain on point and ready at all times. Let’s just make sure that we are first considering “ourselves” in the formula of that importance.
So if you have not done it lately, take a time out for yourself. Breathe in deeply, turn off the television and tune out the noise in your life. Get still, take a walk, get re-acquainted with who you are, enjoy the creation around you, recognize the beauty that exist in your world and your place in that beauty.
“The sun, the earth, love, friends, our very breath are parts of the banquet.” – Rebecca Harding Davis
I have had the privilege of experiencing and participating in the birth of each of my three children. As I took part in this wonderful miracle I remember the lessons taught to me and their mom about breathing during Lamaze classes. I’ll admit like most men, I wasn’t too keen on participating with this, but I learned according to mommybites.com,
Deep breathing initiates the parasympathetic nervous system, also known as the “rest and relax” state. When the body is situated in this state, the heart rate slows down, intestinal and glandular activity increase, and the sphincter muscles relax. All of these occurrences support the body’s ability to birth more easily.
So even though I still don’t all together understand the science behind this I will agree it works. Imagine that, how just breathing in a certain way can have such a significant impact on one of life’s most precious miracles! As I reflect on the importance of breathing correctly during this time I cannot help but think of the many times I could have used this same technique to release some of my tension during a stressful time, paused for a few minutes prior to making an important decision or simply to help me relax prior to sleeping for the night. It almost seems to easy to be effective. So easy that many of us choose to seek more complex solutions to answers that could be right before us. In this our journeys become longer, harder and much more complex than they need to be, but I suppose these are the lessons that we must learn, and as we grow these journeys become shorter and simpler depending on what we have actually acquired.
How we approach the difficulties in our lives is directly tied to our life experiences. For example if I have consistently failed at some particular thing, whether a relationship, educational pursuit or working on personal growth, I will approach that thing potentially with doubt and anxiousness. I will replay my past scenarios and essentially allow the script to write itself. Stepping back to mediate, pray or think of the situation from a different perspective unfortunately is not our typical plan of attack. It easier for us to worry about the outcome, imagine all the ways we could fail and what that failure looks like, than it is to possess the faith and belief to see a dream come into fruition. That said, we must change our experiences in order to change our behaviors.
I remember a night, after finally accepting that a relationship was really over. The air felt so thick that it was as if I could suffocate from it. Everything about my life at that time seemed like it was in a state of confusion. I reflected on pictures, pleasant memories and what was imperative for me to do with my next steps. It was not until I had released that I had failed, at yet another marriage was I able to move forward. In that state of humility I took many deep breaths of reflection, regret and remorse. This place of reflection not only allowed me to see my part with the failure of my relationship, but it also permitted me to take responsibility for it and take essential steps to help others heal, along with myself.
My choice to finally be still during this time of duress versus essentially traveling in perpetual circles proved to be the turning point in my journey to become whole. The ability to cast down guilt, naysayers and being my own worst enemy was critical to any hope that I was going to attain and sustain. I attribute the ability to move forward to my faith in God, the power of His Spirit and the art of reflecting. You see it was that night of reflection that created the opportunity for me to clearly see how I had screwed things up. Breathing deeply forced me to go deeper into the “why” I was making poor relational decisions versus stopping at only the “what”. These are the questions I failed to ask myself in times prior, so it was easy to continue, business as usual. Jacking up people’s lives, including my own.
For years I would awake in the middle of the night clinching and grinding my teeth due to stress. I would worry about what others thought of me, how my life got to where it was and how I was going to make improvements. The steps to becoming whole were profound, but they were not necessarily these earth-shattering moments for everyone to witness. It was during my quiet times where the changes began. During these quiet times, I prayed, journaled and reflected on my past. I wanted answers that only God could give me. Although I had a few great counselors and friends, it was not their responsibility to give me answers, only to show me the way towards some of them. Ultimately I had to muster up the courage and dare to believe that life could go on again, but this time in a better way. This did not mean that I did not have a past to reconcile with, but it did mean that I no longer had to be defined by it.
Learning to take a moment to pause and breathe has helped my life tremendously. Once I stopped reacting and pointlessly defending myself to people who really had no impact on my life was when I begin live free of bondage. Even when others do have an impact on my life, I still choose to make decisions based on my truth, not theirs. I consult others when absolutely essential, but the choices I make regarding my life and future are not up for a democratic vote. As I pause and take the time to seek the best answers for me, I do it with grace, gratitude and patience – all while taking the time to breathe deeply. In this place, even when the outcome is less than desired, because I have owned it and understood the real risk or potential issues regarding it, I still have a peace that keeps me still and content.
What dreams or life purposes are you giving up too soon on due to a poor perspective? Let’s take some advice from the many women during labor that must push, breathe and believe the pain of childbirth will ultimately deliver a new life. Let’s push our dreams and life goals out with a perspective of grace, gratitude and patience along with a commitment for a better tomorrow for us and all those involved. Let us remember to breathe deeply and as each breath is released from our lungs we enable our body’s, soul’s and spirit’s to reflect on the greater purpose that God has for us. As we each recognize that the air we breathe is essential for life, let us also recognize the way in which we take that air in and out of our bodies is just as important.
