Sunday, March 19, 2017

A little Sunday school lesson on peace

Last night on the phone with my mom, I confided in her about a situation that had been weighing on me. I hadn’t realized it was upsetting me so much until I suddenly started to cry. I realized that it came down to grief; it was grieving my heart to witness someone close to me make poor choices for their life. As I continued to reflect this morning, I believe I got some perspective and I’d like to share it with you. Pull up a chair, boys and girls. It’s time for Sunday School.

As I was meditating, I recalled one of the accounts in scripture where Jesus wept with compassion.

When He approached Jerusalem, He saw the city and wept over it, saying, “If you had known this day, even you, the things which make for peace! But now they have been hidden from your eyes.” (Luke 19:41-42, NAS)

The Amplified version expands to say:

Would that you had known personally the things that make for peace (for freedom from all the distresses that are experienced as the result of sin and upon which your peace- your security, safety, prosperity, and happiness- depends)! But now they are hidden from your eyes.” (v. 42, Amplified)

Think about that. How many of us say we just want to have peace? We just want to be happy and live in quiet enjoyment. Well, the Lord is saying we can have all that and more. Yet, our eyes can’t see what’s been freely given.

When I wept last night, I was weeping for myself and for all of us. Why do we insist on choosing the hard way? I believe some suffering in this life just comes and doesn’t give us a choice in the matter. We just have to endure it. But then some suffering enters because of our choices. Why add needless pain to an already challenging life?

That’s my reflection today. Instead of focusing on what’s happening with other people, I will examine myself. I will recall the times when I’ve wandered down my own path and created drama and pain that could’ve been avoided. It’s not about shaming or judging myself. It’s about preserving the ability for sin to grieve me. It sounds strange, but I don't want to lose that tenderness of heart. Besides, when you realize that the outcome for any choice is either pain or peace, you’ll devote yourself to understanding the things that make for peace.

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

On being a woman

Today is International Women’s Day and March is Women’s History Month. Because of this, I feel compelled to write about being a woman, mainly because the experience of being a woman is so complex. It’s complex because there are so many demands placed on women to be a certain way. There are so many times I second guess what I’d naturally be inclined to write or post, all because I’m afraid of what others might think. I never wanted to ostracize a segment of my audience. But I’m slowly entering a place now where I just want to be authentically me. It’s never my heart to offend. At the same time, I realize, I can’t please everyone. Therefore, I want to highlight all of the dialectics (seemingly opposite truths that exist simultaneously) of who I am in no particular order. You may take them or leave them, but this is who I am.

I’m a feminist
I wholeheartedly believe that women are equal to men, intellectually and socially. Therefore, women deserve equal rights. I’m not rah-rah and extra about being a feminist, but I am.

I’m pro-life
I believe that life begins even before conception (Jeremiah 1:5, Psalm 139:13) and God has a destiny for every living soul on this planet. But I would never EVER judge a woman who struggled with the difficult choice to terminate a pregnancy.

I drink
I love wine! Growing up, drinking was a normal part of family fellowship. It generally wasn’t in excess. It made life celebratory. So, if I drink with someone, it’s almost like a familial exchange. But if, by chance, drinking seems sinful to another, I’ll abstain in their presence. Why become a needless stumbling block for a brother or sister for whom Christ died (Romans 14:15)?

I’m celibate
I’ve never acknowledged this publically, because it’s extremely personal, but I am. It doesn’t make me a prude by any means. I believe I can still be sexy and sensual. It also does not mean I am judgmental of others who are sexually active. I just choose to wait until committed love enters my life and I’m certain I’ve found my partner in purpose. Sometimes it doesn’t feel like a choice, but I know it is.

I’m a democrat
Again, this has to do with upbringing. My heart gravitates toward the underdogs. As an empath, I naturally want to stand up for those without resources or a voice. If that makes me a bleeding heart or a snowflake, liberal, I’m totally okay with that.

