The Power of Opinion

During my Instagram surfing time this morning, I ran across the following quote by Steve Jobs posted by one of my favorite poetesses and member of the Deep Thinker Tribe, Raven Sym:

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Now anyone who knows me knows that my superpower is being myself; raw, honest, and free. My inspiration came from my first English professor, Dr.  R. Patterson-Shabazz, who shared the concept of KNOW THYSELF (Yeeees, that class was LIT!). From there my interest in the concept grew as another of my former English professors and current mentor, Dr. John Ronan, introduced me to the works of Ralph W. Emerson’s essay, “Self-Reliance”, which emphasizes the power of trusting oneself. From there it really began to take root, and I made it my mission to emphasize that concept in my life and share it with others. This is not to be confused for an attitude of not needing anyone or not allowing any outside opinions to enter our space. Instead, it is a call for the compulsory act of self-awareness.

Seeing the Jobs quote this morning led me to some streams of thought, one of which stood out very prominently: we must be careful what and whose opinions we allow to take root as some opinions, good and bad, come with an agenda. Good opinions may come with the motive of trying to curry favor for personal gain or earn false trust for the purpose of exploitation. Remember, Jesus was betrayed with a kiss. This is why the Bible tells us in so may places not to be given to flattery (Proverbs 26:28 and 29:5-6, Psalm 55:21 and 62:4). It’s fine to take a compliment, but we must not make it our daily bread as it may cause us to form alliances with strange bedfellows and thus ensnare us. 

On the flip side, bad opinions come with agendas, too. Sometimes the motive is jealousy or a person’s projection of their insecurities. For example, a person’s criticism that you are doing too much may be a projection of the fact that they wish they had the same work ethic and freedom of choice. This is not a cause to believe everyone is a hater, because not going along to get along saves lives. However, in all of that it is very important to consider the source. Sometimes the venom people spew is a result of their opinion of their own selves.

And this is where self-awareness comes in. We need not block out what we hear, but we must have enough sense of self to know what to take and what to leave. I always tell people it’s not just the words we should listen to but also the motive behind them. My sister told me that she has learned to take things with a grain of salt, as everything we hear is not really what we hear. This is why the Bible admonishes us in James: 1:19 to be slow to anger because things may not be what they seem. But when we know what we’re looking at, we must govern ourselves accordingly. We must give ourselves permission to have the last word on who we are. Ultimately, my mantra is I am who God says I am, and that’s the story I stick with!

Like I said, short and sweet. We’re done!

 

My Fibroid Surgery Story-Part 2

“I had suffered from my condition for so long that I forgot what it felt like to be completely well. I had learned how to work and play with my body under duress like it was a normal thing.” I shared those words in My Fibroid Surgery Story-Part 1, which gave me a fantabulous AHA moment I just had to share. My thoughts came to life even more while watching an episode of The Jeffersons where Mr. Jefferson had old friends over for dinner who had not made it out of poverty like he did. Because they had been poor for so long, they confessed they didn’t know there was any other reality for them. In the case of my former medical condition, just like the couple on The Jeffersons, I made a sub-par reality  my normal.

Image result for butterflyMany of us were raised in cultures that taught us suffering and surviving is just how it is. We always hear cliches that involve accepting fallacies about hardship, and there is a tendency to accept bad before we accept good. For example, having a mindset that we will always have money problems may lead us to consistently make unwise financial decisions. Convincing ourselves that because no one and nothing is perfect may cause us to overlook things that, in the long-run, will be detrimental to our well-being. The idea that there will always be problems in life may raise our tolerance for things we should not accept, and not challenge ourselves to evaluate the ways in which we self-sabotage.

Because society has taught us that the hard way to go is normal, we begin to adapt to that narrative and at times it does not look pretty. In the case of my fibroids, I adapted by doing things like buying bigger shirts, learning not to sleep on one side too long, and avoiding taking pain killers so that I would get used to dealing with the pain naturally. In the beginning stages of my condition, I wasn’t aggressive with my treatment because fibroids are very common. In my mind it was not a big deal, and at the time it truly wasn’t. Also, the financial repercussions of jumping the gun when I really didn’t have to contributed to my decision early on to press pause. However, I did not have my eye onImage result for butterfly the future as my attitude was based on things remaining the same. It wasn’t until I was advised that my fibroids increasing in size may cause other problems, such as pressing on vital organs or growing to the point where surgery would be more risky, when I realized I had to become more assertive about a solution. As a result, I knew that the solution was no longer adaptation but eradication. In the words of a dear friend, I had to be “proactive and not reactive”. And this leads to my line of questioning: How many conditions have we accepted as our normal and just adapted versus seeking a means to remove that stress from our lives? How many of us have learned to live with things that make us worse off to the point where the damage could be irreversible? How many of us just accept constant hardship and don’t fight to make things better?

