17 Points to Live By in 2017

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  1. Put God first
  2. Make prayer a lifestyle and not an emergency, need-based conversation
  3. Real spiritual growth is not a magic trick; it’s a process that involves daily repentance
  4. Tame the tongue
  5. Entertain the idea that we don’t know everything
  6. Make self-reflection a daily activity
  7. Be slow to anger, offense, assumption, and accusation
  8. Don’t mistake suspicion for discernment
  9. Stop making excuses for ourselves and others; it IS what it IS
  10. Give people the benefit of the doubt
  11. Be sensitive to the needs of others
  12. We do not always have to say what we think (that’s reserved for bloggers)
  13. Carving our own path is not an act of rebellion (let that marinate)
  14. Show gratitude often
  15. Learn how to manage disappointment with grace
  16. Demonstrate reciprocity
  17. Love people for who they are

Garbage In, Garbage Out

I have a couple of long time friends from way back in my neon socks, Lee jeans, and Michael Jackson Thriller days who always have something beautiful to share. As a matter of fact, as long as I could remember being kind and gentle with a golden word was inherent in their nature. They don’t pass themselves off as perfect people with a need to show how deeply spiritual they are, but rather genuinely desire to emit positivity into the world. They remind me of my former manicurist who said his beliefs compel  him to think about how he can be good to people on a daily basis. That conviction guided his actions and was the reason why out of all the manicurists in the shop, he came across the most sincere and happy.

The Bible says In Proverbs 18:21 that the power of life and death is in the tongue, which is why it is so important to be careful what we say, not just to others but also to ourselves.words-matthew Something as simple as, “I can’t do that” could set off a chain of events that would guarantee it does not happen. Why? Because the words  will generate a series of actions that will attach themselves to the belief. Thinking we can’t do something means we won’t try, and may even push away people who wish to encourage us to do the opposite. All the while it could be destiny knocking at our door disguised as a hard thing. We cannot safely assume we will have the skill set for every situation we tackle. Sometimes they are developed as we go.

And what about what we say to each other? I admit that I have a hard time hearing people underestimate or undermine the abilities and accomplishments of others. I won’t delve into the motives I believe stem from that, but I will say that when we are on a path to go after what we want in life, we cannot have such people in our circle. No matter how determined we are to do a thing, the wrong words at words-have-powerthe right time could serve as distractions and slow us down. Sometimes people may think they know more than they do about a given situation and spew those ill-informed thoughts onto others. I’ve done it before when I used to be less careful with my words. And sometimes it may not even be that the words are wrong but that they were not suited to the audience. We always have to be cognizant of who we’re talking to because we cannot assume everyone can handle everything we think. There are some people walking around who don’t wear red because ten years ago someone told them they don’t look good in red. Yea, it can get that deep.

The impact of words reminds me of a phrase I heard during a court case I watched recently; “Garbage in, garbage out” which leads me to the ultimate point here: We must not allow garb-canANYONE to put garbage in our spirits.The further we go in life, the more diligent we must become about who holds a place of influence in our lives. A growth mindset requires a zero tolerance policy for anything that is an enemy to progress. Garbage is not always the overt things like outright negativity. Sometimes garbage is being told we’re doing too much or being asked why do we have to aim so high. To that I say anything less than our full potential is a disservice to ourselves and to God. Settling should never be an option in a world full of opportunities.  

I’d like to close this discussion by saying it’s time to clean house. Proverbs 4:23 says we must protect our hearts with all diligence because out of it flows the issues of life. Some of us are cross in our spirits and feeling weighed down because of the words we tolerate from ourselves and others. Our lives are the sum total of our choices and they are impacted by the information we take in. Believe me when I tell you, we never know all that will be  involved with where God wants to take us, and what it will require to get and stay there. As a result, we must travel as light as possible and that starts in the mind. We must get to a point where we realize we are too good for nonsense, too good for too many slips of the tongue, and too good for passive aggressive behavior in the name of friendship, acquaintanceship, partnership, and “selfship”. Words have power and we must not let them overthrow us.

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Amen.

My Journey to Here

Disappointment is a genuine fear. It is such an awesome foe that it has aborted many a dream.  When I asked one woman (may she RIP) why didn’t she ever get excited when a person shared their goals, she said she never wanted to get her hopes up because of her fear of being let down. Instead, she either had a wait and see attitude, or went against the idea presented to her altogether. On the outside it looked like she was a hater, but the reality was she had been disappointed so much that she imposed those fears onto others. If a person can be stopped from aiming too high, the crash would not be as hard.

