Thursday, August 30, 2012

Losing Oxygen

Have you ever heard of altitude sickness? It's a side effect of mountain climbing. As altitude increases, the number of oxygen molecules per breath are reduced. The higher you climb, the body must adapt to having less oxygen. For some people, this adjustment is easy. For others, it's not and it can cause extreme sickness, especially if the rate of ascension is rapid. Those who don't adapt well can experience severe headaches, nausea, shortness of breath, the inability to walk, even a decreased mental status.

There's a similarity between the effects of altitude sickness on mountain climbers and the symptoms often experienced by those who are close to you as you climb the ladder of success in your life.

Sometimes, as you climb higher in your life, in your career, in your spiritual growth, etc., the people around you adapt easily. They have no problem accompanying you on your journey. Those are the ones who are equipped for the climb. They don't experience negative changes as a result of their exposure to the heights you're reaching, no matter how long it takes or how quickly it happens. Either way, they're with you.

There are, however, some who experience a loss of oxygen as they try to make the climb with you. The higher you get in your life, the harder it is for them to function normally. They change. Your success gives them a headache. It makes them sick. They can't stand it. And in their decreased mental state, they may even lash out at you. Those people are not meant to make the climb with you. Particularly if your climb to the top is a rapid ascension, they just can't seem to catch their breath. These folks are not meant to go the distance with you. You must leave them behind.

Believe it or not, having to leave behind your friends or family as you move closer to your destiny is not an easy thing. In a perfect world, the same people who were in your inner circle before you embarked on your journey would remain there when you reach your peak. Unfortunately, this is not a perfect world. And, if you expect to be successful in your attempt to reach your goal, you have to make the tough decision to leave some folks back there where you started.

I used to fight this with all my might. I really did. I even resorted to downplaying my success in an attempt to remain "the same" to my friends and family. I wanted to be viewed through the same lenses that I always had been. I never wanted anyone to accuse me of "changing", "acting brand new", or "forgetting where I came from".  It took a girlfriend of mine to change my way of thinking.

A few years ago, I became friends with a woman named Paulette. She met me at my day job and the two of us hit it off. Through the grapevine, she heard that I was a writer. She assumed that I had perhaps self-published one book or that I had not gotten very far in my writing career. She "Googled" me and saw that at that point I had written four novels, that I was with a reputable publishing company, and had even graced a few bestsellers lists. She immediately pulled me to the side.

"B*TCH, you're a big f%@#in' deal!" she yelled. "You walk around here like you're just some regular chick, but you are TRACY BROWN, B*TCH!" (LOL) 

I laughed it off, and told her that I didn't feel that I needed to put on airs or act superior just because I had achieved success as a writer. She shook her head and corrected me. "Nobody's saying that you have to walk around like your $#it don't stink," she said. "But you MUST embrace the blessings God gave you. He didn't bless you like this so that you could walk around and blend in. You gotta SHINE! Otherwise, He might as well bless somebody else." 

It took me a LONG TIME to get what she was trying to say. I had confused my desire to remain humble with a need to downplay my accomplishments. My desire to keep certain friends was causing me to actually hold myself back from reaching my full potential. How could I continue to "dream big", as my mantra goes, while playing small in order to appease those around me?

I was playing myself. There's a big difference between being conceited about what you've got, and being grateful enough for it that you celebrate it and allow it motivate you and to push you further. When we play down our achievements, we miss an opportunity to bear witness to the greatness God has exhibited in our lives. We block not only our own blessings, but potentially the blessings of others.

Surrounding myself with those who were losing oxygen with every step I took on my climb upward was working against me in a major way.

There's a line in an old Alexander O'Neal/Cherelle song that goes, "Life goes on and people grow out of things that fit before."  I have learned over the years that those "things" include homes, jobs, clothes, shoes, even friends...sometimes even family.

People give each other a hard time about changing. When you experience growth, there are some who are so uncomfortable with it that they hate you for it. Your growth makes them feel stagnant. Instead of being positively influenced by your upward mobility, they are intimidated by and jealous of it. They try, and often succeed, at making you feel guilty because of it. And this causes many of us to stunt our own growth.

I stopped allowing other people's altitude sickness to prevent me from ascending. There is a destiny that awaits me that is bigger and higher than I ever imagined. I accept now that everyone isn't meant to make the climb with me. I'm cool with that. And I trust that God will fill my life with those who won't lose oxygen as they take the journey with me. But I am determined to make it to the top, to allow my blessings to take me to the highest heights, no matter what!

Keep climbing!

Wednesday, August 29, 2012


I watched an old episode of the Oprah Winfrey show over the weekend. I love Oprah. Each time I watch her show, I end up feeling warmer, happier, smarter, more inspired than I did before. Unlike so much of the ridiculously dysfunctional "reality" TV that's on nowadays, Oprah's show - and her new network OWN - is 'feel-good-TV' that I truly enjoy.

The episode that I watched on Sunday was about gratitude. She explained that years ago she started keeping a Gratitude Journal. In it, she writes daily about the things she's most thankful for. The entries range from the simple things (like a good meal) to the important stuff (like her true friends). She had experts and guests on the panel who also practiced keeping a Gratitude Journal, and each of them spoke about how the joy in their lives has increased as a result.

It made me think about all the negativity that people are drenched in these days. Log on to Twitter, Facebook or any social network and you'll see more "woe is me" lamentations than you can stand! Or look around your circle of friends and family and count how many people are sad, mad, and feeling bad. In fact, just sit in any public place and LISTEN to those around you. Count how many negative comments you hear in a twenty minute timeframe. You'll be astounded by the number of negative comments you'll hear.  People are so bitter, angry, frustrated and defeated that it can drain the energy of those of us around them.

Oprah's advice was simple. Sit down and choose five things each day that you're grateful for and write them down. "Today, I'm grateful for..." She insists that your joy will increase, and that by focusing on the good things that you DO have, you will attract MORE goodness to your life. We spend so much of our life on the move, so much time processing bad news or dealing with crises that we often forget to stop and say "THANK YOU" to The Creator for the things that we do have.

I couldn't wait to get started! On Monday I ran out and bought myself a spiffy new journal. I'm a true "geek", so I LOVE, LOVE, LOVE things like new pens, colorful Post-It Notes in fun shapes, or a new notebook. Getting my Gratitude Journal was so exciting that I practically skipped into the stationery store! I was faced with so many delicious choices - pale pink to celebrate my femininity; powder blue to soothe my spirit; a rich green that happens to be my favorite color; one with a Bible scripture on every page; one that was brown, a homage to my last name; a leather black one with a flap - the choices were endless! I finally decided on a watermelon-hued one that would look bright and cheery alongside the journals that I already have - my diary, my book club journals, and my prayer journal. Excited, I could hardly wait until I got on the train to start writing!

I wrote way more than five things! "Today I'm grateful for...catching the 8:30 ferry, even though I was running girlfriend Darnell who gives me GREAT advice...for Dunkin Donuts caramel coffee...for my DVR...for cute shoes...for living in New York...for Oprah Winfrey..." By the time I got finished expressing gratitude for all of my blessings great and small, I was not only amazed by how many things there were to list, but I felt happier than I was when I started. I could hardly wait to see what the next day would present as a reason to be thankful.