We must not take advantage of our resilience. We all have a threshold and relying on the external to judge if we are okay is a gross error. We may have things happening inside of our bodies and spirits that when the proverbial final straw comes, we will not be able to bounce back. Ever. And before anyone gets deep and says God can deliver us from anything, YES HE CAN! But,  sometimes deliverance is not this dramatic event where we are hapless victims who are miraculously Image result for butterflyplucked from our circumstances. Sometimes deliverance comes by way of accepting wise counsel, operating on the offense versus the defense, or just plain ol’ getting out of the way before things get worse. We need to stop forcing God’s hand thinking the only time He intervenes is when things get out of hand. I’m quite sure the reason why it often happens that way is because we didn’t listen to Him the first time, making it even harder for Him to pry our hands off of our own necks. This is why having people who will tell us the truth versus what we want to hear is tantamount to our deliverance (Hey! That’s an idea for another post! DONE!). Sometimes the voice of God in our lives is the one person who refuses to go along with our scheme to dig a deeper hole to bury ourselves in. In my case, I was very fortunate to have a few brutally honest people in my corner who urged me to get up and fight for better health.

There are no bragging rights that come with being tough enough to withstand unnecessary hardship. There is no honor in being ride or die when all we’re doing is dying. It’s time to relinquish the title of Self-Sabotager and change our perspective to realize that we have to get out of our unhealthy comfort zones and do things a different way. There are too many of us who are morphing into something other than what God intended in the name of “just dealing with it”. Mental and physical illness is nothing to play with, and that is the road many of us will travel if we don’t take inventory of what we should no longer accept in our lives. It’s time to stop thinking of our hardships as our normal and fight for a new one. Let’s partner with God to remove the emotional, mental, spiritual, and physical tumors from our lives so that we can finally sleep on both sides.

And that’s all I have to say. Let the healing begin…

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My Fibroid Surgery Story-Part 1

“You have fibroids,” the nurse told me nine years ago after I complained of cycle changes and new, shooting pains. My abdomen was hard as a rock where I used to have a little give, so I already knew something definitely was not right. I’ve heard people talk about fibroids and the trouble they cause, but at that time I didn’t have the usual symptoms except a little extra pain at odd times and a growing “pooch”, signs that I wasn’t in Kansas anymore.

Image result for healing scripturesOver the last nine years I had gone to multiple doctors in the US and Europe, and was generally told the same thing; at my age it’s best to leave the fibroids alone and wait until menopause for them to shrink. What many people don’t know is fibroids are not a life-threatening condition, so a poking belly is not a good enough reason to take the risk of having surgery. My symptoms did not mimic the usual complaints people with fibroids have such as horrendous cramping, excessive bleeding, and anemia. I did have constant pain for two weeks every month, and other things that I learned to live with such as silent reflux, fatigue, constant bloating, feeling like I’m carrying something all the time, and running to the bathroom every two seconds. Despite that, I kept forging ahead doing what I had to do and what I wanted to do, because no tumors and pain were going to keep me from living my life.

Fast forward to 2018, my abdomen had grown to the point where I was stopped by security at the US open from going through the metal detector. “M’am, are you pregnant?” That tickled me somewhat, then I replied in the negative, adjusted my button down shirt I had tied around my waist, and the two of we–big belly and me– walked through security en route to watching Madison Keys. By that time I carried the weight of being told my blood test results indicated cancer, a report I refused to believe. I decided to fly out of state to see one of the best surgeons in the country for a third opinion, and was advised that the prognosis indicated there was no chance of me escaping an invasive surgery to see what was happening inside of me. Armed with that information, I went to a GYN in my network to be retested and seriously discussed surgery. It was found that my tumors were exponentially growing and would eventually cause problems that would make my situation way more complicated to correct. I resolved to sign the dotted line for an abdominal hysterectomy . It meant I would have to be placed under general anesthesia, opened up with an incision from hip to hip, remain in the hospital 2-4 days, and recovery would take 4-6 weeks (not to be confused with less invasive methods such as laparoscopic and vaginal methods that take half the time to recover).

