Is Life Passing You By?

Nothing shakes you more and reminds you of the brevity of life when you visit the hospital. A month ago I sat in my friend’s hospital room while she recovered from a complicated surgery. It started out as a simple female procedure but somehow turned into a week-long stay from unexpected complications. I took turns with friends visiting  her to make sure she wasn’t feeling too down or frustrated about losing the freedom to move around too much. She rarely is sad and it shocked me to see her struggling to keep up her joy. It was at this moment I realized we learn our greatest lessons when we realize what we’ve taken for granted.

It got me to thinking about if I was really living the life I say I am when I ended up chatting with a mutual friend at the hospital.  It was a Saturday but she was diligently typing away on her laptop when I walked in my friend’s room.  I brought my Kindle Fire along but only had it for fun and not work. So, I asked her how she’d been and said, “Are you working on a project?” She quickly responded “Oh no, I’m just completing work. That’s all I do.” I said “Really?” Her head was buried in the laptop when she said….”Yea.”  I remembered she was in a sorority and mentioned seeing some of her soror sisters involved in a community service project over the weekend. I asked if she was active or ever worked with any of them. Again, she said, “I don’t even know when they meet. I should get more involved.”

I’m stunned because this woman was beautiful, smart, successful, but largely isolated from anything but her job. Here I was telling her more about organizations she’s affiliated with  just because I was paying more attention. She admitted she didn’t get out much unless it was related to work. We talked a bit more and she shared that even though she had her own moment with a life changing and personal illness, she hadn’t taken hold of truly living instead of focusing her energy on work.   Somehow, she’s  still clinging to work as her life’s purpose.  Here’s the deal. We all have the tendency to cling to what we know and what’s comfortable  out of fear. More than likely, we don’t   realize that we shortchange ourselves by doing so. Unfortunately, I saw alot of myself in her. Of course I can cushion the blow by saying I’m not that bad, but alot of my life is patterned around work and finding more opportunities to work. That’s where alot of my value comes from (which I constantly battle). I volunteer here and there, but I’ve gotten comfortable being by myself and fail at going out alone or if I’m not with a friend.  While I love what I do both as a counselor and as a singer, it won’t always be there.  And since it won’t, it’s time to start focusing more on creating relationships that last and not based simply on what I do for a living. I certainly don’t want to wake up one day and realize I’m all I got.

It was ironic that as I listened to this woman maybe five years older than me, I learned that while I am chasing my career goals, other more personal ones are getting slighted.  It reminded me that if I’m not careful, I’ll end up the same way dragging my laptop around as my friend. I’m so careful with my life choices sometimes to the point that I’m almost afraid to make a move, but my conversation with the laptop lady  reminded me that it’s important to create a sense of  balance. I’ve made more of an effort to spend time with family and friends and even seek them out to nurture our relationships. In the next months, I’ll be sharing my experiences and difficulties of  trying to even out the time I spend in my personal life and my career. I don’t want to look back and see missed opportunities because I was afraid of failure or too focused on moving up in the world. My friend is out of the hospital now and recovering like a champ. So, I’m challenging myself to get out of my comfort zone even more so that I don’t only have certificates of attendance and job promotions as my only proof I was here.


Domestic Violence: Even Good People Can be Abusive

As a college counselor, I hear incredibly painful, unbelievable stories when students come into my office. It’s expected because most people go to counseling when they’ve reached crisis level. But there’s one topic that continually leaves me baffled and struggling to keep my focus. That topic is domestic violence. Not because of the obvious reasons, but because I’m noticing a pattern where students are blaming themselves for other people’s bad behaviors.

College students are at that critical point of figuring out what life looks like away from Mom and Dad. They’re learning how to manage roomie conflicts, deciding the best way to express their sexuality, and trying to figure out how to match their career with their calling. So, when I hear someone tell me they were hit, or verbally abused, and they excuse it, my heart hurts. My head hurts. Today, I’m sharing  3 assumptions today that need to be changed before we can stop domestic violence in any relationship.

Assumption 1: To be in a  relationship, I have to accept behaviors that are hurtful and harm me.   ABSOLUTELY FALSE.  And it isn’t just one person’s experience. A beautiful, intelligent young woman  clearly grasping at straws says, “I did something to make him hit me.”  Huh? I nearly jumped out of my chair when she said that. What can you possibly do to MAKE someone hit you? Nothing. They are CHOOSING to hit you in response to their poor communication and inability to control their anger. Please know that everyone  at the very least should have their boundaries respected EVEN  when you disagree with their opinion or choices. In other words, just because you and your significant other are screaming at each other does not mean you can hit them to express your point. So the next time you hear “you made me do it”, understand it’s a lie.