I’m Spirit-filled
Believe it or not, I’m one of those evangelical, tongue-talking Christians. I know how to exercise spiritual authority, bind up demonic forces, and break you off on some scriptures. It doesn’t make me a perfect human. It just means I lean on the Holy Spirit a lot when things get real.

I cuss (sometimes)
I’m not proud of this necessarily because I recognize how divergent it is from the previous truth I mentioned. But yes, if I’m truly speaking authentically in the moment, you’ll hear an expletive sometimes. Don’t worry though. I try to reserve the F-bomb for truly special occasions.

I’m black
This is a reality some forget or overlook at times, but it’s a salient identity for me. Yes, I’m of the suburban, middle class, straight hair, light skin variety. But, I'm a proud black woman nonetheless. You’ll hear it in my inflection sometimes when you catch me code switching.

I’m a PhD
This is another important thing to mention that I’m usually weird and embarrassed about. But yeah, I’m super-duper educated. I generally downplay it so as not to make others feel inferior. I don’t think degrees make people better human beings. But I will break out the Dr. Gambrell as needed if I’m dealing with a jerk.

I’m 34
I realized that throughout my blog I’ve been vague about my age. Why? I wasn’t in my 20s. Why should I hide it in my 30s? Depending on your season of life, 34 might seem really young or really old to you. But hey, it’s where I am in this season. Either way, I hope you’ll converse with and experience me before limiting me to just a number.

I’m sure there are dozens of other identities or tendencies I could highlight, but I’ll close here. Why am I sharing all this, you might ask? What does this have to do with my whole wellness “brand?” What does it have to do with being a woman? Everything! When people have to put on different personas and ignore other identities to be accepted, it drains the soul. When I go before the Lord, I don’t have to be anyone other than who I am. Why should I switch it up for other people? My hope in sharing all of this is that you will be courageous enough to explore and celebrate all of your dimensions. All people, but especially women, are beautifully diverse creatures. Let’s honor all the idiosyncrasies and celebrate difference. Yes?

Sunday, February 26, 2017

Love Boot Camp

Today I just wrapped up a month long Love Lessons series on my Facebook Live page. Per my usual pattern of the last few years, I wanted to offer whatever wisdom I could to the couples of the world. I absolutely love love and I want to do all I can to promote goodness and health in every area, including relationships.

I concluded with a love boot camp. I gave different strengthening exercises people could do to increase emotional and relational fitness. Apart from being a little corny, there were great ideas for enhancing relational satisfaction. For specifics, check out the replay.

As I reflect on the series and look at this image of my friends (yep, these are real people I know and love, not just beautifully diverse models) I am reminded what a gift love is. It is one of the biggest miracles of life to find your person. Despite the earth’s population being around 7 billion, it’s still a rare thing to find someone and vibe. Then to not only vibe and be compatible, but for both of you to be ready and available to be together, well...that can take a while to find. When you do, cherish it. Don’t you dare take it for granted.

Look at relationships like anything else worth having. Look at it like your physical health, for instance. It requires maintenance. You’ll have to put in daily effort. If you slack on putting in the work, you’ll see the effects of your neglect. You might not notice right away, but eventually things will atrophy. At that point, it might seem impossible to rebuild and get back to where you were. But just as the body is amazingly resilient and can repair itself, so can the heart. If both people are willing, you can have the relationship you always wanted. The question is will you put in the work? If you appreciate what you have and what you stand to lose, then the answer should be a no brainer.

Monday, February 13, 2017

Surviving the worst Valentine’s Day of my life

I’ve been thinking about you, readers. I know there are some of you who are nursing a fresh heartbreak. Maybe you braved the holidays and the new year relatively fine. But the idea of facing your first Valentine’s Day without the person you love, is just too much for your heart to bear. Let me just say that I know the feeling and I totally get it. It’s been several years for me, but I remember the pain of loss well and I thought I’d share it with you. I wanted to share how I survived the worst Valentine’s Day of my life.

