“It’s not whats under the tree that matters, it’s who’s gathered around it.” – Unknown
Merry Christmas Everyone!!
I pray that you all will take this time to enjoy family and friends. Life is precious and we all need to not only remember the reason for the season, but take the time to reflect on what is truly important. The people we call family (blood related or not) are who give us meaning and connect us to the most important things in life.
So enjoy the day and celebrate the life that God has given us. See you next week.
“Don’t look for love. Quietly give it away and let it find you back.” – Unknown
Have you ever been so tired that you can’t see straight? Well that is me tonight, so I am going to make this short and sweet. It has been a short, but long weekend. Know what I mean? The theme has been “moving”. Never a fun thing, actually quite stressful whether it is for you or someone else, but nonetheless a necessary evil I suppose.
As much as I want to complain about helping others move I cannot because at the end of the day, it was done for people whom I love, and in this case, that is what love does.
Even as I am writing this post my eyes want to close, but I am committed to sharing something relevant, current and real every week, so that is what I am doing.
What have you done in the name of love lately? Like gave of yourself sacrificially for someone else, and expected no accolades in return? In many cases it is a rare event. After all, we only have so much energy, but when it is done with pure intentions, it can change a life for the better.
So the next time someone ask you to do something that causes you to stretch yourself or it disrupts your preplanned events, before you just say no or make an excuse about why you cannot do it, take a second look at what is motivating you to say no. Perhaps this is one of those moments for you to pay it forward, just because.
This was one of those moments for me, and even though I am completely exhausted and still have to rise up early for my day job, I have no regrets and honestly did it with peace in my heart (well after a little internal battle with myself first).
That said, I have no more words, but do it for love, whatever “it” is. My bed is awaiting me and I am going to sleep now. Pleasant dreams.
“One of the hardest things to do in life is to look at one’s self and recognize our own failures, short-comings and poor decisions we have made, but repeating them will prove to be the more difficult lesson.” – Henry G. Nutt, III
So I am forty-eight years old, a father of four children with two being a legal adults now, and I am married for the third time to a wonderful woman. I do not consider myself a spokesperson for the black male specie, divorced fathers or any group of the like, but what I do have is a life richly filled life with experiences and lessons that I hold dear to my heart. I came from the school of hard knocks when it comes to love and learning and what the hell it really means, at least from my point of view. Like many, I have been shaped and biased by my own personal experiences along the way, but I have equally put a lot of time into personal growth. Sometimes that has come in form of professional counseling, talking to friends and family, many hours of prayer and a devotion to personal reflection. During this phase of transformation, I committed myself to a life-long journey of learning by embracing the art of being still, intently listening to my inner voice and recognizing that nothing happens without a reason.
Prior to coming to this understanding, my mind was often plagued with excuses and reasons why I was unable to achieve a certain thing, maintain a specific relationship or fall short of a desired goal. To put it mildly, I was a mess, sorrowfully immature with a short-sided view of the big picture. The fact that I can even say this publicly is evident that I have come a long way to myself, because let me tell it a several years back, I had it all together and everyone else needed work. Now mind you, I still have a long way to go, and the journey has been nothing short of hard work and lots emotional pain, but I am here to tell the story (as my wife says) and I am grateful to be able to do so.
It is not everyday that we have the opportunity to tell our story before it is too late. I mean late like in being deceased, still ignorant to the real truth (by choice or not), or being too hard-headed to know any better. Either one presents its own set of mini tragedies for self or others tied to our drama. So as I list the three most significant lessons that I have learned to date, perhaps you can add one to the list from your own personal journey, or better yet, share your own list.
1. Embracing the art of being still – Psalms 46:10 says, “Be still and know that I am God.” When the creator of the universe advises us to pause every once in a while, we should learn to do so. However if it were that easy, He probably would not have had to make it so prolific by recording it in the Bible. Just think about an infant or little kid. The last thing they have or think about is being still or patient. They want what they want now, like right now! And when we choose to not accommodate them in real-time, they scream, throw stuff and have selfish tantrums. This is what they do and although it is not acceptable social behavior, for a young child we give them a pass, after all it is a part of growing up.