By the time I was wheeled in for surgery  on August 7, “fo’ day in the morning” as my grandmother used to say, I had all kinds of thoughts running through my Image result for healing scripturesmind. I know people who have had the same surgery and experienced complications, and that was something I could not afford to happen. However, I received reassurance from the nurse who prepped me for surgery and noticed I was like a deer caught in headlights. She asked, “Do you pray?” to which I answered in the affirmative. She declared, “Then you know God hears our prayers and everything is going to be alright.” Her words put me at ease and by the time I saw my GYN to confirm what would take place that morning, I was good to go. I was wheeled into the operating room, got on the operating table, had massaging bags placed on my legs to help prevent blood clots, and a needle went in my left arm. The final thing I remembered was my GYN placing her hand on my forearm and from there it was pleasant dreams!

Despite having such an invasive method, I didn’t feel any post-op pain until a little later in the day. Not one to like taking pain killers, I asked the nurse for some as I began to feel like I was having bad menstrual cramps. From 4p the day of surgery until today, I have not taken any medication for post-op pain. Also, the day after surgery I was getting out of bed and walking the hospital corridor unassisted, and eating regular food. The nurses were puzzled that I did not ask for any more pain killers, and one came to me and said, “I don’t understand you! God must be on your side!” I was astonished as well because my recovery did not reflect the stories I read and watched where people were on meds for a week or so, bed-ridden, and struggling to walk. When the GYN gave me my post-surgery rundown, I was in shock because what she found indicated I should have been much worse off over the years. My surgery was challenging because it was discovered that in addition to fibroids I had endometriosis, which confirmed the other surgeon’s conclusion that in order to see all that was going on with me, I had to be opened up. In some cases, endometriosis can turn out to be an even more serious condition than fibroids as it can spread to other parts of the body. I had even participated in a walk for endometriosis and remember thinking I’m glad I didn’t have to worry about that issue, not realizing I had it. My doctor also told me when she began the surgery she found I had a lot of scar tissue, my organs were stuck together, and I had been internally bleeding! During surgery, I lost two bags of blood but I replenished fast enough to not need a transfusion. Despite all of the unexpected conditions, I had zero complications. God is good!

Day Four I was out of the hospital and by Day Six I was out shopping for supplements and a cute shirt to fit over my shrinking abdomen. I engaged in mandatory blood clot prevention exercise by doing very careful laps around the backyard until I felt confident enough to hit the pavement. By the time I got to Week Two, I was up to walking 1.5 hours, traversing the whole boardwalk at Jones Beach, and I no longer had to plan how I was going to roll out of bed. My diet naturally became more strict as I gained a greater taste for living food, cut out dairy altogether, and began to buy gluten free items. I noticed my reflux was gone, which positively impacted my breathing at night, and I had no constant, dull pain in my abdomen that I lived with for a decade. When I walked I did not feel like I was carrying something in my abdomen, and overall I felt good. Oh, and I’m en route to placing 4th in the flat tummy contest going on in my head!

I had suffered from my condition for so long that I forgot what it felt like to be completely well. I had learned how to work and play with my body under duress like it was a normal thing. And of course, I translated that into a spiritual truth and had a serious aha moment. And we’ll talk about that in Part 2!

Anyone suffering from fibroids or endometriosis and is contemplating surgery, please don’t hesitate to ask questions below. Here’s to wellness!

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Ode to a Real Friend

Two days ago I lost one of my closest friends, Genevieve Moody, who was one of my Jamaicalionbiggest cheerleaders. I remember when we met way back in the early 90s and the first conversation we had was on matters of faith. Always a large presence, you knew when Gen was in the building and who she was coming with. A Jamaican + Jesus=Lioness and an arsenal of faith and power.

I could easily sit home and cry all day, or I can do what Gen would tell me to do; go out and LIVE. Who I am and what I do is owed in part to her pushing me when I didn’t have any push left in me. I remember while in grad school she would remind me what I was doing it for and that my hard work would pay off. When I began writing she sent my blogs to everyone who she thought would read it and stayed on top of me to complete my first novel and work on its sequel. I can go on and on about the things she encouraged me to do, all the while dealing with her own concerns. She had enough faith for herself and everyone else. At no time she did ever charge God foolishly. She would always say, “Nikki, I was called from my mother’s mother’s mother’s womb! This is for my making!”