I have a girlfriend, Chandra, who I refer to as "Polly Positive". She is always looking on the bright side of things - always. There have been times when I was annoyed by someone's pot-stirring, or by someone's negativity and she would always remind me, "Stop bothering with all that nonsense. You're bigger than that, Tracy Brown." I would often roll my eyes and shake my head at Polly Positive and her constantly sunny disposition. After all, when people get under our skin, who doesn't want to allow themselves a few moments of outrage?!? But since I began to distance myself from the negative people and things that once surrounded me, I am beginning to see that there is something truly magnificent about choosing joy over drama. Your whole life takes on a new perspective when you press the mute button on negativity and turn up the volume on happiness. The Gratitude Journal reinforces that. Polly Positive was onto something, after all!

I am only a few days into my journey with my Gratitude Journal. But, I can already testify to its merits. I realize how many of the "little things" I've overlooked. Sure, I give thanks every morning and night about the BIG things - my family, my health, my home, my career, etc. But God wants to know that we appreciate the sunset He painted across the sky, the breeze He blew across our faces, the good hair days, the tea we like, and the simple things that make our hearts sing. Since I started chronicling my thankfulness, I've found more and more reasons to be grateful. Oprah ain't getting the big bucks for nothing! The woman is definitely brilliant, and I'm glad that I took her advice. It's taught me how to open the door in my life to to even more joy than I was already experiencing. And for that, and many other things, I am truly grateful!

Tuesday, August 28, 2012


Recently, I joined a women's empowerment group. Ironically, all of the women in the group are professionals - think doctors, lawyers, project managers, education experts, and the like. None of the women in the group have any reason whatsoever to feel inferior to the others. We all speak well, look nice, smell good, and have substantial accomplishments under our belts.

Despite these similarities, and despite the fact that the goal of the group is to uplift and encourage one another, one of the members in particular insists on flaunting her lifestyle in a very poorly disguised effort to grandstand.

For example, one of us may not be able to make it to a meeting and we'll send a message to the group that reads simply, "Sorry, but I'm traveling that day. Enjoy, ladies! I'll catch up with you at the next meeting."  This member, however, will opt out of a meeting by laying it on extra thick. "Unfortunately, I'll be in the French Riviera that week, and when I return my son will be heading back to Harvard. This means that I will have to miss the next two meetings. I may actually have to miss THREE meetings because my husband wants to spend at least one weekend in the Hamptons this summer. But, I can arrange to have my secretary pick up the materials, or perhaps she can arrange a conference call..." 

Get the idea?

I'm intrigued by this, to say the least. It seems that whenever a group of women gathers together - whether rich or poor, young or old, successful or unemployed - there is always one or more who insists on making it a competition. You've seen it in your own circle of women. Turn on any episode of the "Real Housewives of [INSERT CITY]", and you'll see the same type of posturing.

Think about the last time you got together with your girls. And, be honest with yourself as you answer these questions. (No one can read your mind, so keep it real. :)

  • Did you secretly enjoy the fact that one of your friends had put on a few extra pounds?
  • Did you look each of them up and down to compare their outfits to yours?
  • Were you envious that one of them was brave enough to try a new hairstyle or even a new lipstick?
  • As one of them shared their problems, did you feel superior because you're not dealing with those issues?
  • Or if you were the one with the problems, were you too ashamed to admit it?
Too often, women spend the time together with their girls engaging in some unspoken contest. They let other women's accomplishments dwarf their own. They allow other women's problems to provide them with an excuse to look down on them. Some of us let another woman's beauty cause us to feel less so. We almost revel in another woman's pain, while resenting their triumphs. Why is that?

The fact is, some of us gauge our growth by comparison to our peers - feeling guilty when a friend begins a weight loss program or an exercise regiment; comparing the strides they make in their careers with our own; giving ourselves catty reassurances to make ourselves feel better ("She may be a size four, but her feet are ugly as hell!" or "So what she drives a Benz! At least my car is a 2012 and hers is a 2003."). Some of us even use our kids as part of the contest, comparing our children's grades, looks, athletic prowess and even their love lives to the ones of our friends' kids! Don't even get me started about the way we compare the men in our lives - your man versus her man. It seems that many of us are constantly in a contest to have one up on our girls!

Maybe men do it, too. But, women are experts at it.

The next time you catch yourself engaging in this behavior, STOP! Remind yourself that there is no competition between you and your girlfriends. In fact, your only competitor is YOU. Each day, we should all make a commitment to outdo ourselves. If you worked out for ten minutes yesterday, go for fifteen minutes today. Don't worry about the fact that your sister is training for a marathon. If you're single and still looking for Mr. Right, don't worry that your neighbor has been married for twenty years. If you're making a five-figure salary today, strive for a six-figure salary in ten years. Don't worry that your girlfriend is a CEO. Your contest is between YOU and YOU.

 There is only one you. Each of us is uniquely and wonderfully made. We ought to only worry about outdoing ourselves. Let's be better than we were yesterday, last week, last year. Who cares what Sally, Keisha, or Maria are up to? What are YOU up to? How can YOU impress YOU? Stop concerning yourself with impressing other women.

I might have to print this post out and slip it into that girlfriend's purse at our next women's meeting. But, oh...I forgot...she'll have to miss the next meeting. Unfortunately, that's not all she's missing. She's missing the point of the women's empowerment group altogether. And that's the saddest part!

Thursday, August 23, 2012


I came face to face with the devil yesterday. No joke. I couldn't see him. But, I knew he was there, inhabiting the body of a person with whom I've had a terribly tumultuous relationship (and that's putting it mildly).

First, let me give you a little background about this situation. I am not now, nor have I ever been or ever will be perfect. I'm not a pastor, or a preacher, or anything of the sort. I do, however, have a strong faith in God and in His power and mercy. I have experienced firsthand what it's like to live a life on my own terms - partying, drinking, gossiping, fornicating and whatever else gave me pleasure. I've also seen the truth: that those things were only temporary fixes and false shelters. After I finished doing what I felt like doing, I still felt a void. The same problems that existed before I did those things remained long after I was finished having my fun. I wasn't feeling fulfilled. Something was missing.

I started going to church years ago, but got discouraged after I realized that everyone in church ain't saved. In my mind, I thought that if people spent decades of their lives getting up and going to church, singing on the choir, sitting in the pulpit, teaching Sunday school, working on the usher board, being missionaries, etc. that they must be real Christians. It soon became clear that I was very wrong. Many of the people I was worshiping with were sincere. But many of them were phonies. They were shouting "Hallelujah" and then whispering about, backstabbing, and hating on others right there under God's own nose. It turned me off. I figured if I was gonna be surrounded by haters, I might as well do it while enjoying a drink and a two step rather than surrounded by pretenders in a church setting. So  I left. I went back out into the world and figured that I could make it on my own.