We have all been there, but what happens when that same child is now older and acts in the same manner? Uh, they get kicked to the curb, scolded and dismissed with a quickness and/or simply ignored until they go away. (And that is being nice for some families) So how in the heck do we expect to receive a pass as an adult when we cannot exhort patience, self constraint or learn to be still when it could matter the most? It almost seems simple, but unfortunately it is not.
Like the child, we want what we want now, and waiting is not an option. We will literally and figuratively kick and scream until we get it with no shame or remorse. How tragic yet equally true, and just like the inappropriate kid, no one really wants to be around you. You are annoying, selfish and mostly insensitive to everyone but yourself. I know because I was that guy in some ways.
So being still can look like many things. For me it means being slow to speak when things get crazy, choosing to sleep on things before I respond, pray and wait for an answer (the key is waiting for the answer part, not just praying), taking many deep breaths prior to engaging difficulty while at the same time considering the risks and the source I am engaging with, never responding while I am angry, because I always regret the outcome and finally recognizing that reacting versus responding are two very different actions.
Essentially the ultimate purpose of being still is to hear and listen to your inner voice, recognize what is being said and determine if what you are hearing is the right move. If we never give ourselves a chance to take it all in, we quickly lose sight or really never gain any sight at all, and we can become victims to our impulses. We say and do mean things that feel good in the moment, but often serve no helpful purpose. This is usually how regrets occur, so as much as it may feel good in the moment to retaliate, react quickly or react in anger, in the famous words of Dr. Phil, “How is that working for you?” Mostly likely it is not working at all and has created more drama than what you first began with.
Although waiting may test every ounce of patience we have, when effectively exercised it will prove to be our best option.
2. Listening to your inner voice – So after we make the decision to be still, we afford ourselves the opportunity to hear if we now choose to listen. Sometimes my inner voice is simply common sense that is usually not so common, God attempting to speak to me or words of wisdom passed through trying to break through my hardened heart.
Choosing to listen to our inner voice is analogous to stopping on the side of the freeway and revisiting our map because we finally acknowledge that we may be lost. Now everyone is passing us and we feel as if we loss ground or lost the race.
I can attest to losing ground and getting seemingly behind when choosing to pause, but as time moved on it was usually the best decision I made. After several failed relationships, going into another one fast, was the last thing I needed to do. So I finally decided to pause and take the time to understand what was really going on with me. Could it be I just did not like being alone? I learned that is called being human and okay, but just filling that void the way I had was not okay for me, an especially the one I was involved with. It was always a decision full of regrets, until I learned to be still and listen.
It took many falls and much brokenness to arrive at this place. While on that journey of disparity it was easy to see the pitfalls coming into fruition now that I look back. My future was easy to predict. It was the same old same old,…different day. No rocket scientist was required to determine the state of my life back then. The reasons were obvious and evident. There was nothing deep or profound about it, for I had created all the reasons for my then current issues and circumstances.
3. Recognize that nothing happens without a reason – There will be times in life when we truly do not understand why certain things happen or work out the way that they do, and then there will be times when once we become still and listen to our inner voice, that we will be able to put the missing pieces together. We can come to a place of understanding where we learn about our own motivations, the good and the not so good ones.
Many times we are in search of answers about “the whys” in our lives and many times the answers are right in front of us. We simply chose to ignore the obvious. This is also a form if denial, but until we have matured, we will continue to chalk it up as senseless or meaningless rhetoric.
We ask ourselves, “Why is life so hard for me? Why do I keep finding myself is broken relationships? Why am I always is debt or living from paycheck to paycheck? Why do I give up so easily? The questions can be endless, but the answers may right there hidden under a few layers of self discovery. Perhaps the answers will come from the Holy Spirit speaking to you in ways that only you can understand, or words that laid dormant in your spirit for decades, spoken from a late relative, pastor or counselor. The key is that you get still enough to recognize your own history and hear your heart is so desperately trying to say, at least the parts that you can understand during that time. Then what lies ahead can be worked out with some support, therapy or perhaps you will discover the “whys” for yourself.
So as I mentioned, it may seem as if you are on the side of the road remapping your journey, but at least once you begin driving again you will know where you are heading. And even if you need help with the directions, at least the journey that you now embark on will resonate with who you are and where you ultimately want to be.