Assumption 2: Good people can’t possibly be abusive. This goes back to blaming ourselves for other people’s behaviors.  Get this concept mixed up and it will have you questioning your sanity if you aren’t careful.  There are supportive and loving spouses who unfortunately  beat their children until they have bruises on their back.  You may have grown up with men and women highly involved in church activities who were also physically fighting behind closed doors.  So, take this to heart. When someone shows you who they are, believe ALL of it. It doesn’t matter if your boyfriend is on the fast track to success at work when he comes home and slaps you for being a “smart-mouth.”  Nor does it matter if your girlfriend is the “Top Chef” of your kitchen  if  she belittles and threatens to leave you when behind closed doors. In other words, if their goodness only exist when you behave the way “they” want you too, you’re in an abusive relationship.   It’s been said that we teach people how to treat us. And every time we allow disrespect and then take the blame for it, we’ve silently agreed to being mistreated. You are worth far more than allowing anyone to treat you poorly. So yes, even good people can do bad things.

Assumption 3: It’s not abuse unless he/she hits me. This is a biggie because we assume a person can’t be abusive unless there’s physical proof.  Words are sometimes more powerful than physical force. Constant insults about your weight like ” You’re too big, don’t be surprised when I find someone else.” Nitpicking and constant criticism like “no one wants you”.  And what about the threats…”why do you always make me angry?” or “No one will believe anything you say.” Verbal abuse is often overlooked because it’s subtle and it often plays on our insecurities. Heard someone say “you’re just too sensitive?”  It doesn’t matter if he/she never lifts a hand towards you. If you are constantly questioning your value due to your significant other’s words, its time for an emotional check up. If you are afraid of displeasing them or worried they will lash out at you, another sign for a check-up. Verbal abuse leaves you questioning, doubting yourself, and it’s not healthy. It’s still abuse.

I haven’t had a physically abusive relationship but I have experienced the painful mess of verbal abuse. It was the “relationship” in which my then boyfriend was never pleased.  Every encounter left me feeling like I wasn’t good enough. So I know how some of my clients feel when they wonder….what did I do and how can I get out of this mess? It took counseling, prayer, and the realization that after I ask and believe “Who does God say that I am?”, all else  (including his criticism) falls away.   Invest in yourself to do the work to get over your past hurts, your family junk, and learn to take better care of yourself.  The right person for you will value you and encourage you in your strengths and your weaknesses.  Doesn’t matter if you have a good man/woman if  they don’t  know how to share their goodness with you.

**Written for  college students, but applies to any age group or gender struggling to understand their worth. Stop assuming and find the truth about who you are, the peace you deserve and the peace you can have.**

Good Black Men Still Exist

Whoever said good men don’t exist anymore don’t know what they’re talking about. For a while there, I doubted it myself. But  I was surprised by the random kindness by two men when my tire blew out over the weekend. Side-note. I was already frustrated because my hair stylist told me I was too late to get my hair done. It was 7:20AM!!!!!  UGH. Anyway, I’m driving away wondering should I have burnt her house down and trying to simultaneously eat my hotcakes and sausage, I hit a curb.  My hair is  an afro bushy mess, it’s not even 7:30am,  my tire’s busted and I can’t get home. Great.

I sighed, disgusted my day was starting  like this. And I’m in the hood so I not sure if I should be worried or chill. I knew I had AAA, so I just figured I’d call them and let them tow me home or whatever they do. But, an older man in a van passed by, saw me pouting in the car, and parked his car and walked over. Another man, driving his pick up  truck in the opposite direction, also turned around to make sure I was okay. Again, I’m in the hood, but it’s daylight so I rolled my window down to hear him out. He looked at my tire, asked me if I had a spare, and started changing it. I was a little suspicious, and kept my guard up just in case he expected something or wanted to make a lunge at me, but none of that happened. The other man,  stopped and asked if we were okay, and went on about his way. By the time AAA came, the spare had already been replaced and the rep just added air to the tire. I was surprised that anyone stopped  and was thankful for the help. I didn’t expect to have a feel good moment after getting rejected at the salon but it was nice to see two black men so willing to help me out. And a reminder  not to  feed into the bull that’s so prevalent on tv about Our men. Good men are still out there.  We just have to find them.