We have the power to impact our own atmosphere with the ideas, perspectives and level of faith we bring to each circumstance and situation we face, and although breathing has become an involuntary act since birth for every healthy human being, how we breathe has not. As I have learned, remembering to breathe is not just the simple act of inhaling and exhaling, but at the most critical times it is the choice to breathe deeply, reflect and pause, which can literally alter our current state, like it does during child-birth.
“The ultimate tragedy is not the oppression and cruelty by the bad people but the silence over that by good people” – Martin Luther King, Jr.
This past week my heart dropped when I heard the news about the shootings in Charleston, S.C. I wasn’t sure how to feel. I sat there in utter disbelief! A part of me cried and another part of me became very angry. I realize that we live in a world full of violence and people who hate just because, but for me this act actually shook a bit of my world. I consider myself a man of faith, hope and one who looks for the good that can come from a negative situation. I mean after all this page is about looking on the bright side, hence The Upside of Down. But this weekend if I’m honest with you, I struggled to get there, I struggled to find peace and I struggled to find the good coming out. As I looked at the pictures of the now deceased – Cynthia Graham Hurd (55), Tywanza Sanders (26), Sharonda Coleman-Singleton (45), Myra Thompson (59), Ethel Lance (70), Susie Jackson (87), Reverend Daniel Simmons Sr. (74), DePayne Middleton Doctor (49) and Senator Clementa C. Pinckney (41), I feel a numbness and a hardness attempting to consume me. I know I must press through even this, but I confess – THIS IS HARD!
This weekend I stopped at a local restaurant to grab a quick bite to eat. As I was eating my food in the parking lot, minding my own business a group of twenty to thirty something year-old caucasian kids walked past my car heading for the restaurant. They paid me no mind, but for the first time I can ever remember in my 46 years on earth, I was afraid for my life for a brief second. It was a daunting feeling and was hard to shake even after the initial pass. I realize this recent shooting was not a first and unfortunately will not be the last, but I believe the reason that I felt fear and resonate with this particular crime so much is because of the location and the people the shooter chose to kill. Not only did he plot to murder African-Americans Christians, but he chose leaders within that community, minding their own business doing God’s work behind the scenes, while living impactful lives. Even those facts are really nothing new for us, but for me it struck a chord. A cord that will for the rest of my life impact how I make decisions, pray, teach my children and become more vigilant as a father and a leader.
I would rather die knowing that I was fulfilling my life’s purpose than knowing I was safe and not doing anything at all.
I’m always sharing with my children that tomorrow is not promised, so we must live our lives with purpose and as if we may never see one another again. This must remain in our minds each time we leave our home, venturing out towards our day. I love the statement that Malcolm Graham made about his sister Cynthia Graham Hurd, “She was a not a victim. She was a Christian. She was a soldier. She was a warrior. She was with her Maker when she took her last breath.” What awesome words to declare about the life of someone you loved, but more importantly about someone who you knew that statement to be true and accurate.
I am re-examining how I live my life. I will bundle up the fear, anger and pain resulting from this tragedy and redirect that energy to fuel my own life’s work. I will refocus and know at any moment it could end, but I will not be afraid of death, I will not even be afraid of life, therefore as I yet have breath flowing through my lungs and a sound mind, I will not shun from any opportunity to do more, go further and to exploit my God-given abilities.
For sometimes it’s not only the fear of death that causes us to stumble, but the fear of living and being recognized for doing something great.
How many times have you avoided speaking your mind, deferred the answer to someone else or simply walked away from an opportunity, knowing good and well that you were capable, worthy and the right person for the job or task? We all have experienced this at some point on in our lives, but as I read and listen to the family members and loved ones of these nine courageous individuals speak about forgiveness, and declare the amazing contributions that each of them added to their lives and the world, I am inspired. I am inspired about what legacies they leave behind and how each of them will continue to touch all of us that allow ourselves to feel and identify with who they were as human beings (not just African-Americans). And realize that even though their lives were violently taken from them, the songs they sang, the people they taught, the lives they affected and the messages that they preached now touch the world. For that I am thankful, because their spirits and what they stood for can never be killed with a bullet, ignorant opinions, or racist actions. That truth will prevail.
The Bible states is James 4:14b,c – For what is your life? It is even a vapor, that appears for a little time, and then vanishes away. Now whether you believe the Bible or not is the question here, but to understand the message is critical. We don’t have much time in retrospect of everything. Life is indeed short and every moment that we have to live, it is crucial that we live with resolve. In these times we cannot afford to waste moments, but we must be about our life’s work. Utilizing and exploiting every gift and talent that we have been blessed with. As I look at the age range of those that died, they represented ones just beginning their life, coming out of college and others near the end their walk. Despite their ages, they each were able to give something significant to their families, communities and now even the world. The world has now seen nine beautiful souls that lived with intention, love for themselves as well as others and their legacies will never be forgotten.
I pray that you never forget that day and never forget the nine that died on Wednesday, June 17, 2015. I pray that as you chose to read this post, you recognize that ALL lives matter. Let’s embrace our children and help them work through this tragedy and like the son (Chris Singleton) of Sharonda Coleman-Singleton stated in his brief news briefing, “Love is always stronger than hate.” Love is truly the strongest force in the world.
What are you excited about these days ? What’s making you dance and sing in the car ? I have many things to be thankful for, but I must admit the anticipation of launching this site makes me smile inside. Not sure exactly what it is, well maybe I do. When your life meets a part of the destiny that you are supposed to live you can’t help but dance and sing.
Enjoy the song!