Life lessons, reflecting and taking the time to assess our lives is an essential part of life. When we fail to learn from a painful or unfulfilled past we will inevitably relive those moments over and over again. Part of the beauty of life is getting out and smelling the roses. So as you are on your journey of life, stop that figurative car and refocus your plan. Is this where you should be going? Have things changed? Is this still the best thing for you? If the answer is yes, than great. While your out, enjoy the scenery (smell a rose two) and get back on the road. If not, remember the beauty of my life lessons and apply them were applicable, and do not forget to add a few of your own and share them with someone else.
“Sometimes when I say, I’m okay”, I want someone to look me in the eyes, hug me tight, and say, ” I know you’re not” – Unknown
I’m not quite sure if it is the crap I have been through, it’s simply a part of my make up or I am just a sucker for the down trodden. Whatever it is I have always had this propensity to find and help hurting people. Now I don’t consider it a weakness, nor a strength necessarily, but it is me at my core and for years I have often wondered why I was blessed (or cursed, depending how you look at it) with this ability and outlook on life, because as much as it is a wonderful disposition, gift or characteristic to have, it also comes with its own set of potential problems. Like when should I turn it off or tone it down to give others the opportunity to work through their own set of issues? When people fail to hold true to this, we will inevitably become known as enablers or crutches. So to prevent the entire notion of being my brother’s keeper becoming something negative and discourteous it became imperative that I learn a few things, otherwise premature burnout was certainly in my future. Actually I cannot honestly say that I did not finally reach the point of burnout at some point, because I did. I just chose not to stay there.
Making this decision is what placed me on my journey to live a more healthy lifestyle when it comes to assisting others. Here are a few things that I learned along the way.
- Establish healthy boundaries, so people are crystal clear where your support begins and ends – I am always saying, “What does that look like?” People need to know where your limits are and what your assistance or support will include, when it will it stop and based on what conditions it will become null and void. For years I was afraid to have this attitude because I wanted to be everyone’s superhero, go to guy and best friend. How exhausting and debilitating this became to sustain! Until I was able to have this often challenging conversation with those whom I was trying to help, I remained on the hook with them. There was seemingly no end to the help I was attempting to give, simply because I was afraid to say “no” or provide the conditions that I expected. This can be especially troubling with family and close friends, because we never want to let them down, after all, they are family right? Wrong, family can be the worst perpetrators of this, simply because they have the type of access that others do not. And they also have an uncanny way to make us feel guilty over things we should not. So we have to lay out the rules from the outset. For instance, years ago I had a family member live with me. I was compassionate, displayed empathy, understood their needs, and was willing to help. But I also had a tough conversations about terms and expectations. It was clear between us both how long the stay would be and also how it could prematurely end. My display of compassion and empathy was not to be mistaken for a lapse of good judgement, and I had a responsibility to tell them prior to moving in.
- Follow through with your established agreements – Sometimes the hardest things to do are the things that you said you would, especially when it does not feel pleasant, however if you followed rule number one, it will prove to be a much simpler task. When you laid a foundation at the beginning, following through on aforementioned discussions should not become emotional or personal. I know this is easier said than done (depending on who we are dealing with), but it should be a straight forward conversation at this point. It really comes to: “When you do that, I will do this” kind of a conversation. It doesn’t have to be a punitive discussion, simply a follow through on previously established agreements. So keep the lines clear and don’t allow it to become cluttered with confusion.
- Get comfortable with saying the word no – Fortunately it is not our responsibility to save the world. Perhaps we will help many throughout the course of our lives, but we cannot save them all nor should we try. That said, we need to fully understand our limitations, and at least be honest with ourselves about them. Even if our heart is genuinely crying out to provide support, we just may not be able to at that time. Whether emotionally or financially. That is not the end of the world, because you are not their source and people tend to find others ways when we cannot genuinely be there in the ways they are seeking. Using the word “no” does not have to be the killjoy it can be known as in this type of situation. It can actually become the motivating factor for setting a new course. Kind of like that saying, “When one door closes, another one opens.” Perhaps you are being used to close a necessary door, so another one will be sought and eventually opened.
I will admit that even with these learned lessons, I still struggle at times with not supporting people who want it, but do not necessarily need it. I suppose it is just my heart, and I accept that as one of my personal traits. It makes me who I am, like no one else. It also allows me to really see people for who they truly are and why they often struggle. I pray that in my journey I will continue to cross paths with those that genuinely need support, and that I am able to help them in a meaningful way. Even if it is just to see them and acknowledge their suffering or hardships, because although the world has over 6 billion people in it and we live in over crowded cities, it can still be a very lonely place.