I was wrong. I wasn't able to remain righteous and still blend in with the rest of the world. There was no righteousness in getting drunk, in gossiping about and demeaning others, in sleeping around without the commitment of marriage. Eventually, I realized that if I wanted to do more than just exist, I had to make some changes. Don't get me wrong, I was still thriving. I was blessed with a great career that I never in my wildest dreams thought possible. But, there was something missing. I was happy with my blessings, but I still knew that there was more that He wanted me to do. So, hesitantly, I slowly drifted back to church, armed this time with the knowledge that I couldn't put my faith in people, but only in God Himself. "Eyes on God," my girl friend urged me on. "Focus on Him." I did, and this time things are better. I'm not perfect. But each day I do the best that I can to walk according to my Father's will. As the Olympic gymnast Gabby Douglas famously said, "All the glory goes to Him and all the blessings fall on me."

One of the biggest lessons I've learned as a Christian is the power of forgiveness. Forgiveness is one of the hardest things in life. Someone hurts you, at times intentionally, and they may or may not even be sorry for it. But we're asked to forgive them, just as we've been forgiven for all the wrong that we've done.

So now back to my story about yesterday. I had gone to visit this person as part of my resolution to forgive the pain they had caused me - not to forget it, but to forgive it.

My objective was to spend an afternoon with them, check to ensure that they were doing alright physically, and to do some research for a book I'm currently writing. Those were my intentions. But there's a saying that the road to hell is paved with good intentions. That was certainly true for me on this day, as I entered the apartment (I should tell you that I prayed during the elevator ride up there) and sat down on the sofa.

The afternoon began well enough. We chatted about the weather, about the current events in the news, discussed the person's recent trips to the doctor for check-ups, that kind of thing. Soon, however, the conversation moved to more treacherous waters. And that was when what started out as an easy conversation turned into a battle of Biblical proportions.

We began to discuss some people we both knew. One in particular was clearly not in the person's good graces. One negative comment was made, and I ignored it, steering the conversation to safer territory. Later another derogatory comment was made and I chose not to laugh, even though this person clearly found it hysterical to laugh at another's expense. Again, minutes later a very hurtful and downright mean-spirited remark was made about the same individual - who, if I may be honest, is the person's own daughter - a remark that was so hateful and so cruel that I could no longer remain silent. I gently reminded them that they, too, had done things wrong in their lifetime; that they, too, needed to seek forgiveness for the ill treatment they had dished out to others over the years.

As I pointed this out, I glanced at my tape recorder, which I had brought with me in order to capture our conversation as part of my preparation for the book I'm writing. It was soon clear to me that this would be no easy discussion about the journey that this person had taken through life. Instead, the tape recorder didn't work - even though the batteries were fresh and the tape was brand new out of the package. God had other plans for our discussion that afternoon. I realized that this conversation was not destined to be recorded on tape, but would be forever etched into my memory. The malfunction of my tape recorder made it clear to me that my job on this day was not to worry myself over technical difficulties. Instead, I was there to go toe to toe with the enemy once and for all. I tossed my little recorder back into my bag, looked up, and locked eyes with the devil himself.

The person stared at me with such contempt and hatred that it stunned me at first. I kept my game face on, though. After all, I had put on the whole armor of God before arriving there that afternoon (Ephesians 6:11-17). To be honest, I'm not even sure why I was surprised. After all, this was not the first time that I had been on the receiving end of this person's wrath. Over the years, I've had some unbelievably disturbing interactions with this person, and been the recipient of more verbal assaults from them than many people can even imagine. In fact, I battled for a long time with low self esteem as a result of the things that had been said to me by the person I sat with on this day. It was one of the things I had forgiven them for, among many other things.

The conversation grew increasingly heated. Although I was familiar with the person's cruel and hateful nature, I still marveled at how uncaring they seemed! The more I defended the person's daughter, the more the person became enraged. Soon, the daughter was no longer the focus of the person's rage, I was. But I was ready for that. As the person angrily called me all sorts of evil things, I simply stated, "I still love you." As they got puffed up with hatred and belligerence, I simply shook my head and smiled and said, "I forgive you." As they venomously stated that I'm destined for hell, that I've done things wrong as well, I quoted the Word. "All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God." (Romans 3:23) While the person carried on an on I just smiled, and kept repeating words of love and of forgiveness and of peace.

Now I've come a very long way because the old me would have used my penchant for words and torn them apart. (Please don't get it twisted. My knack for wordplay can be both a gift and a curse.) The old me might have even kicked the person's ass. After all, I had been in a physical altercation with the person before, and the evil that spouted from their lips yesterday could have easily escalated had I not been prayed up before I got there. This back and forth of evil words and cruel put-downs versus "I still love you." "I forgive you." "You should repent before it's too late." went on for about an hour. I didn't raise my voice, didn't wave my fists around. I didn't have to. I realized that it wasn't the person who sat before me who was the REAL problem. It was the devil within them that I was warring with.

Ephesians 6:12 ~ For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.

Demons take up residence within some people. You have surely come into contact with examples of this in your lifetime. People who are so consumed with hate that they resist all acts of love. (In fact the person I was with yesterday told me, "I don't have an ounce of love inside me. F&@# you!" How's THAT for spiritual forces of evil?) It wasn't my first time facing off with the devil within this person. But it was the first time that I recognized who I was really sparring with. I used to hate this person long ago. I used to long for the day when they would be held accountable for their evildoing and pay the ultimate price. I used to vow that I wouldn't even spit on them if they were on fire. But now I honestly feel sorry for them. As I watched the battle for the person's soul being waged right before my eyes I felt pity where anger had once been. The person was fighting a one-sided verbal war with me. The hate, anger, and venomous rage wasn't being greeted with more of the same. Instead, I spoke love and peace and joy to them. And I was victorious.

Did the person stop being evil? No. Did the person weep and ask forgiveness for the terrible things they said? No. My victory wasn't won in that way. Instead, I was triumphant because THIS TIME, I hadn't fallen into the trap the enemy had laid. I didn't repay evil for evil. I had held onto my faith and the piercing darts of the cruel words didn't penetrate me. They bounced off of my armor. And as I left the apartment that afternoon, I didn't feel hurt, angry, bitter, or any negative emotions whatsoever.  I felt at peace. I had done my part. I had given them the truth, and suggested that they set aside their negativity and seek God before it was too late. I had demonstrated faith in action. I had shown them what it really means to have love in your heart - the kind of love that can look someone in the face and tell them "I forgive you", even as the person wished them a lifetime in hell.


You would have to know who the old me was to truly grasp the miracle that took place yesterday. But trust me when I tell you that He has brought me a mighty long way!