I remember one of Gen’s favorite lines was, “Nikki, I’m doing ME!” A fashionista, she had an enviable closet, great taste in home decor, and loved to travel. She was nowhere near a snob, bourgie, or a host of other things that would be ascribed to a person who enjoyed having the best. She was a humble spirit who believed a person should enjoy the fruit of their labor. Gen worked hard all of her life and she deserved all that she had and more.

But what made her a real friend was not just the cheerleading, always being there for me Friendshipand ready for a hearty laugh (which she loved to do!). Her friendship meant so much to me because she was REAL. With Genevieve Moody what you saw was what you got. There was never a time I questioned her loyalty or love because she was consistent. In this day and age when people complain good friends are hard to come by, I can honestly say that Gen was the prototype for real friendship, and because of her I have a host of quality friends who mimic her virtues.

I’m not going to proofread, edit, or anything like that. Let the words fall where they may as this post is from the heart. If you take anything from it, take away that it is a supreme pleasure to have a good friend. My memories of her will forever be a source of inspiration. When I am having a bad day, I will ask myself if Gen was here today what would she say? She’d say what she always said, “Nikki, life is too short. DO YOU! You worked too hard. You deserve it!”

I will miss her. Love you, Dear Friend. Always.

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Pimps or Prosperous?

Pimp preachers, thieving pastors, all they want is money, all preachers are crooked, etc., are clichés that are heard ad nauseam about Christian leadership. While there are many cases of dishonest people in the pulpit–as I have seen examples of that with my own Image result for church moneyeyes–there is a danger in making blanket statements. One, it damages the credibility of the speaker because it gives the appearance that he/she uses bandwagon appeals to form arguments. There is also the problem of people who sincerely want to engage in the Christian faith yet have to wade through the unfair attacks against them that they are allowing some preacher to steal their money. At best this thing is one, giant, dripping conundrum.

My thoughts on this topic were precipitated by the news that John Gray, pastor of Relentless Church in Greenville, S.C., bought his devoted wife, Aventer Gray, a 200K Lamborghini. His act of love and generosity caused an uproar among those who feel a pastor should not live so lavishly, as well as those who see any sign of prosperity as fodder for accusations of being a pimp preacher. I don’t know John Gray personally or am a follower of his ministry, but I do know that he has legitimate streams of income that do not come from his church. As a result he has the right to enjoy his salary, right?

This is one of those gray areas the scripture addresses in I Corinthians 6:12 where PauImage result for church moneyl states all things are lawful for him but not expedient. Some things are okay to do but is it the best thing or appropriate at the time? For a man to buy his wife a gift is lawful. And I would dare say almost always expedient. However, I am reminded of the words of my former pastor, A.R. Bernard, who noted in a sermon back in the early 2000s the ways in which Christian leaders should navigate certain ares of life because of the scrutiny it will bring. He used the term “quietly expensive” to relay that it is okay to have nice things, but wisdom dictates that in order to avoid accusation leaders should not be so overt with showing their material wealth. It is almost always a trigger for accusers who find no virtue in a preacher doing well for himself.

So what am I saying? I am making the case that because in many ways Christianity has been capitalized and converted into a commodity, those who are truly devoted to their calling and have never stolen a dime in their lives inadvertently become ripe for accusation. They cannot fully enjoy the fruit of their labor because their lives are subliminally controlled by the complaints of people who don’t trust anything related to the word “church”. As a result, Christian leadership is painted with a broad brush by those who rely on clichés and a couple of bad experiences to gauge what pastors are doing en masse. In light of that fact, some leaders may need to make the sacrifice to become “quietly expensive”. In doing so their lifestyles would not become a stumbling block to believers who are not quite mature enough in their walk or spiritual thought processes to understand the value in judging on a case by case basis. But then again, when people have it in their minds that no one behind the pulpit can do anything right, it may not even matter.

And that’s my two hard-earned pennies. Feel free to share your thoughts. You can agree or disagree but I just ask that your argument have a clear basis and be rooted in intelligent examination, not popular thought and emotions. Amen? Amen!

Disclaimer: This blog is not a cyber diary of my life. I like to write about various topics and may insert an overt personal example from time to time to show my connection to the discussion.

Don’t Lose Your Mind

Last night I watched a documentary about a popular reality star who talked about the issue of mental health. She said as an African-American she is aware of the belief that black people do not go to a therapist but rather go to church. While I am a strong proponent of prayer and spiritual counsel, I also believe in going to the doctor. I was told that if we can see a medical professional for other parts of our body, why do we think the brain is any different?