So take note of my three rules, but never stop seeing people when they are down.
“We don’t remember days, we remember moments” – Cesare Pavese
So here I am sitting on my bed in New Orleans, Louisiana better known as Nawlings to the locals, writing my weekly post. It has been a long day or at least an early one of travel. We (Niala and I) were out the door at 4:50am this morning heading to the airport for a 6:30am flight out of Oakland, CA., with Xavier University in our focus. We have about one week to make a decision about college and I think this is the one, but of course Niala must be in agreement. So once we arrived around 2:30pm CDT, we checked in and immediately hit the streets to eat and check out the scene. This is my second trip here, but this one will be a different kind of special I’m almost certain.
As our children get older the moments we have together become less frequent and more special, so I intend to make the most of this day and a half with my young adult. Our first meal, we enjoyed some fresh oysters, gumbo, red beans and rice, just for starters. We’ll finish it off with Beignets at the famous Cafe Dumond later this evening, but right after our meal we took a stroll down Bourbon Street and saw, well if you know Bourbon Street you know what we saw. It was a bit of everything in all shades and colors. A fun time for sure. 🙂
Tomorrow we our scheduled to tour the college campus at 10:00am and see what it has to offer and of course to see how it fits with Nia’s personality and collegiate goals to become a pediatrician. I am very excited for her and being a part of this stage of her life. These are the types of moments that make any parent reflect on life and think of the many stages that our children go through. I’m proud and overjoyed that Nia has worked to afford herself the acceptance of several colleges. It is truly why we push our children so diligently to remain focused, keep the educational process in the forefront of their minds and to tirelessly work hard towards attaining their goals.
This is an amazing stage to be a part of. I cannot fathom not being a part of her life or any of the stages of my children’s lives for that matter. I see it as an honor, privilege and duty as a father. Those that miss out truly miss a moment in history that can never be recaptured, recreated or experienced again. Once it ‘s gone, it is gone forever. Therefore enjoy every stage and every moment as a blessing. The lives of our children unfolding is like watching a plant grow and eventually bloom. If we are not there to see it for ourselves, we miss something special, we miss something life altering, we miss the flower blooming at the greatest of moments.
As I sit here on the bed writing, I’m watching Nia work on homework for school. This is what she does and this is why she is where she is. If I sound like a proud father, you are correct. I am that guy and will say it loud!
Please do not miss your moments, for each one will carve out a type of tapestry in your history and theirs and when they complete the mission, you will be remembered for simply being there during the stage.
“Success isn’t just what you accomplish in your life, it’s about what you inspire others to do.” – Unknown
Having children will always be one of my most exciting, fulfilling and monumental moments that I will ever experience. It still feels like yesterday that I was having my firstborn (Niala). Well, okay her mother was having her and I was on the sidelines cheering her on, or at least trying to be a good coach. I can recall the very moment she poked her head into the world. I saw all the hair on her head first and there she was alive, healthy, kicking and screaming. It seems the screaming part lasted longer than I imagined, but I digress.
For some reason after she was born I had to make a quick dash to our vehicle to get something, not sure what it was anymore, but upon my return her mom (my wife at the time) was rushed into emergency surgery. Our newborn had caused her to tear during the birthing process and she was bleeding internally. It was a scary time for us both and it took many years for her to fully recover from the blood loss, which caused congestive heart failure. So point being, Niala almost killed her mother during birth, literally. I promise there is a point to this story 🙂
When Niala was just four months inside her mother still, I had a dream about what gender she was. I was convinced that she was a girl because I believed that God had given me her name during a dream. It was as clear as day, but I was concerned her mother would not like the name, so I kept it to myself for a while. Then I begin to look at names and their meanings in a book. When I found her name I realized it indeed was a real name and actually had a profound meaning. It was kind of two-fold, because her full name means “destined for success”, and her short name (Nia), means “strong warrior”. It was confirmed after that, and she has certainly lived up to both names and then some. From day one she came out fighting, (hence the mom story at birth) and has never let up. And interestingly enough her mom always believed that Niala was a boy, even up into birth.