I can tell that some of my Twitter comments, Facebook posts, and blog posts get on some people's nerves. All the references to God and to church and the Bible irritate many people - the same people who were quick to 'like' my posts about negative and salacious things. I recognize that some may wonder why I share my personal business with the world, when they would rather hear me talk about other things - anything but God. I don't mind. Just as I was aware of who I was really sparring with yesterday, I'm aware of what spirit within them is resisting the goodness in my life that I speak about. Perhaps it's not their season to 'get it'. But for those who needed to read this, for those who do 'get it', I'm laying my own journey out for you to take some comfort from it. Maybe there are cruel and evil people in your life, in your family, at your job or in your community who you have reason to hate. I hope this helps you to turn that hate into love, as crazy as that may sound. After all, the  battle isn't really with the person. Instead it's with what lies within them. And the only way to WIN, is to put on the whole armor of God and forgive them.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Giving Allowance

Today I watched an episode of Divorce Court on television (I know, I know! LOL). In this particular episode, a woman was so bitter, so angry and emotional as she recounted the treatment she had endured at the hands of her husband. He had been a drug addict when she met him. She helped him clean up his act, and allowed him to move in with her and her child. During the four years that followed, she endured a two-week relapse during which he and his friends - who were also addicts - got high repeatedly in her home, even in front of her child. In an effort to get money so that they could keep getting high, the man and his fellow addicts accessed her bank account and deposited empty envelopes at ATM's which contained fake deposits, and then withdrew the cash. When the police came to the home to make an arrest, she went to jail in order to protect the man she loved. His drug use eventually cost her the home she lived in, the car she drove, as well as her job. Yet, she actually married him after all of this, blaming her decision to walk down the aisle with him on low self esteem and a need to have the life she had always envisioned. Furthermore, she went on to have two children with this man. She cried and cried and cried some more, telling the judge how he refused to go to church, which was blocking her spiritual growth, blaming her weight gain on her relationship with him, complaining about his lack of attention to their children, and insisting that her entire life had been ruined because of this horrible man she had married.


I know a lot of people like this, who blame all of their troubles on others. They can't be happy in life because of what their mother or their father did; they can't love themselves because an ex put them down; they can't get their lives in order because someone else is blocking their progress. Most often, when I encounter people like this, the problem is not the folks in their past or in their present. The problem is themselves. They can't get past the hurt that someone has inflicted on them, and so they stop living full lives because of it. Meanwhile, the person who hurt them has moved on, thrived and lived happily ever after, completely unaffected.

As the judge pointed out, the wife in the divorce case had willingly gone along with all of the mess that her husband had dished out. She had tolerated so much, all in the name of "love". But she was so busy loving him that she neglected to love herself. Her anger and bitterness was so raw and so real that it was difficult to watch her sobbing, tears streaming down her face, as she repeatedly placed the blame at her husband's feet. 

The problem with her, and with many other people living empty lives, is that they fail to take responsibility for the allowances they've given to others. So many people tolerate cheating, abuse, and poor treatment in relationships. And when those relationships end, they are quick to list all of the terrible things that were done to them. But they allowed it. They knew what was going on and they accepted it. So a good portion of the rage and bitterness they direct at their ex, should actually be reserved for themselves. 

I'm speaking from experience. Recently, I had a conversation with my children about my ex-husband and the mistress(es) he enjoyed before, during, and after our marriage. The discussion came about as I shared my intention to write about what I went through, in the hopes that my story might be a blessing to someone enduring similar circumstances. One of my sons pointed out, "You went through a lot, Ma." And I did. However, as I explained to my kids that afternoon, I didn't intend to write about it from an accusatory, victim stance. This wasn't going to be some pity party, "men ain't $#!&" type of story. After all, I told my son, I had allowed all of it. He had cheated. But I had accepted it, and stayed with him. I spent a lot of time being angry with him, bitter even. But eventually, I had to come face to face with my own part in it. I had to hold myself accountable for some of the allowances I had given him. The story I decided to write was as much about my journey toward forgiving my ex-husband as it was about my journey toward forgiving myself.  A person can't walk all over you unless you lay down and allow them to. 

Once I stopped placing all of the blame on him (and not just him, but on my biological mother and the pain she'd caused me; on my girlfriends who had betrayed me, etc.), I started doing the work that really mattered. I started figuring out what was at the root of my behavior. I had to determine what it was about me that would allow someone to hurt me over and over and over again, why I kept being drawn to that type of dysfunction. When I began the WORK (and it was definitely hard work) of peeling back my pain layer by layer, I finally began to heal. As long as that work remained undone, I would continue to attract neglectful and abusive men, toxic friendships and negative people. But once I got to the root of my problem, I finally began to see that the biggest obstacle to my own happiness was ME. 

Sounds crazy to think that we could be in our own way. But the truth is, many of us are blocking our own blessings by holding on to the things in our past that let us down, set us back, or broke our hearts. We become cynical, angry, depressed, self-deprecating and we pass these negative traits on to our children. We make it hard for people to remain friends with us. We make it impossible for our relationships and marriages to thrive, because we are holding on to so much baggage from our past.

The words to one of my favorite songs by Erykah Badu says it best:

"Bag Lady, you gon' hurt your back, dragging all them bags like that. I guess nobody ever told you all you must hold onto is YOU."

When I put down the heavy baggage in my emotional life, I felt lighter. My world got a lot brighter and the pain that I had dragged around for so many years no longer had power over me. I was FREE. 

Maybe you know someone who has been giving out allowances to people to keep hurting them. Maybe you know someone who has continually carried around excess baggage in their lives. Maybe that someone is you. What I've learned from experience is that until we let it go, we can't truly LIVE. And life is too precious to waste a single day. 

I don't give out unwarranted allowances anymore. Neither should you. 

Tuesday, August 21, 2012


About two years ago, I began practicing yoga. I've done several types, but the one I enjoy the most is Bikram yoga - aka HOT yoga. In a yoga studio that is heated to 105 degrees, a group of people stare at their reflections in the mirrors along one wall and connect with their innermost thoughts. We stretch, twist, bend, and SWEAT (a lot!), all while maintaining eye contact with our ourselves. There is no peeking around to see how well someone else is holding their pose. No talking or even groaning is tolerated. Silence. That's what's required, as the only voice that fills the room is that of the instructor as she explains the proper way to execute each pose so that we don't do damage to our spines or our knees. The yoga instructor insists that we remain in the room no matter what. If you're exhausted, or feel faint, you are permitted to sit or to lie down, but you may not leave. You are forced to remain in the room for an hour and a half and come face to face with the one person many of us run from the most - ourselves.

I remember my first class. I thought the lady instructing the class as well as the people who attended were insane. It felt so HOT, so difficult to balance in one pose for a full minute. I couldn't understand how we were expected to remain still - to not even wipe the sweat that poured forth from us and onto the towels we stretched across our mats. She explained that the sweat was our body's way of cooling itself, that wiping it was futile since it would only come back within seconds. She also explained that most of our struggle in the room was mental - that our bodies were perfectly capable of doing what she asked of us. But our minds were another story. If we convinced ourselves that we were going to faint, then we would. If we told ourselves that it was too much, it would be. She also told us that our mental ability to withstand the pressures of the class would affect those around us. If the two people on either side of me decided to quit and lie down, it would make it that much harder for me not to do the same. "We hold each other up in here," she said. "We take water breaks together, we breathe together. So try as hard as you can to remain in your practice."  I suffered through that first class, practically crawled back to the locker room and slowly, weakly peeled out of my "Richard Simmons shorts" and my sports bra, cleaned myself up and put on my street clothes for the journey home.