I scheduled a physical on Valentine's Day that year. It was reminiscent of Tina Fey's 30 Rock character, Liz, scheduling a root canal and personal protest to Valentine's Day. A funny show and a funny character. Except real life isn't nearly as funny as TV. I took the day off from work because I wanted a total day to myself without any triggers of that godforsaken Love day or “Michael” and his new girlfriend being intimate. Instead, the doctor seemed like a reasonable place to be.

I got a full work up for no other reason then I wanted to make sure I wasn't dying. It sounds dramatic, but it seriously felt like I was dying. It's weird. When the very worst thing you imagine actually happens to you, then anything awful enters the round of conceivability. Nothing feels safe anymore. Excerpt from "Healing through movement: Getting back up after a broken heart"

At that doctor’s appointment, I learned (at the time) I had high blood pressure and appeared pre-diabetic. Other than my body’s extreme reaction to the emotional stress of a horrible breakup, I was relatively fine. I was heartbroken, but fine.

I left the appointment even more anxious and tense. I picked up an orchid for myself. I wanted to look at something pretty and exotic. I went home, relieved that I had taken the day off. I made a tasty dinner, had some wine, ‘cause duh, it’s me. I watched a movie. I cried a few times. I had to redirect negative thoughts almost constantly. But, I made it through Love Day. It wasn’t easy, but I did it. I share all that because so can you.

Here I am several years later and I actually like it again. I like Valentine’s Day. I enjoy writing love themed posts for singles and couples alike. I’ve been doing a love series on Facebook live that’s been well received. I’ve found peace and joy again. Most importantly, I believe in love again. That’s probably the biggest miracle in it all. My hope has been restored.

So, beautiful reader, if you are hurting right now, be encouraged. You might be bracing yourself for the worst Valentine’s Day of your life. Maybe you’re anxious about what the day holds or how you might be triggered. I can assure you though that if you just breathe you will endure the moment. It might take time, but one day the pain will be gone and will be replaced with joy. And your heart will be so full of love (with or without a mate), that you’ll be moved to reach out and encourage others that they can make it through. I promise you. I’m living proof.

Thursday, February 9, 2017

Nevertheless, she persisted

The middle of the night seems as good a time as any to offer a confession. Sometimes I notice I'll be going along fine. But every few months or so, I'll have an existential freakout. Maybe you know the kind, when you're plagued with thoughts about life and whether or not you'll be happy. Unfortunately, these freakouts aren't just the normal daytime ponderings. They are wake-me-up-at-3am panics about my future and if things will ever get easier.

Will I ever be one of those people who love my work?
Will I make a positive impact?
Will I ever payoff my debt and not struggle financially?
Will I ever have the love I long for?  
Will I ever leave a legacy?

There are lots of other variations, but you get the general theme. On these nights, I feel really scared and discouraged. I am viscerally aware of my own mortality. I think what scares me more than anything is passing on too soon with unfulfilled dreams still in my heart. It's tempting to stop trying. After all, why strive when there's no guarantee my efforts will be fruitful. Then this phrase...
This simple phrase originally intended as a rebuke is now my war cry. It is for a lot of women. It's a charge to keep going. Keep fighting. Keep pushing. Keep dreaming. Keep hoping. If the Lord is gracious, I could feasibly have another 50+ years of life. No one can stay on the struggle bus that long. Therefore, there's plenty of time to live, love, and passionately pursue purpose. 

As I close this out and try to grab a couple more hours of shut eye, I'll meditate on this phrase. At the end of my life, be it a couple of years from now or decades from now, I want it to be said of me that she faced some hard stuff. She had her hopes dashed and her heart broken a time or two. She wanted to give up many times and will her heart not to believe anymore. Nevertheless, she persisted and in doing so she inspired many and all of her dreams came true. Yeah. I like the sound of that.