The first-born is always special and because I actually wanted a girl first, it made the entire experience of being a parent that more special. The first child inherently gets the best of your time as you are learning to adapt to the new lifestyle changes, which include learning when she wanted to eat, what cry means what, and the new appreciation for what a fifteen minute nap can do. I don’t think I have ever slept the same since I had children. You gotta love them. Anyway, back to my story…
As I have watched Nia grow and mature as our eldest and the older sibling of the group, something begin to take shape early on. I wondered what type of legacy she would leave on the earth and how I would impact that. Science says that children learn the most between birth and six years old. I was blessed that her mom was able to stay home for a significant part of her early years and instill values and skills that are important for healthy development and life preparation.
As Nia grew it became evident that she was very intelligent, friendly and a kind-hearted person. At her core she has not changed, at now eighteen years old. She tends to be the glue between her now childhood friends. It has been amazing to watch it all unfold.
As a parent there are so many things that I wish could have been different for her, but I realize there is a plan for her life and I am happy and content on who she is now as a young adult. We have both given her a foundation to pivot the rest of her life off of and we both expect to see great things in her future. As she approaches the last few months of high school with an average 3.90 GPA and several collegiate options, I am obviously a proud father, but it is more than the grades that I am proud of. It is her tenacious spirit to keep focused in the midst of her parents’ separation and ultimate divorce. It is the going between two homes and maintaining a positive attitude during the process. I know what it feels like, because I was there myself as a child, but I am proud that her mom and I have committed our lives to being the best divorced co-parents that ever existed. It certainly has made a tremendous difference in all of their lives.
One day more than eighteen years ago, my first child was born. Who knew what she would become? Who knew what she would face in life? Who knows the ultimate plan for her life? I can only trust God that it all has occurred for a reason greater than I can understand, and as time progresses He will use every story and experience for her good. But today in this season of my fatherhood, I realize that my roles must change as she embarks on now what will become the rest of her life, the beginning of her career and the legacy that she will ultimately pass down to her own children one day.
What legacy do you have in the making? Are you nurturing and cultivating it like a delicate flower? Are you taking care of it like it needs you, even when it begins to talk back? One thing I told Nia when she first transitioned into womanhood, was that as her father I will be the only man in her life that would be willing to give her the world, and expect nothing in return. That’s just a fact of life, so in other words the message was for her to know that I will always have her best interest in mind when I make decisions regarding her, even when she did not fully understand or necessarily agree with them.
It is often said that we typically give our flowers to our loved ones once they have passed away. Well as my eldest child begins to take larger steps into her future, I want her and the world to know how proud I am of her accomplishments, hard work and dedication towards her education, her commitment to excellence and most importantly for being a sweet human being that I am proud to call my daughter. Keep living up to your namesake. I love you always.
“My father gave me the greatest gift anyone could give another person, he believed in me” – Jim Valvano
Sometimes, for no particular reason (that I’m aware of anyway) I find myself reflecting on the role I have as a father to my children. Whether we’re about to embark on a summer road trip or we are exercising our weekly rituals during a normal school week, from time to time I will pause and think about who I am in their lives and what they mean to me. To have the authority and the privilege to shape their very lives and watch them develop is a rewarding, yet humbling experience. It is something that I have never taken lightly and I constantly work hard at keeping a balance of love, discipline, affection and correction in our home, albeit some days our easier than others. They never cease to amaze me with their distinctly different personalities, from their quick wit, persuasive charm and at times surprisingly stoic silence. It just depends on the current situation, whether one of them is not getting their way or not, or some outside pressure is affecting them.
No matter what their current moods are, I love them equally and I would not change the unique array of beauty that I receive from each of them daily.
I suppose it’s the type of beauty that only a parent can truly appreciate or even understand. To observe what has come from you, mature (before your own eyes) physically and emotionally, and express themselves freely with sincere thought and detail, while (you) knowing who and what they were only a few years prior is truly a treasure, and what I believe every parent desires for their offspring. To grow and see their place in the world. And although I am a divorced father, I have never divorced my children and I am thankful for the love we have for one another today.