As I walked to the train station, the cold air felt so good on my face! Now that I had escaped the heat of the yoga studio, I was elated to be outside, even in the frigid January cold that blanketed New York City. But as I neared the train station, the strangest truth occurred to me. I felt GREAT! How could that be possible? I had just been tortured for ninety minutes. I had forced my body into positions that seemed inhumane. And yet, mentally, physically and even spiritually I felt better than I had in years! I went home, took a long hot shower and slept better than ever - no tossing and turning, no interruptions. I literally laid down, passed out, and the next thing I knew, it was morning. I sprung up out of bed with no aches or pains like the ones I suffered after every "boot camp" style weight loss class I endured. No, this was much better. I felt mentally and physically strong.

After a day or two, I decided to try it again. I grabbed my yoga mat, my towel and some water and headed back to class. This time I tied my weave up in a scarf "sistah-girl" style and I was ready for battle. I stepped into the class and made eye contact with myself in the mirror. Before the instructor entered the room, I allowed my gaze to drift around the room. I saw men and women of varying ages, races, shapes and sizes. There was no judgment as each of us stood in various stages of undress. One thing was certain - it was HOT in that room. So it was no surprise that all of us wore as little as possible. People let their rolls hang out, and nobody cared. The instructor that evening began the class by reminding us that we were to keep our eyes focused on our own face in the mirror. We were to be aware of what we were thinking, to encourage ourselves mentally. She reminded us that this was not a competition. We only needed to focus on our own practice, to be honest with ourselves, and we must remain in the room no matter what. I was ready. I mentally "hummed" the words to my favorite gospel song and reminded myself that I could do anything I set my mind to.

And we began. Sweat poured forth, and I didn't bother to wipe it away. I let it drip from my forehead, my nose, my ears, back, thighs, and everywhere in between. I told myself that I was sweating out all of the bad energy that I had absorbed that day and I pressed on. During the deep breathing exercises, the instructor told us to inhale the goodness we wanted for ourselves, to exhale the bullshit. I did, my gaze fixed on my own reflection, mentally telling myself that I was awesome, that I was DOING IT, that I would feel fantastic when it was all over. In between each pose, as our heart rates sped up and our breath became more labored, the instructor would repeat a phrase that I absolutely LOVED. "Leave yourselves alone," she said. "Don't fidget, don't fix your clothes, just LEAVE YOURSELF ALONE."  Call me crazy, but that was some brilliant advice. I spend so much of my day fixing my hair, retouching my lipstick, making sure that I don't have food between my teeth, even pulling my drawers out of my butt (TMI, I know, but it's the truth). So the thought of leaving myself alone was the best advice I had gotten in a long time.

After class, as we all allowed our bodies to cool down, I lay on my yoga mat and meditated. I forced out all the thoughts that usually persist in my mind ("What will I make for dinner?" "I wonder if Justin finished his homework." "What do I have to address when I get back to work tomorrow?") and I focused only on Jesus. I thought about the blessings I had - from the big ones to the smallest. My children, the roof over my head, the money in the bank, the food in my pantry, the career I have, the mobility of my limbs, the family I have, my sense of humor, my beautiful pedicure, my unshakable faith. I got up from the mat, went to the locker room and this time I didn't feel as weak. Instead, I felt renewed.

In the years since then, I haven't always been consistent in my yoga class. I used to go three times a week. Lately, I'm lucky if I make it three times a month. But I have made silent meditation a part of my everyday routine. Every morning, I rise before the sun comes up. I go into my home office/prayer closet and I sit alone in the dark in my father's old recliner. I close my eyes, I breathe deeply and I leave myself alone. I meditate on the blessings that I have. I make plans for how I can bless others on this day. I remind myself that I am wonderfully made. And then I pray. My conversations with God each morning have made all the difference in my spiritual, emotional, and mental well being. I am rooted and grounded in my faith and I have found happiness unlike anything I ever imagined possible. In fact, my conversations with God have become my favorite part of the day. I lay all my concerns, my problems, my triumphs and my joy before Him. And he speaks to me, in turn. It is incredible. Meditating has taken me to another level. I have mastered the art of drowning out all of the noise around me - which is no small feat in a city full of sirens, horns honking and loud, obnoxious people - and I've learned to focus on my own thoughts. I can silence the incessant chatter and mayhem around me and be alone with myself even in the most crowded of venues.

I urge you to find your center and add meditation and prayer to your life. You'll be surprised what you can hear when you silence all the madness around you.

Namaste ("I bow to you.")

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Super Side-Eye

Just to recap for those readers who are new to my "Side-Eye of the Week" posts...

1. Side-Eye

A facial expression expressing one's criticism, disapproval, animosity, or scorn of varying levels of intensity towards another person. Defined by one person looking at the other out of the corner of their eye(s) with a scowl, as their head is turned in a different direction. Synonymous expression: "cuttin' your eyes" (at someone).

Got it? Okay. So, having read the definition, I'm sure that you'll agree that there could only be one situation that deserves my "SUPER Side-Eye" distinction this week. (A "super side-eye" is accompanied by sucking one's teeth and ends with rolling one's eyes HARD in the opposite direction from the target.)

This super side-eye is being awarded to none other than Chad "Ochocinco" Johnson and Evelyn Lozada.

By now, I'm sure that you've heard about the shenanigans between this couple. I won't even bother recapping all the cringe-worthy moments between these two when Basketball Wives was on the air. I won't point to his ridiculous attention-seeking behavior while appearing on Dancing with the Stars. I won't comment on him sporting a blond Mohawk and gold teeth while playing football for the Bengals. Nor will I ponder why a sane adult would legally change his name to "Ochocinco" in honor of his football number.

I won't recap all the many fights that Evelyn started on Basketball Wives. I won't dwell on the national outcry over her need for anger management last season. Nor will I reminisce on her refusal to understand why her former friend pressed charges against her assistant who slapped her in her face over house keys.

We have already witnessed all of that foolishness, and once is enough. No need to stroll down Memory Lane and revisit all of that. (Although, here's the link to my previous blog post on this topic from months ago.  :)   Instead, I'll stick to the new developments. Evelyn (who we watched bully several women on Basketball Wives over several seasons) called the police to report a domestic dispute in which Chad allegedly head-butted her during an argument over a receipt for condoms that she found in his car. Forget about the fact that she gave him permission (on television) to cheat as long as he "kept it 100" with her. She was angry, and an argument ensued, followed by an alleged physical altercation which resulted in Evelyn requiring stitches for a three inch gash on her forehead. The police were called, Chad was arrested, and a scandal broke out over all of this. As a result, Chad was dropped from his new team, the Miami Dolphins, and the show that Vh1 planned to air about their recent wedding was cancelled.

Talk about a bad weekend!

It's not my place to decide who is right or wrong in this situation. But I'm sure that we all agree on this: two people were given an opportunity for fame and fortune. One used that platform to bully, intimidate and ostracize other women. The other used it to showcase increasingly buffoonish behavior. Both knew all about the other's reputation for foolishness. And they went ahead with their relationship anyway. Many wonder why a man would marry a woman who has an admittedly colorful past with many athletes (including the ex-husband of one of her BBW cast mates). Many wonder why a woman would marry a man who admitted to her on national TV that he can't imagine being faithful to one woman. Could it be that the two of them allowed their thirst for fame and ratings and money to cloud their better judgment?