As she was a very influential person during my formative years, I believed her enough to let it scare me. At that time in my life I was used to things like academics and sports coming easy to me, but when it was time to work hard to get even greater results I would become intimidated. Not mastering the practical aspects of my gifts was my greatest impediment. I will never forget the words of my tennis coach who always told me I could work hard, go pro, and beat a lot of the players out there. However, there was a “but”. She said to me, “You’re inconsistent.”  That was exactly 30 years ago and I never forgot those words. She saw something in me that had teeth and would bite me at the most inopportune times.  My first year of college at an elite institution was proof of that. You mean I have to study to get an A? I have to work hard now? How am I going to compete with those kids with successful parents behind them and private school education? I was like the high school basketball players I used to hear coaches at my alma mater talk about. They said they wanted to look pretty on the court and do high-flying feats like slam dunk during a championship game, but couldn’t bother learning technique. Like me, those players relied too heavily on raw talent. “You see them Boston Celtics?”  I remember one coach saying. “They don’t look pretty but they have technique.” Those words stuck with me too, but it would take eons before I understood their gravity.

People who did not know me back then would be shocked at this revelation as I’m always 05_fall-down-seven-times-get-up-eight-times-e1343239498351told I go after what I want and get it. However, there were years and years of self-doubt, struggle, battles for my faith, and trying to overcome the sting of some people thinking I was delusional. I am the type who projects way into the future, and very often the things I go after take a lot of time and effort. For example, much of the things I’ve accomplished in the past ten years were in my heart to do over 20 years ago. A friend of mine still has the list somewhere of all the things I knew were going to happen for me. Mind you, at that time I was young, dumb, and had all of my belongings in one room. I had moved out on my own for the last time, and was so broke that I would sneak into the kitchen and nibble away at my friend’s food, hoping she’d think someone else was in it. It was a humbling experience to not be able to afford enough to eat, but I knew one day I would not have to worry about not having enough of anything. And when that day finally came, I remember I sat in the living room by myself and cried in disbelief. Struggling in a certain way had become so normal that when I no longer had to, it confused me. While I realize some of my bumps and bruises in life were the result of sharp learning curves, those temporary sacrifices were for the hope of permanent gains, and the cultivation of a no-nonsense, do-what-I gotta-do-no-matter-what way of life. I ain’t playing.

In the time between goal setting and manifestation, you will hear a lot of things. There is this false belief that the minute you say it, it’s supposed to happen. You will hear things like, ”Are you still going to do that?”, “Last year you said such and such. So what happened?” , “So I thought you said God was going to do X, Y, and Z!” This is why it’s often best to either keep your goals to yourself or share them with people who know the sacrifices involved, the hard work, and level of faith required to achieve them. And sometimes it’s not even that people don’t believe in you. Some play it safer than others, seeing risks as unwise. However, calculated risks are those where you do your homework, count the costs and consequences, and understand that if things don’t work out right away, it’s an opportunity to reinforce the idea that things will not always come easy or at the time you want. Not being afraid of temporary discomfort and having a strong resolve that has to be pried out of your cold, dead hands are serious weapons. The Bible clearly states the following in James 1:6-8; “But when you ask, you must believe and not doubt, because the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. That person should not expect to receive anything from the Lord. Such a person is double-minded and unstable in all they do”.

philippians-1-6.jpgHow did I get to this place called Here? By looking over my life and seeing what my experiences told me about myself. Listening to wise counsel. Being single-minded about the things I prayed about no matter how long they took. Challenging my paradigms and actions. Learning how to hear I was going about something the wrong way and regrouping. Asking a lot of questions. Being willing to sacrifice. Knowing that the ability to recover is always there. Knowing when to ask for help. Looking at people who were doing what I wanted to do and imitate the principles they applied. Being afraid and doing it anyway. Ignoring the naysayer and keeping more to myself. Losing a sense of entitlement understanding that God owes me nothing. Knowing how to convert disappointment into teachable moments. Getting out of my comfort zone. Having faith in God. Having strong faith in God. Having a very strong faith in God. And if you think I believe these things because I had it made in the shade growing up, guess again. All of this came by way of burying my face in the pillow and wetting it with tears (how dramatic but I did. And my eyes are big so that’s a lot of saline happening there), wearing a groove in the carpet at church where I prayed to believe in myself, and paying tuition at the College for Babes and Fools. The point is I had to figure it out and it wasn’t pretty.