The MindMental health is an important issue that must be taken seriously. I’m sure many of us think of such a concern in terms of schizophrenia, manic depression, and bi-polar disorder.  However, we may not see prolonged stress as a gateway to issues with our mind because, after all, we live in a society that places a high premium on not having a glass chin and sucking things up in the name of being strong. While we do need to grin and bear some things, it is also important to know when we are dealing with something that requires professional intervention. According to the N.B. Anderson, “an extreme amount of stress can have health consequences and adversely affect the immune, cardiovascular, neuroendocrine and central nervous systems.”

There are a lot of stresses and responses to stress that have been normalized and I believe it is killing us. Reckless speech is termed just keeping it real, hyper-aggression is deemed a way to show we can’t be messed with, and stretching ourselves thin is seen as holding it down or having someone’s back. Suffice it to say we may very well have conditioned ourselves to have a high tolerance for unhealthy behaviors and situations. As a result, some of the aches and pains we may experience probably have nothing to do with age and everything to do with the unhealthy way we may navigate life.

Everyone cannot take a vacation as often as they’d like, and sometimes not at all. However, there are ways we can take mental vacations by turning off the phone for a while, regular prayer and meditation, learning how to say no, and doing something nice for ourselves even if it’s just a walk around the neighborhood or finally buying that lovely bar of soap that we heard was so moisturizing. Doing little things for ourselves to remind us of our value and stealing away to collect ourselves are not selfish acts. In a world where people think it’s everyone else’s job to take care of them, we must remember to take care of ourselves if we are to be any good for the things we must accomplish to stay afloat.

As someone once told me, we can be one problem away from losing our minds. Let’s The Mind2operate on the offense instead of the defense, and be proactive with treating ourselves well so that we won’t find ourselves walking around the streets with one sock on murmuring about Charlie Babbitt. Joking but not joking!

Philippians 4:8b: Make a conscious effort to fill your mind with good, pure, wholesome, and lovely thoughts.

Source: Anderson, N.B. (1998). “Levels of Analysis in Health Science: A Framework for Integrating Sociobehavioral and Biomedical Research,” Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences, Vol. 840, pp. 563-576.

Disclaimer: This blog is not a cyber diary of my life. I like to write about various topics and may insert an overt personal example from time to time to show my connection to the discussion.

What Do You Want?

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“Whatdya want?” is the reply I always get when I call my youngest sister’s name. She says it so tersely that I make sure I have an answer even if I called out her name in jest. I heard “Whatdya want?” even more loudly–albeit with my spiritual ears–when I watched a great Denzel movie, Roman J. Israel Esq., and its eponymous character passionately expressed that a person’s greatest fear is looking in the mirror and asking themselves what do they really want. I meditated pon dat and challenged myself to answer that question. Then I posed it to a couple of other people who said, “Hmmm” just as long as I did. After a good, long, pregnant pause, I decided that the mirror of true aspiration would become my bedfellow. Although I am one to always go after what I want no matter what, there is always another level of getting that may ask for more than before. And that can be scary.

Why the fear? After all, the concept seems simple enough, right? However, the reality is people are often afraid to go after what they really want because the price is too high. Rejection, disappointment, the passing of time, things being harder than one thought, etc., are the stuff of the troll under the bridge, and sometimes there is not enough gold in the land to pay that giant goober off.  Ignoring the Peanut Gallery is expensive for

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some, being status no instead of status quo is pricey, and maybe disappointing family who expected a person to remain in the six-figure job versus leaving it all behind to backpack through life may surely come with no discount.

Probably the most blinged out item on the list is change. To want what one has never had means to do what one has never done. It means getting on the grind without apology or explanation, and having a laser-like focus that may make life a little stiff, sacrificial, and supremely utilitarian for a season. It means to acknowledge the deep restlessness inside has nothing to do with wanting to impress, over-compensate, or make up for a childhood filled with a whole lot of criticism, but rather to fulfill one’s true calling.

I’m here to share that at the end of all of that is the pay off of fulfillment and fearlessness that is absolutely empowering. In Christ, that is a guarantee. Where God guides He provides, and if He points in a certain direction, He should have the privilege of knowing someone is going to pack and ride. There should be no genuine concern over not being good enough, strong enough, brave enough, or even perfect enough. He knows what He’s getting into every time.

So the next time life asks, “Whatdya want?” don’t let it waste its words. Have a ready answer and prepare, by any means necessary, to march to the beat of your own drummer. And when you do, that’s when you really get to dance.

Count it off…1-2-3-4! *fiyah horn section*

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