We may never know for certain what motivated them. But, what we do know is that both have ruined their "careers" and squandered opportunities that many people would love to have.

And for that, they get my Super Side-Eye.

UPDATE: This just in...Evelyn Lozada has filed for divorce after a mere 40 days of marriage. SMH

Photo Credit: Google Images

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

The Score

It's clear that I love books. Words in general thrill me! I love poetry, essays, fiction, nonfiction, mystery, romance, spoken word, public speaking - even a good argument from time to time! But there's another form of wordplay that truly stirs my soul. And that's music.


Every major event, memory, or phase in my life has a song attached to it. I grew up to the sound of Run DMC, LL Cool J, and Big Daddy Kane. I fell in love to the tunes of New Edition, Jodeci and Boys II Men. I became socially conscious while blasting Public Enemy; nursed a broken heart while Mary J. Blige sang my blues away. I repped my borough to the silky sounds of the Force MDs and the gritty beats of the Wu Tang Clan. Poked my chest out proudly as Notorious B.I.G., Nas and Jay Z rapped about the things I saw everyday, proving that to survive in the mean streets of NYC meant that you were SOMEBODY. I channeled my 'inner b*%@# to the tune of Lil Kim and learned to get in touch with my softer side with Sade, Erykah Badu and Lauryn Hill. From my parents' 8 tracks, to albums and .45's, then cassette tapes and eventually Cd's, and most recently iPods - I have changed with the times and always made the necessary adjustments to ensure that the music kept playing in the soundtrack of my life.

I've always had an eclectic taste in music. Madonna, Cyndi Lauper, Hall & Oates, Phil Collins, Pat Benatar, Duran Duran, Amy Winehouse, Duffy, even Elton John have all been in heavy rotation on my personal playlists. I can even vibe to Carrie Underwood or The Dixie Chicks! The only music genres that have never tickled my fancy are heavy metal and folk music. Over the past few years, I've even discovered a new love - jazz. John Coltrane fills my living room speakers quite often these days. (In fact, my son teased me recently when my playlist segwayed from Jay Z's Blueprint 3 to John Coltrane's A Love Supreme. LOL) My musical tastes don't fit inside of any box. I love reggae, rap music, rock, easy listening, even classical music from time to time. Whatever suits my mood (and my moods fluctuate quite often on any given day)! As I write my stories, poems and even these blogs, there is always a score playing in the background. I picture each scene as it would play out onscreen, and I hear the music that matches each emotion. Music and writing go together like pen and paper for me.

Ladies, there is nothing like the feeling of wearing your favorite outfit, your favorite heels, with the wind in your hair, looking so fresh and so clean while your ANTHEM plays in your headphones! (And we all have that anthem that makes us STRUT!) Fellas, you feel invincible when your song of the moment is blasting through your Beats by Dr. Dre headphones! Can't nobody tell you nothin'! No matter how old you get, when a song comes on from your childhood, you instantly remember "the good 'ole days" when you had your first kiss, your first dance, your first... well, you get the idea. :)  And as we get older, our parents' music becomes nostalgic for us as well. Whenever I hear doo-wop music, I think of my dad singing along in his velvety baritone. It makes me smile.

Gospel music has become a real favorite of mine. Nothing stirs my soul quite like it! You just can't help but feel better about whatever is troubling you when you listen to a choir sing with all their heart. Something within you stirs and is uplifted, whether you like it or not. Even on a good day, there's something so incredibly joyous about hearing melodies from Heaven.

What music comprises the score for the soundtrack of your life? I bet it tells the story of your journey so far and punctuates each of your milestones.

I love music!

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Hard & Black

I'm not very sentimental or emotional. Perhaps that's a result of being very close to the men in my life, particularly my father. Or maybe it's because many of my closest friends have been male. It could be the result of being a single mom, and having to be tough at times in order to keep my kids in line. Although I do admit to getting misty-eyed at a sad movie scene, or while reading a good book, or upon seeing an Olympic athlete triumph after a lot of hard work and sacrifice, I'm not usually the type to cry over hurt feelings, embarrassment, or a bruised ego. Things that reduce many women to tears don't usually get under my skin as much. I'm a lady in every sense of the word - I love high heels, dresses, manicures, pedicures, shopping, makeup, flowers, candy and all the "girly" things. But when it comes to sensitivity, I'm more like the guys in my life. In short, I'm not what Wendy Williams likes to call "soft and pink". I'm more ..."hard and black".

It's important to note that I have been through a LOT in my lifetime. I know how it feels to be broke, abandoned, heartbroken, betrayed, deceived, ridiculed, abused, ostracized, and more. I have seen my share of dark days. By the grace of God, I overcame those things. And, perhaps most astonishing, I haven't wallowed in the misery of it all. I don't wear my past hurts on my sleeve for all the world to see. I'm not, in the words of Iyanla Vanzant, "addicted to my story". I haven't forgotten what I went through. But, I see no point in dredging it up every five minutes to stare at it, lament over it, or cling to it like a favorite childhood blanket. Instead, I view the scars from those old wounds as badges of honor - proof that I'm a survivor.

When I share the details of my journey thus far, many people are downright SHOCKED. They say, "but you're always smiling!" or "you couldn't have gone through all of that and still be so positive!" There was a time when I thought that there was nothing unusual about going through traumas, dusting yourself off and getting back to life. I've watched many of the women in my life do the same thing. But in recent years, it has become painfully clear to me that some people are so stuck on their past hurts that they can't move forward. To them, it is downright incredible that I've managed to get through my ordeals without any permanent negative effects. So, at first I thought that maybe that was why I was placed in their lives. Maybe by example, I could demonstrate how one moves on from the things that caused them pain. I shared my testimony. I shared the details of how I came into a closer relationship with God, and how He turned my tears of pain into shouts of triumph. I sent them scriptures. I texted them uplifting messages. I gave them advice based on my own experiences. I listened and listened and listened some more. And the strangest thing happened: absolutely nothing changed.

They were still sad, still defeated, still nursing old wounds, insisting that they were still in the thick of their struggle. When medical professionals told them they had been healed, they insisted that they were still sick. When they claimed to have found the joy of the Lord, they were still sad 90% of the time. When they claimed to be tougher, stronger, more resilient, they proved themselves to be sensitive, weak, and easily discouraged. They claimed to be confident and self assured, but ran off sobbing bitterly at the slightest criticism. I scratched my head in confusion. The answers to their problems were staring them in the face. I was literally giving them the blueprint for how to overcome these issues - the very same issues I had once struggled with myself. It was the equivalent of drowning while someone eagerly, desperately offers you a life preserver, and yet you refuse to put it on.

The problem wasn't only limited to my immediate circle. One look at people's updates on Blackberry Messenger or Facebook or Twitter illustrated so much "woe is me" melodramatics that it turned my stomach. Negativity was everywhere I looked. Even in church! My pastor preached till the sweat ran down his face about Christians not having to live defeated lives full of sadness, despair and suffering. The Bible that they open up week after week and day after day is full of answers. It tells you that God will never leave you or forsake you. It tells you to cast your cares upon the Lord. It tells you seek and you shall find, knock and the door will open, ask and it shall be given...and yet you see people who have been in church for decades drenched in sadness, bitterness and despair, week after week, year after year, LONG after God has already given them the victory. They can't even count their blessings because they are too busy reveling in their problems. That's when it clicked for me. Some people don't really want help. They just want attention.