And one more thing.  What I do is not just for me but for those behind me. I have a conviction about establishing legacy. It is supremely important to show the younger ones in my family what is possible.  As my college freshman cousin once told me, “Talking to you helps me understand myself better.” He called upon the need to know what others in the family were like and what traits they possessed so that he would know what he’s made of and why he is the way he is. The younger ones need to know the gifts and talents that may rest in them that run in the family, and understand that they are meant to manifest. The ones who feel like a maverick and dance to the plucking of their own banjo can ask me how I did it. The ones who are methodical, objective, and humanitarian can ask my sisters how they did it. Others who are free-spirited and not afraid to do something new at an age where the world says they should be settled down can ask one of my globe-trotting cousins how they did it. And another who needs to know how to be a good father, a good mother, and understand the power of family and unconditional love can receive counsel from another set of cousins from the older generation. We got something for everybody and we can’t hide it. We shouldn’t hide it.

I want to encourage you, whoever you are, that no one is born a star. Things will not always happen the way you want and when you want, but that does not mean you cancel yourself out before you get started. It will take a lot of confidence and hard work to DO YOU. You will have to know what you’re made of through trial and error, and at times suffer the sting of disappointment. You may very well have to pay tuition at the College for Babes and Fools. I graduated valedictorian, so I can help you out!

All joking aside, en route to the life you want you will have to deal with life period. Don’t let it scare you. I am proof that you will be richly rewarded if you  lose the fear of the process and just let it do what it do. Set your mind on how you see yourself and find someone who emulates that. Ask questions, find out what you need to do, and connect with people who don’t count it robbery to support you. I am not this special person who waves a magic wand and things happen today. Sometimes they do, but I had to earn my stripes first. You can too. No, YOU WILL!

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Amen.

Get Out of Your Way

get-out-of-your-wayChurch was great Sunday. We had a guest who fireside chatted about the socio-politics of victimhood. He argued that society has become so hypersensitive that certain words can’t be used and people cannot handle being disagreed with without gross repercussions. As a result, certain groups become consistently pacified and never really resolve their concerns because, in their minds, they will always be a victim and therefore entitled to not clean up their messes. Disagreement means hate, situations are exaggerated, and basically people make their grievances a lifestyle. I say no bueno.

When talking with a friend today who gave me the green light to write about this topic, I saw the nexus between her situation and the sermon Sunday. We bantered about a need for resolution to a longstanding issue to which I replied, “I wish I had an answer for you. But if I did, it wouldn’t work because the other party will not cooperate with you.” Essentially, all efforts made by one was blocked by the other due to an inability to introspect. You see, it’s hard to solve a problem when you refuse to entertain the fact that you’re it. 

In the aforementioned scenario, the one who feels like the victim has a great need to be  pacified, and as a result blocks all efforts to hear the truth. There has yet to be a realization that after a mountain of years, deep conversations, and prayers, the situation has remained the same. Why? Because when things don’t go their way, a false narrative is always created to explain it away. Any story will do except the one that needs to be told titled, “Maybe It’s Me!”  There are a lot of such narratives created to dress up bad situations such as being tested, suffering for stepping out on faith, the devil, YOU, THEM, etc. etc. However, I think we all can agree that God does not take pleasure in jacking up our lives just so He can brag about having unwavering soldiers in His army. Like Joseph, Job, and a host of others in the annals of biblical history, at some point we should err on the side of love, peace, and joy. It’s not a sin to be happy and have things work out.

But I digress. The real issue is having a victim mentality will blind us to the fact that we’ve been trying to scale that same wall forever.  It can rob us of the crucial fact that precious time has been lost looking outside when had we looked within, well, problem solved. The older I get the more cognizant I become of the value of time to the point where wasting it is not an option. There are just too many people in this world cheating themselves out of a good life because they prefer to live in a house with no mirrors, or as we say in vernacular, “Can’t nobody tell you nothin’!” No one has ever died from gazing into a looking glass, but many have metaphorically expired quite early in life because they didn’t. I generally observe the same traits displayed in situations like that. In addition to an unwillingness to introspect, there’s blaming everyone else, rejecting wise counsel and intervention, not following workable examples, not changing strategies, and a blind need to be right.