Sunday, January 29, 2017

Bae's great, but give me Jesus

I just had the most refreshing time at my church’s women’s conference this weekend. Normally, I’m a little iffy about faith-based women’s events because so often they promote traditional roles that don’t really suit me. They can also unintentionally make singles feel like second class citizens. This weekend wasn’t about that though. It was just women of all backgrounds coming together to recharge and renew.

What I loved most was the subtle message I kept hearing from the married women. It didn’t just come from the platform speakers either. It came from the women I chatted with casually during the breaks. The message was yeah, they loved their husbands and families, but nothing replaced quality time with God.

I found this to be a pleasant surprise. So often we’re conditioned to think that marriage is the finish line. It’s a huge build up with a lot of expectations and if it delays or doesn’t happen, women are left feeling deficient. And if you do cross the finish, often you're thinking to yourself, this is it? That's why I’m so grateful for the married women who have the courage to burst that bubble for singles every chance they get. Yes, it’s a blessing, blah, blah, blah. But, married women still feel lonely, still feel discouraged, still daydream about what might be, and still hunger for a love that goes beyond the physical. We all do.

As I reflect today and get ready to post my love-themed blogs for the month of February, I can’t help but meditate on the beauty and depth of the human heart…how the layers of our soul are vast and unsearchable…how our longings surpass what any other being can provide. It's okay because no other human was designed to completely satisfy us. Therefore, keep dreaming, hoping, and evolving, no matter your state in life. My guess is if you asked your partnered friends if it’s really as amazing as it seems, they’d share their secret too: I mean, yeah, bae’s great and all, but give me Jesus.

Sunday, January 22, 2017

Every day non-attachment

Crap. This again. I’ve felt this before, many, many times. It’s an uncomfortable sensation with which I’m all too familiar. It feels like a bowl of hurt mixed with a swirl of anxiety topped off with disappointment- a sad sundae indeed. I feel it every time things don’t go my way. To be more specific, I feel it when I’m looking for one outcome and get another. When the feelings arise, I sigh to myself, a little frustrated for having let it happen again. Then, I remind myself to resume my practice, the practice of non-attachment.

Non-attachment is an Eastern term. I don't practice Buddhism, but the basic idea of it rings true for me. The concept of non-attachment comes from the idea that we create suffering for ourselves when we attach to people, things, results, or anything that’s temporal. Life is transient and we don’t have control over many things. When we think we do or we fixate on things going a certain way, then inevitably we feel frustrated, at best, crushed, at worst. That type of pain is needless and we can minimize it by understanding some things about attachment.

Ways we attach

Attachment is common and insidious. We attach when we make plans with friends. We attach when we have certain aspirations for our lives or even the lives of others. We attach when we keep texts, voicemails, and pictures from people. We attach when we double, triple, and quadruple check our phones to see if certain people liked our posts yet or if they appeared to get our messages. We attach when we aren’t just looking for a reply, but we want them to reply a certain way. Is this sounding familiar to anyone or am I alone in being Team Neurotic at times? If this is you, then you’ve undoubtedly experienced the sad sundae as well. Exhausting right, not to mention just really unpleasant. The only remedy for alleviating the pain is to detach.

Ways we detach

Detachment isn’t about becoming aloof or uncaring. You still might care deeply. You just forfeit your expectations. Detachment, then, might look like deleting messages rather than holding onto them. Whether they are positive or negative, you are ruminating on what’s already passed and can no longer be. Letting go allows you to be free. Another example is if you send a warm message to someone and they don’t reply or not the way you want. Let that be okay. Did you reach out for the response or simply to show love? Detachment might also be granting people room to be who they are. It can be hard to see people make certain choices. But love grants others that freedom; it doesn’t control or force. Control only creates suffering for you.

Think about this the next time you start to feel hurt or mad about something. Ask yourself if it’s possible you attached to a certain outcome and in doing so, created your own pain. It’s uncomfortable to admit, but when these feelings arise, they offer a gentle reminder that there’s more practice to be done. That’s a good thing.