Maybe it's a side effect of me being hard and black. But, I don't have time for pity parties. I don't have the patience for those who volunteer - they sign up! - to be sad. If I chose to, I could find a thousand reasons to join them in their misery. But I have made a choice to live my life to the fullest, to be as happy as I can possibly be. So I have chosen not to give in to the attention seekers, but instead to ignore them. I don't hate them. I just want them to "man up"! Life goes on.

I watched while others patiently catered to their sensitivities and spoke soft and kind words to their fragile ears. I marveled as people censored themselves in order to keep them from breaking apart at the sound of harsh words. I gave them the mental "side-eye". I simply have no time for such nonsense. See what I mean about hard and black?

Then there are attention seekers on the opposite end of the spectrum.

There are some people with whom I've come in contact recently, who project toughness. Their faces are twisted into a constant scowl. They snap at others, yell, even curse at people. Their very demeanor screams "I'M A TOUGH GUY!" They use aggressive language, and seldom smile. They have no problem dishing out harshness and being unapproachable. But when the tables are turned, they can't handle it. When you use the same tone with them, they can't understand it. They accuse you of being nasty or confrontational. They become defensive and accusatory and are suddenly determined to play the victim.

Attention seekers come in different forms. Some are the "woe is me" types, with the back of their hand pressed to their forehead, wanting people to rush in and ask, "What's wrong?", "What happened?" "Are you okay?"  Others are the "scowlers", who have nothing nice to say, never allow themselves a moment to exhibit a sunny disposition, and bask in negativity. They project a tough exterior, but underneath that disguise they really want people to stroke their backs and remind them of all of their wonderful qualities. The negativity and sadness and indecision they constantly display is a thinly veiled attempt at gaining others' sympathy.

I won't play either game.

1 Corinthians 13:11  When I was a child, I spoke as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a [wo]man, I put away childish things.

As I explained earlier, I'm not soft and pink. You want someone to listen when you're down and out, I'm there! But I won't listen to the same story over and over and over again. Soon, I will ask you when you plan to do something about it, how you intend to get over it. You want a shoulder to cry on? Mine are great for that! I will even let you cry so hard that you get snot on my favorite shirt. But soon, when the sobs subside, I will pass you a few tissues and expect you to blow your nose, dry your eyes, and take a deep breath. Then, I will help you formulate a plan for how you're going to move forward. I will not avail myself to you for a dose of daily hysterics.  You want to talk tough and exhibit your "hard and black" side? I'm all for it! I won't take offense or fall apart at the sound of your loud and harsh tone of voice. In fact, I will smile, chuckle and give it right back to you. But know that my "hard and black" demeanor is not an act. And I will expect that yours is not an act either. So when you digress into the role of the victim, I will not apologize. After all, if you dish it out you should be just as willing to take it.

With me, what you see is what you get. I'm not introducing you to my representative, only to shock you with the REAL me later on down the line. If I say it (unless it's in a rare fit of blind fury), I mean it. If I have something to say to you, I will say it to you. If you ask me for advice, I'm going to tell you the truth of what I feel. If I sense some tension between us, I will speak to you directly about it. And if you claim that you want to fix a problem, don't waste my time if all you really want is some attention. I don't tolerate attention seekers. Just as I don't babysit children who are prone to temper tantrums. I'm hard and black, not soft and pink.

But I'm still a sweetheart. J

Friday, August 3, 2012

Side-Eye of the Week

This week's side-eye is being given to the folks who are foolishly obsessed with Olympic gold medalist Gabby Douglas' hair.

This beautiful sixteen-year-old young lady made HISTORY as the first African-American gymnast to win all around GOLD at the Olympics. Her mom and sister watched from the stands as she catapulted into the history books and into the hearts of people all over the world. Her hard work paid off. Her determination and faith in God brought her to one triumphant victory after another. She has grace, style, and a megawatt smile. She is intelligent, humble, and a true team player. She has graced the covers of Time and Sports Illustrated. She has received accolades from President Barack Obama. Yet, a few ignorant people attempted to overshadow her success and stir up controversy by commenting repeatedly on the child's hair.

“I love how she’s doing her thing and winning. But I just hate the way her hair looks."

"With all those pins and gel ... I wish someone could have helped her make it look better since she’s being seen all over the world."

"She representing for black women everywhere.’’ (Apparently this particular critic was so busy worrying about Gabby's hair that he/she didn't bother to learn the basics of grammar, such as the proper use of an apostrophe.)

"I know every black female looked at Gabby Douglas' hair and asked Why? Just why?"

Actually, no, we didn't. Only a few foolish ones bothered to pay attention to such a trivial detail.

The rest of us were too busy rejoicing over her victory. We cried tears of joy as she brought her opponents from Russia to their knees with her floor exercise, her pole vault, and her performance on the uneven bars. Only those who were searching for something, anything negative to say were preoccupied with the appearance of her hair.

We were too busy noticing the pride in little brown girls' eyes as they saw someone who looks just like them making history. We were too busy cheering and jumping up and down to pay attention to her hair. And Gabrielle was too busy WINNING to pay them any mind.

Sometimes people make me sick with their preoccupation with such stupidity. It seems that no matter how hard you work, no matter what victories you've won, there are always some folks on the sidelines complaining about how you should have done it, what you should have been wearing. Instead of stepping off of their soapboxes and doing something groundbreaking with their own lives, they find it easier to sit around and judge those of us who are actually DOING SOMETHING.

Side-eye, indeed, Gabby. To those haters who took the time to criticize her hair, this week's distinction is yours.

The rest of us choose not to dwell on such ridiculous topics. We're truly inspired by this young lady's perseverance, her profession of her faith in God, and her grace under pressure.

Go, Gabby. You've made us incredibly proud!


Thursday, August 2, 2012

Roots & Wings

"We give our children these two things:
one is roots,
the other is wings"

This quote has been my motherhood mantra since the beginning. The concept is simple. I wish to give my children a solid foundation on which to stand, and then to give them the freedom to soar, to follow their own path in life, to be themselves.

I've never been afraid to stand out, never cared much what others thought of me. When I told this to a group of my peers recently, I was met with some skepticism. "Everybody says that," one person told me. "But deep down inside don't we all want to be liked?"  I shrugged, and shook my head. I've honestly really never cared much about what others thought of me. When I got pregnant while in high school, family members, friends, even school faculty members urged me to have an abortion. Sure, some of them were concerned that I was throwing away my hopes for a promising future. But many of them were most concerned about what people would think, what they would say about me. They cared about the public opinion of me more than I did. If they had been in my shoes, the prospect of not being liked would have scared them into doing the opposite of what their hearts were telling them to do. Somehow, even at such a young age, I sensed that. I ignored them. I had my baby. It is a decision I have never regretted. Sure, people whispered about me. Some didn't bother to whisper, instead telling me boldly to my face that I was crazy, that I was a walking stereotype, that I was doomed to fail. I met with similar adversity at other points in my life - even now - and it still doesn't stop me from being myself, speaking my mind, making my own decisions and sticking to my principles.