So now I’m talking directly to you and I’m in yo’ face. Today…yes, today…stop the blame game for just a moment. Write down a list of everything that frustrates you, keeps falling apart, or is just a plain ol’ thorn in your side. Don’t even think about who did what, but just focus on yourself and how you may have contributed to your own entanglements. It is very scary to admit that you expended all that energy believing God was going to rescue you from the enemy when the whole time the enemy was within. Maybe you should have taken that person’s advice. Maybe it is time to accept what can’t be changed so you must change your attitude. Or maybe it’s just time be more constructive by using your orifice to speak solutions more than you speak problems. That’s the adult thing to do. Hey, I speak from experience so challenge me if you want to. Ha! But seriously, do the grown folk thing and understand that if you always see yourself as a victim you will never become a victor. Let that marinate.

Bless up!

 

Blessings Purgatory

I had a conversation with my uncle who spews out pearls of wisdom for 99 cents. It comes so natural to him that passing on valuable information at a discount (read free) ain’t no pearls-of-wisdom.jpgthang. We talked about going through times of intense struggle and upon coming out, we still reference ourselves and our lives in light of the old instead of the new. He said to think about a person who has never had much money and finally prospers, only to find that person still lives like one paycheck will make them  antigodlin (Google it), diagonal, askew, to all things orderly. Or, the person who came from another country to make it big in America yet feels guilty for doing well when the people who were left behind are still suffering. Thinking about these things made me wonder how many people don’t embrace their blessings because of fear, guilt, or not wanting to appear to forget where they’ve come from. In short, they are stuck in what I call Blessings Purgatory.

Weird, right? We pray and fast and sing and dance and spin like a top to get to a new place in life only to constantly remind ourselves not to “smell ourselves”, as my grandmother used to say. That’s old school Southern for not getting too big for one’s britches. But, is embracing our new station in life an act of arrogance or an acceptance that the caterpillar caterpillarhas finally become a butterfly? That point segues into my thoughts about a movie I saw where the protagonist used to be overweight, and in his adulthood finally morphed into a sack of muscles. In one scene he looked in the mirror and what reflected back were the extra pounds he carried in his childhood. However, the lost weight was gained back in his mentality as he did not embrace his new body until the end of the movie. I thought that was such a powerful moment, how he worked hard for years to shed the pounds only to still see himself in his old light. Was it too much to ask for him to look at himself in the mirror and say, “Hey Sunshine! These guns look good-T!” without feeling like he has become conceited?

Showing humility is not about self-deprecation and constant reminders of who we used to be. Having overcome and then some is to be embraced, valued, and strutted with the verve of a runway model. Not forgetting where we come from doesn’t mean we have to regularly replay the days we struggled, but rather allowing its memory to make us thankful for where we are. When I see people go through what I used to my first reaction is to thank God I’m not there anymore, and the second is to see what can I do or say to help them out. Now if I thumbed my nose and said, “I got mine, git y’alls” or “For shame, you still didn’t get what I got”, according to Proverbs 6:17 that haughty look will invite a fall and increase the chances of my perceived one up turning into a minus one.

Let’s enjoy our present while paying respect to the past that got us to a place called Here. But, we must know when to be like the savvy hotel guest and check out before we get billed for another day of allegiance to who we used to be. New wine must go into new wine skins, not old ones (Mark 2:22). My message to you is embrace the new you without the guilt, shame, or fear of no longer being able to fit your ten gallon hat. Truth be told, you probably always had a big head. Ha!Ten gallon hat

 

Unspectacular Blessings

When I converted to Christianity, I entered a denomination that taught me many things that I hold dear today. Having a strong prayer life, partnering with mature people, and worshipping God for who He is and not what He can do, are staples in my walk with Christ. A by-product of being in a Spirit-filled circle is the understanding that God could do anything at any time. While that is true, it made living in the real world a grand struggle because of the false expectation that God was going to do everything in the spectacular. And often where there is undue expectation, disappointment follows.

As I matured in the faith and understanding of the Bible, I placed a great emphasis on wisdom. While I still have a God-can-do-anything kind of faith, I learned how to live with a greater respect for the simple and plain. I believe not knowing how to do that causes many Christians to become discontent in the faith. If a person is looking for a miracle a day, when it doesn’t quite happen that way it creates unnecessary angst. A barrage of self-deprecating questions often follow: What’s wrong with me? Do I not have enough faith? Is there a hold up in the heavenlies? Is God mad at me?

One of the greatest impediments I’ve seen to what is called the “crazy faith” lifestyle is that people often absolve themselves of the responsibility of doing what they gotta do. Because of the belief that God always has to do everything muy grande, it is very easy to miss the small things that could very well result in the big thing a person is believing God for. I look at my own life and marvel at how my acceptance of a temporary  position way back in 1994 led to full-time status and two tuition-free degrees, and after those a third degree paid for by another entity. I owe my current profession to that humble decision 22 years ago. I thought of the time I forsook all and temporarily downsized, which resulted in the greatest and most productive season of my life to date. If I was looking for God to come on a white horse, I would have missed the donkey that came bearing gifts. 

