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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The Silent Sufferer

Grandma2 (2)Some time ago I wrote a short story about my grandmother, Alfleet Pender McNeill (1932-2002). I wanted to pay homage to the woman who raised me, and often without words taught me everything she knew, to acknowledge the fact that she was not just “Grandma”. She was a woman who had aspirations, yet they went unfulfilled because she was busy serving others. During my time in her household, not one time did I realize the gravity of her sacrifice. It wasn’t until after her death that I saw what she did for me and others as something she didn’t have to do, but she did it so that the rest of us wouldn’t fall apart.

As I’ve matured, I understood the full weight and meaning of my grandmother’s sacrifice, and lamented over how I should have done more to show appreciation. It didn’t occur to me that being at everyone’s beck and call with no days off was something she didn’t have to do. Like many grandmothers I know, her acts of kindness and sustenance  were seen as her reasonable service. If she cussed and fussed about all that she did, it was viewed as just another one of her rants instead of acknowledging they were moments of extreme frustration. She was frustrated as she watched everyone else live their lives while she stood in the background feeling unfulfilled, taken for granted, and maybe even unloved. She was frustrated because breakfast, lunch, and dinner were prepared like clockwork for kids and grown folks alike. She was frustrated because she was always expected to be on post while everyone else got a pass to do what they wanted to do. It wasn’t fair but I don’t think anyone really saw it that way. While she was able to help everyone fix their problems, who fixed hers?

Grandma4There are many of you out there like my grandmother who are selfless. You are always helping someone and never want to see anyone suffer. You will give anyone–even a stranger–the shirt off your back without blinking. You have even been there for people who, when you needed them most, turned you away yet you still came through when they needed you. You are the person everyone can depend on and who people expect to always be “on” and say “yes”, never thinking about what you are giving up or what tight space you may be putting yourself in to be there for them. At times you may even feel discarded, that after people get what they want from you there is no more need for you.

People may be so used to you being the one to fix things that they don’t hear the depth of your pain when you say you are having a bad day, don’t know how to do something, or are afraid. You’re seen as a super human who can do anything, so while others get the full Monty of a listening ear and repeated checks, you just get told you’ll be fine. The fact that you’re strong does not illegitimize your pain. Sometimes you get so tired of telling people the same thing over and over again that you just go silent because no one wants to believe you have limitations just like them. And in the case of my grandmother, instead of me asking her what was wrong during those times she went zero dark thirty,  I just thought she was acting funny. I didn’t know that she had gotten so tired of talking that she had to be put on antidepressants just to get through the day. If I weren’t so busy being offended, I would have read between the lines and realized she was crying out for help. She wanted to go to Red Lobster. She wanted to go shopping. She wanted a visit so that she could feel that she mattered. She wanted someone to talk with about what happened on the Soaps. I was so busy taking that I didn’t occur to me that it was my turn to give.

If there is one thing I would ask God to give me, it would be to have my grandmother GrandparentsMcNeill(and grandfather) back. Even if for a minute, I would spend those 60 seconds telling her the many ways my life has gone right because of her. I would tell her I appreciated all the cooking, cleaning, food shopping, giving me money for no reason at the times I could really use it, stories about the old days, admonitions to do the right thing, and all of wonderful memories she created for me. I would tell her I’m sorry for treating her like a vending machine, and that I wish I was mature enough to see through the loud voice and strong words to realize she was hurt and sometimes didn’t even know why.

I’d like to give a word of caution to those of you, including myself, who have someone in your life who have laid themselves on the line for you; don’t take them for granted. As adults it is no one’s job to make sure we’re okay, fix our problems, or be there for us every time we ask. It is very easy to fall into the trap of seeing a person in terms of  their do and not their who. No one has to pray for us. No one has to do favors for us. No one has to do a random act of kindness just to let us know they’re thinking of us. No one has to say they love us, they’re proud of us, they value us. No one. Yet when we are on the receiving end of that kindness, we think it’s nothing special because, after all, that person is always doing or saying something like that. And when they stop, we have the nerve to take it personal and become offended. STOP. IT. Maybe it’s our turn to sacrifice, to pray, to do something nice without the requirement of an occasion. Maybe we need to take our heads out of the sand and realize it’s not all about us and what we need all the time. Everybody got problems.

Today, right now, ASAP, tell your grandmother, your mother, your sister, your cousin, your friend, maybe even your jefe, THANK YOU! Two small words that are really two big deals.

Amen.

You Never Know

“I didn’t hear from you. That’s not like you,” said one of my closest friends who was so used to me texting back right away that after two days passed and no word, she made a call to another bestie to see if she knew I was still breathing. I was nothing but flattered and thankful for her maturity. She could have easily felt some kind of way because I didn’t reply back, but instead she relied on the fact that she knew me well enough to know that if I break routine, something must be wrong. With friends like that, the whole world would be alright.

I replayed that day in my mind as I heard the news of the CEO and founder of Golden Krust, Lowell Hawthorne, reportedly committed suicide. News outlets reported that he was found in his Bronx warehouse with gunshot wounds. Employees were quoted saying he was a great guy.  Commenters on discussion boards expressed disbelief that someone who seemingly had it all would end his life. It leads people to wonder if they missed any signs, or did he say anything that would have given a clue something was wrong. Was it a financial issue? A bad diagnosis? Masked depression?