Like anything worth pursuing or obtaining, we have to make a choice on how we will respond when life throws us the curveball. This choice must occur prior to the curveball being thrown, otherwise we will find ourselves at the intersections of life, dumfounded and perplexed on how to move forward. During that idle decision-making time, lives could be in the balance waiting for you to do something. My curveball was my divorce from their mother after fifteen years of marriage. The decision to continue to raise my children and to do what was necessary to be an instrumental part of their lives was always a priority for me. So that meant my independent pursuits had to become second to my children. This included not moving far away (for any reason), squelching differences that impacted my ability to raise my children harmoniously with their mother and establishing a working system that brought continuity between two separate homes. This was and continues to be an ongoing goal and obviously requires fine tuning and adjustments regularly, but I can say after almost seven years I have emotionally healthy children that are happy, (not perfect), loved, (not spoiled) and treat others with respect, while pursuing their goals and performing well in school.
The key was my children were always the only choice that I had, no matter what that looked like, including divorce, career, etc.
Their well-being meant more to me than my own, and I believed even after a divorce that they could live healthy lives, but it would require major sacrifices (or what I call investments from me). Below are a list of those investments:
My Personal Investments/Sacrifices for My Children
1. Be honest with them – Always approach discussions with an age-appropriate stance, but share the truth with your children. They have already written a story in their own heads about why and what happened, so this is your time to dispel any myths. Come clean about where things are (without the gory details) and give them the security that you will still be in their lives. When the kids mother an I decided to divorce, we sat our older two down and had a talk about where things were. We were honest with them and allowed them to express their concerns, vent or ask us questions. Each answer how a pound of assurance to go with it, and although it was the official beginning of the end of a marriage, it was not the ending of my relationship with them as their father. It was imperative that they heard and saw that as time passed.
2. Assure them that it’s not their fault – Kids have an uncanny ability to internalize and project why things happened the way they did. Now is the time to assure them that not only do you love them, but they had absolutely nothing to do with the decision that is being made.
3. Never talk negatively about your ex-spouse in the presence of the children – This is probably one the most common and detrimental things that we can do as parents. Yes, tensions are high and these circumstances tend to bring out the worst in people, but work at controlling your emotions during these times. We can’t undo our words and even if the other parent is an idiot, allow your child to develop their own opinion over time. I guarantee they won’t need your help with this. In many cases the person the child tends to harbor bad feelings over is the parent speaking negatively, so be careful what you’re saying. Remember, you’re not looking to get them on your side. Be their parent, not their best friend.
4. Check-in with your kids regularly – Since I share custody, I make a point to have a family dinner once or twice a week to just catch up and talk about the day. This is where I learn the most about where my kids really are and what conversations I should be having with them. Allow it to be a fun and a relaxing environment, with food they like. Unfortunately, many homes have lost the art of sitting together as family and talking. The dialogue at the dinner table will prove to be invaluable.
5. Get yourself a support system – Divorce is one the hardest things that I have ever experienced, and I wouldn’t wish it on my worst enemy. This is a time when you need a solid support system. Hopefully family or close friends that can be empathetic, but objective. The last thing you need is someone who believes you’re always right (because you’re not) or someone who cannot feel your pain and simply listen to you when things our tough. Have the courage to tell someone this. Don’t go through it alone if you don’t have to.
None of us will always have the right answers, therefore we will inevitably make mistakes. This is not the worst thing that can happen. The worst thing is to continue in the them and not realize it’s causing harm.
I am grateful for the impact that I have had on my children as a father. I am equally grateful for the many single-mothers that have carried us for so long, and today I felt it was important to acknowledge the host of fathers raising their sons and daughters to be intelligent, fearless and whole individuals that dare to believe that they can accomplish anything because not only do they have mothers that love and support them, but they have fathers in their corners leading them towards their ultimate purposes, even if it’s from another home.
On being a father, I will close with this common phrase typically coined for women that have settled for men unworthy of their love that is, “Know your value, know your worth.” Fathers, let us never forget our value and our worth in our children’s lives. It could be a matter of life and death for them.
What would I do without these people in my life ? I know ? Easily go crazy at times. Don’t get me wrong, I’m the first person to go to my prayer closet alone and deal with life issues, but sometimes we need people, period! It’s just that simple. I’ve lived much of my life as a loner, yet I understand its much sweeter with really good friends and family. Love the people around you. Don’t abuse them or depend on them, simply enjoy the beauty they bring into your life when they bring it.
Enjoy this song by Julie Dexter, “How Sweet Life Is…”
See you soon.