Don’t Make Me Unfriend You!!!! #30in30

Seen any of this lately?

“If you support Paul Ryan, unfriend me.”

“If you don’t vote for my kid and I find out, we are through being friends! ”

“Unfriend my if you eat at Chik-Fil-A. You  support their evil. ”

“Unfriend me if you support Mitt Romney: he hates poor, black people.”

“Unfriend me if you don’t agree with Gay Marriage: You hate me then.”

“Unfriend me if you plan to vote for Obama, he’s not even a real Christian, He’s Muslim!!”

These rants  occur when a Facebook user is so passionate about a viewpoint they forget the concept of free will. Facebook, created within the last 10 yrs, did not teach me my values. My parents took sole responsibility for that until I hit adulthood. So basically, everyone had their own ideas and beliefs way before clicking the “accept” button when you “friended” them in the first place. Yes, that’s right, you probably work with them, or have some organizational tie to them, and horrors abound, you find out they disagree with abortion. Oh no, they just got cut!  My greatest issue with this? It’s childish. It sounds like “if you don’t like my pink blanket, then give it back, I’m going home, and DON’T TALK TO ME EVER AGAIN!!!!!”

It’s like the cute  3 yr old that doesn’t understand yet that the world does not and WILL NOT revolve around you. Unless it’s your spouse or significant other, no one’s required to give a flip about your beliefs (mine included). Even with my friends, we tolerate or choose  to disagree on issues because we care about each other and value the day-to-day friendship. See, life shows you that while you may have the same values, there is no blueprint on how those values will play themselves out. We’re the ones who put limits on it and that’s when the unfriend method becomes the preferred means of expressing an opinion.

Tolerance. Isn’t that how we learn to respect the opinions of others? Ever seen the Stepford Wives? Yea, robots is what I called them. Same hair, same language, same dress. Boring. No diversity, no opinion. Just the same blah. Boring. We are not meant to have the same beliefs across the board  and that’s the beauty of living in the United States. There are too many people living in one space to have the same train of thought. And you think threatening them instead of talking to them about your point of view is going to help the situation? Nah.

Here’s the deal. If you want someone to understand your point of view, try civil conversation. Talk about why it matters to you. Share an article and say, this is important to me.  But please don’t try to force someone to agree with you just to stay friends with you. Even as I wrote that, I felt like I was back in 8th grade trying to make sure a popular kid was cool with me. (Thank God for graduation!) We are adults right? If you don’t like someone because of their beliefs, maybe you’ve become the problem. This is a big world. So YOU unfriend them. YOU take the time and scroll their feed and decide, does this person like my party’s platform, does this person support my cause? (Note that it also sounds like you are running for office….ahem) In the grand scheme of things, live your life.  But  if you decide I’m not worth being a friend  because I eat meat and you don’t, here’s your blanket back.  YOU hit the button. I’m more the idiot to leave you on my “friend list” just to show you can’t control me, my thoughts, or anything else for that matter.

And here’s another suggestion.  You have more power when you stop supporting the entity you strongly disagree with. Stop wearing Jordans shoes if Black kids keep getting killed over them. Stop eating at McDonald’s if you have family members who eat there having  4 and 5 heart attacks. Don’t like Chik-Fil-A because of S. Truett Cathy? Don’t go. Don’t like Republicans? Donate and vote for the Democrats. Support Planned Parenthood? Donate. You have more power and more influence in when you respond with your money. Un-friending someone does none of that. Get my point?

I have a lot of  Facebook friends who post about Christians. And I mean hate the Bible, hate the faith, and will dog out anyone who believes in Jesus Christ. Basically me. And while I disagree with their means of expression, they have free will to say what they want. I’m still kind to them at work to show them in person that everyone they try to group together in a “horrible, hateful” religion is not the same. So, I may hide their FB feed for a while and abstain from arguing,  or I may talk with them at work and let them know I will pray for them when they are struggling with personal issues. Notice I didn’t ask them to accept  Christ or unfriend me. Sure I can unfriend them, but it shows no tolerance, no willingness to show the love of Christ, and no civility. And note I don’t post….”If you don’t rep for Jesus, GET OFF MY PAGE!!!!!”””