I really felt some kind of way upon hearing such tragic news because one of my constant prayers is for the Lord to make me sensitive to people who are suffering, especially those who are to the point of wanting to commit suicide. I especially pay attention to people who are strong, who appear to never need anyone, who is the one praying for everyone and spreading sunshine, yet in the wee hours of the night may be sitting up wondering if living another day is really worth it. I know people who have been through horrendous things and no one ever asked how it impacted them. I’ve talked with people who tried to share with others they were struggling with depression only to be told to get over it. People tend to think depression is just a bad mood or something happened that made someone sad. The real deal is sometimes depression is caused by hormonal imbalances that can only be controlled with medication. Some people have been severely traumatized and need serious deliverance through prayer and counseling in order to believe there is still good in the world. A person can’t just get over that; it requires real help.

All I can say is we never know what a person is going through, and we should never take it for granted that someone is so strong, so okay, so on top of things that there will never come a day when that person feels the crushing weight of holding it down. I would like to encourage everyone to take time out of their busy schedule on Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, texting, etc., and ask at least two people how they are doing, if they need anything such as prayer, a listening ear, and yes, even a bill paid. You never know who is waiting on someone to show they care. In some cases it could mean life or death. Let’s help people live.

God bless!

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Just Do It

American Flag Sunny“I don’t know how you do it!” I hear this all the time. In my attempt to be the consummate maverick, I am constantly finding a way to challenge myself to grow, reach a goal I’ve set, or climb a mountain so that the person behind me can see it can be done. Seven countries and another degree later, the past year has pushed my faith in God to the limit and opened my eyes to the joys of world citizenship. An expat in a country I’ve only visited twice, had no roots, and didn’t know a soul, I stepped out on faith knowing that every place I set foot belonged to God. And if He’s in charge, I’ll be okay.

I do not consider myself to be a person with innate bravery who charges headlong into the UK Flagunknown. I am just a woman with a whole lot of faith. I used to be a scary little thing. Job interviews terrified me, I had a fatalistic world view, and felt guilty for not having conventional desires that equated to the American Dream. Through doing the hard work of self-reflection and challenging myself to debunk the myths I believed about what I should want, do, and be, I decided that if God said I can do it, then it’s getting done. Full stop. It didn’t matter if someone I knew had done it or not. It didn’t matter who agreed or not. I just  knew that if I was certain the Lord revealed it was His will for me, an alternative outcome was non-negotiable. You simply just don’t tell God no.

Spain FlagIf I were to share my two pennies about how to be like Nike and just do it, my first piece of advice would be to know yourself. A lot of us don’t know who we are because we’ve been trained, often at a young age, how to perceive ourselves. We place limits on our talent because at age 10 someone told us how far we should dare to go, and we enter into adulthood with those limitations going unchallenged. Even if our potential is greater than what we’ve been told, that leash remains around our necks telling us to stay with the pack and don’t dare pull ahead. There are many people living UAE Flagbeneath their privilege because of that leash, and without realizing it their perpetual discontent and unrest is due to living under the constraint of a delusion imposed by someone who truly didn’t know enough to speak on anyone’s potential, let alone their own. That was a mouthful! In the words of Iyanla Vanzant, “Breathe! Stay in it!”

I read a quote the other day that reminded me of a question I often ask those in the younger generation so that they can challenge themselves to debunk their personal mythologies, “How can you let someone who doesn’t know who they are tell you who you are?” We sometimes give people too much power and too much credit because we may tend to think they know more than we do, including about ourselves. However, we must Malta Flagentertain that many people engage in what I call “mental sorcery”; they give the appearance of knowing much because we may hold them dear or they have a place of authority in our lives. However, the reality is they may actually be like the Wizard of Oz–a little man behind a velvet curtain pushing buttons, sometimes at random. Let that sink in. The devil will use anyone to speak the leaven of limitation into our spirits, and from my experience it is often due to their own fears , disappointments, and lack of faith.

When we know ourselves, we can also assess what our gifts and talents are and how we French Flagcan best see them applied. Whatever we are called to do, we must know that we know that we know what God is saying to us. I cannot stress this enough; people may look at our lives and see certain things, but they may not really know what they’re looking at and how those gifts should be used. Everyone with a speaking gift is not a preacher. Everyone who loves to travel will not be a missionary. A person who loves to debate may not necessarily be called to the field of law. We must be careful that we don’t put our gifts in a box and think there is only one way to go because we have received counsel from a limited perspective. There are many ways our talents can be used, but ultimately God directs our paths.

Once we know who we are and what we can do, we must chart our course. While faith is the foundation, without works it is dead. It may not sound spiritually glamorous, but the reality is all the faith in the world does not exempt us from the works of preparation, assessment, counting costs, and receiving wise counsel. God would not have us ignorant. Belgium FlagWe may not be of this world but we live in this world, and that means we have to develop a skill set to help us navigate everyday life. If something is revealed as God’s will,  we have to do our part to be in a place to receive else we either delay or abort the mission altogether. That’s why we cannot simply say, “If it’s meant to be, it will happen.” Not necessarily. It can be meant for us to buy a car, but if we don’t go to the dealership, guess what? If we didn’t budget for the car note, factor in insurance, and that in addition to obtaining we must also be able to maintain, well, you know the deal. Our destiny in Christ is not fulfilled on autopilot. We have to cooperate and do our part as expressed in His Word.

Doing all of the above takes hard work and focus. We must understand that things will Barbados Flagnot always be easy, and difficulty is not an indicator that we are going the wrong way. Despite the challenges, when we see growth we know we are on the right track and it will be worth every second. Stay positive, stay grounded, and stay in faith. God will not fail !

 

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