The things I went after did not always come with a roaring crowd or confetti thrown into the air. By faith I took the less attractive routes because wisdom allowed me to weigh my pros and cons, and determine that my end goals would be met with or without a brass band playing my song. Mind you, I was not always so resourceful or had the mindset that I had to participate in my blessings beyond praying, fasting, and talking about it. I had to learn how to be about it. Being about it meant making sacrifices, doing some things I didn’t want to do, and starting small so that I could finish big. I could not be like Miss Muffet and sit on my tuffet eating grits and turkey sausage while waiting for God to come through like a tornado. Like Elijah, I learned that God was not always in the wind, earthquake, or fire, but rather a still small voice (I Kings 19:11-13). Ladies and gentlemen, big things often come in small packages. 

What are you asking for that may have you being a little too deep over something so basic? Need a financial blessing? Maybe the answer is simply a second job or cutting back on things you don’t need like all of the cable channels, an expensive cell phone plan, and not being a thrifty shopper. Find yourself too drained to take care of your every day duties? Get a full check up, take a look at your diet, exercise, and try to get to bed earlier. Make it a point to self-evaluate so that you can see what you can do to help yourself while you are waiting for God to help you. You may surprise yourself and find that the solution to the big problem is a small act of faith. Burn that list of things you simply don’t want to do and be open to God doing things however He wants. A blessing called by any other name is still a blessing. Name and claim that!

The Cure for Conceit

“Therefore, in order to keep me from becoming conceited, I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me.” I was in prayer and asked God to give me something I could meditate on. Immediately II Corinthians 12:7 came to mind. Not having memorized that particular passage, I didn’t quite know what to expect to read. When I found it I said “Aha!” It directly applied to me as I talked to God about some things that seemed like no matter how hard I pray, they don’t budge. We all have areas in our lives we’ve been praying about for God to fix or alleviate. And let’s be honest, some of us may have even begged! They are not necessarily mistakes we’ve made but sometimes they could be areas that make us angry, sad, confused, or frustrated.

I remember one day I was fed up to the nth degree and one thing I do not like is to waste a day being angry about something. Whenever possible I’d rather suck it up and look like a Imperfectionsofty so that my spirit won’t send out invitations for worse things to feel. I didn’t want to call anyone and complain yet I had to let it out somehow. What I did was instead of letting my feelings consume me and undo the blessing of the present, I opted to give God thanks. Why? Because the scripture tells us in Romans 8:28 that ALL things work together for our good, so there was a teachable moment to be had even though it didn’t feel good. When I was done, I had more peace and a better perspective.

So what thorns should we be eternally grateful for?  We should thank God for those areas of our lives that are not healed yet in order to keep us praying and more cognizant of what we must do to protect our temples in spiritual and natural ways. It is paramount to be grateful for the mistakes we’ve made so that we can reflect on how to improve our character and decision making process. Gratitude is also needed when we are lied on, slandered, and rejected so that we will be reminded to value God’s approval and not man’s. When we are betrayed or disappointed, especially by those whom we love and have proven our loyalty, it is a reminder to put no confidence in the flesh (Philippians 3:3-4). And yes, a thorn in the flesh can be an area where God keeps saying “No” or “Wait”. The lesson is life is not all about getting what we want whenever we want. It would result in being detached from the fact that having a sense of entitlement in an imperfect world is neither realistic nor healthy. We would become perpetually discontent with our present because we would always be waiting on that thing, whatever it isto come to pass.

GraceSo what is the cure for conceit? Imperfection! Like it or not, as long as we live in this world there will be something we will all need to work on, wait for, and be delivered from. It is a gross error to think that as soon as we accept Christian paradigms, we will become these spiritual elitist who have it all together and always get what we want. That kind of thinking discourages people from seeing Christianity as a reachable and relevant faith. Alexander Pope told us that to err is human and the Rolling Stones serenaded us about not always getting what we want. If the greatest Apostle who ever lived had 99 problems, we know we all will have at least 1! And besides, I’d rather be a hot mess who is actively trying to be better than assume a false perfection and be self-deceived. Pride goes before destruction, [and] a haughty spirit before a fall (Proverbs 16:18). So in it’s own little and strange way, being imperfect is a blessing. Now that’s something to thank God for!