That "stick-to-it-iveness" is something I've tried hard to pass on to my children. I've done my best to teach them the basic qualities that a good person should possess. I've tried to lay a solid foundation of integrity in them. And once I felt that I had done that, I gave them the freedom - the permission - to be themselves.

Recently, I've observed my "babies" (now young adults), and I've noted that they have gotten exactly what I wished for them. Several examples that my goal has been achieved have come to the forefront recently.

My daughter, who is also my firstborn, has always been headstrong. You tell her to go left, she goes right purely out of curiosity. Raising her was an adventure, one that I wouldn't have survived without God's help. She has never backed down from a challenge, and with the exception of a few years when she was in high school, she hasn't had a problem standing apart from the crowd. She blasted music by The Fray and Maroon 5 when her peers were immersed in strictly hip-hop. She stood with the underdog, while everyone else played it safe with the tried and true champion. Her strong spirit is one of the things that has been the biggest challenge for me as a parent. But it is also one of the things I love most about her. She fell in love a couple of years ago. The guy she chose to give her heart to isn't the kind of guy that her girlfriends would have picked for her. He's not driving a Beemer, Benz or Bentley. He works hard at his legitimate career in construction as opposed to making a quick buck hustling. He doesn't have the washboard abs of Usher or the swoony swagger of Trey Songz. Instead, he's just a regular guy who genuinely cares for her, who will sing along with her while watching Glee or watch Grey's Anatomy reruns to make her happy. Even I cautioned her against the relationship at first. Her brothers and I thought she was settling down too soon, putting all of her eggs in one basket, throwing away her youth by giving up the single life in exchange for domesticity. But she has remained true to her own inner compass, and has lived her life on her own terms. Together, the two of them have started a family, built a happy home, and are planning a future. And she couldn't care less about the opinions of those who don't "get it". I must admit that I'm loving it. From time to time she and I will discuss her observations of adults who are twice her age. I smile with pride when she shakes her head at those who are well into their middle age and still nursing inferiority complexes, still seeking acceptance from their friends, still unsure of themselves. She's not concerned with what her friends think of how she dresses, how she wears her hair, where she shops, or what she believes. She is determined to go her own way. When I see her post on Facebook, "My mama taught me..." I smile. She has her roots. She has her wings.

My oldest son (the middle child) is a remarkable young man. He is a deep thinker, a true individual. He is fair, and will never take your side just because he likes you. When I'm wrong, he tells me I'm wrong. When I'm right, he champions my cause the loudest. He's the one I go to when I want an honest opinion on a new hairstyle, because - like it or not - he keeps it all the way real! He made some questionable decisions in his teen years, like most of us did. There were times while he was in high school that I wondered if he was doomed to walk the wrong path. He hung around with some outlandish characters. He got himself into some precarious situations. There were times when I wondered if he had been listening at all when I gave him life lessons. But recently, he's shown me that he was not only listening, he was absorbing everything, mulling it over and deciding whether or not it fit into his outlook on life as he matures. And true to his character, he has developed a fair assessment of the people and situations he encounters. He is astounded by those who are afraid to have their own opinion, the kind who wait to go whichever way the wind blows and live their lives following the crowd. He and I recently discussed his frustration with friends of his who are acting other than themselves in their quest to fit in. They don't smoke weed, but they take a few puffs with the group they roll with to prove that they're "cool". They don't drink much or party too often, but they're suddenly getting twisted at every function to win the approval of their clique. He recently pointed out that the loud-mouthed, boisterous and flashy guy who takes center stage is seldom the one who has achieved the most success. Bosses, he noted, are the ones sitting quietly in the corner, humbly observing the buffoon across the room. He dresses his own way - kind of hip-hop style meets skateboard chic. He listens to both old and new music. He marches to the beat of his own drum. He doesn't need a bunch of dudes to hang with. He makes plans and sticks to them, even if it means going to an event alone. He is an army of one. On Sunday, his boss called to ask him to come in to work at the last minute. A co-worker had called out, leaving the boss short staffed. My son told the boss, "I can't come in. I haven't been to church in awhile and I really want to go today." I smiled as he hung up and went to finish getting ready for church. He has his roots. He has his wings.

When we're growing up, most of us don't want to be different. The status quo is what we want, to be "normal". We don't want to stand out by being the oddball. We avoid wearing glasses out of fear of being called "Four Eyes". We cry when it's time to get braces because we don't want to be known as "Metal Mouth". We dumb ourselves down to avoid being known as a geek, or a nerd. We must have the popular sneakers, the cool jeans, the latest hairstyle. Being different often means being ridiculed, teased, or even bullied. So we do all that we can to blend in. As we get older, and we gain wisdom, we learn to celebrate the things that make us unique. We learn to no only accept, but to embrace our differences. We realize that we were never meant to be carbon copies of one another. Instead, each of us is a one of  kind treasure. My youngest child - my sixteen year old son - is wise beyond his years. He's figured these things out way ahead of most of us. I don't ever recall a time when he was desperate to fit in. He gets good grades, respects his elders (whether I'm around or not), and stays out of trouble. He looks out for the ladies in the family, opens doors, and gives up his seat like a gentleman. But, best of all, he doesn't change who he is to conform to the crowd. The other day, he told me that he wanted to cut his hair into a "Gumby" hairstyle. YES, the old school, 1990s era "Gumby" hairstyle made famous by the likes of Bobby Brown. I threatened to give him my side-eye of the week! His brother teased him. His sister begged him to rethink this. But, he wasn't concerned about what we thought. He didn't care that none of his friends were wearing their hair like that. He went to the barbershop and got the haircut he wanted. And you know what? I like it! Not only does it look good on him, but he stuck to what he wanted. He had a vision, he wasn't swayed by public opinion, and he followed through with it. If the only "rebelling" he has chosen to do is by wearing his hair a certain way, I'll take it! While many of his friends are posting foolishness on social media, he "liked" the page "I love God" on Facebook, publicly acknowledging his faith regardless of who might find it 'corny'. He still chases girls. He has an obsession with mafia movies. He slips up and utters a curse word from time to time. He's a normal teenage kid. But, his foundation is solid, and he's not afraid to be himself. He's got roots, and he's got wings.

Lately, I've come to realize how very blessed I am. Not only have I managed to live my life without worrying about what others think of me, but I've passed that on to my children. I look around and I see one example after another of those who are crowd pleasers. They're afraid to voice an opinion that isn't popular. They adopt behavior that isn't true to who they are. They are afraid to shine, instead they dull their inner light in order to gain acceptance from other people. It makes me proud that at such young ages my kids have already learned one of life's biggest lessons.

Recently, at a baby shower guests were asked to write advice for the new parents on note cards. Mine was simple. "Give them roots, and give them wings." Speaking from experience, it is the best thing you can do as a parent - better than expensive sneakers, electronic gadgets and lots of money. It's a solid foundation, and the freedom to live. I'm happy that I've managed to live out this mantra. My kids are rooted and grounded. And still they soar like eagles. I couldn't be any prouder.