My point in writing this today was.. if you don’t want someone as your Facebook friend, great. YOU do the honors. Hide their feed, or cut the cord and do the unfriending. It’s simply passive aggressive to try to force someone out of a relationship because you found out they have an opposing opinion from yours. Relationships teach us to how to relate to each other. Relationships force us to grow out of selfish thoughts. If you only surround yourself with people who think like you at all times, how are your growing? Oh, that’s right. You don’t.

“Unfriend me if you challenge me unfriending people!” I’m possibly being unfriended as we speak.  Carry on.

Another Reason to Know Your Status #30in30

Whew, the first time I got tested for STDs. Almost 20 yrs ago and I was crazy  embarrassed as I  parked my car at the clinic.  I took a deep breath, shut the door, and walked in. I didn’t think I was at risk for anything, but I’d never been tested before so didn’t know what to expect.  I  made my appointment 45 minutes away from home so I could avoid running  into someone I knew.  The nurse walked in the room wearing a pale, yellow jacket, and her attitude was  straight nasty. Great. Safe to say Nurse Ratchet missed class when they taught good bedside manner. Once I got past her foolishness, I reminded myself  I was in a monogamous relationship (or so I thought), and that we always used protection-MY doing not his.  Still, I needed that proof I was clean. Nurse Ratchet looked over my chart and  glared at me like I was a heathen. I dropped my eyes away from her, embarrassed and wondering what she was thinking. I expected questions about my sex life but she jumped straight to the point. “Are you using protection?” Smiling, I said “yes”, proud that I was being responsible and making sure I avoided having babies without a man to take care of them. I wasn’t on birth control because my boyfriend thought it would be “bad for my body.” Anyway, Nurse  R. saw my response, rolled her buck eyes and frowned her nasty face up. Next thing I know, she spats,  “Well, make sure he’s not poking a hole in the bottom of the condom because these fools out here are trying to get girls pregnant. I’ve already had two women in here find out they’re pregnant who swear by using condoms!!!” I was horrified and held my fear until I got in the car.  On the way home, I  reminded myself I had a good man.  I also secretly wondered had he too been to this place for his test?What if he’s one of the fools she’s talking about? I got the results a week later, and was negative for everything. What a relief, right? My boyfriend and I were faithful and responsible.  Fast forward to us  falling out, taking a “break”, and getting back together months later to get a phone call from his “girlfriend”.  Wait, what?  I was his girlfriend, so what was this chick talking about? I was dizzy and  pissed because this was not to be my life. Okay? This was my introduction to the real reason people need to get tested for STD’s.  I had to wait six months before another set of tests (this was the 90’s) so imagine my anxiety this time. Turns out it was negative and how glad was I that I didn’t give into his BS about no condoms.

It’s nerve-wracking enough to get tested for STDs when it’s you and one man involved. But can we talk about the hook ups where protection isn’t even mentioned? I’ve watched Love and Hip Hop Atlanta this season (I admit it) and imagined enough swapping of body fluids to make my make my private parts itch. Joseline is bisexual, sleeping with Stevie J- a married man, who also sleeps with other women in addition to Joseline his jump-off and his wife. Did you get all that?  How many people have been exposed  in this situation? And while the distinguished psychologist  graced us with his presence to counsel  the three-way train wreck, I wonder why he never brought up that they are nasty (my words) for sharing a man who seems like he doesn’t care who he’s sexin’ as long as it’s some BODY?

The African-American community has the highest rates of HIV in the United States. Men and Women. For women it’s even worse. And if LAHHA is any indicator, clearly we know why. Nobody on the show talks about safe sex. Only that I’m getting cheated on.  In fact, I believe Josephine had a “slip up” thinking she was pregnant. I mean, even on ABC’s Afterschool Specials they talked about protection.  I don’t agree with sleeping with someone’s man. So I figure if you get down like that, your sexual health  probably isn’t the first priority on your list.

Unfortunately,  people still believe HIV is a “down-low disease”, but it’s really  “I don’t care about condoms and birth control right now because I like the feeling without it.” Wait until you can’t pee without screaming (said in my Nurse Ratchet voice).   The absence of addressing safe sex on reality shows is probably a case of art imitating life. We usually don’t take threats seriously until  we ar forced to. But why? Do we as women not value ourselves enough to demand that the men we sleep with protect our bodies? Or are we so desperate for the feeling of love that we don’t realize it’s only a temporary fix? Look at me, I mean, you couldn’t tell me I wasn’t in a faithful relationship. That’s what I believed right up until the extra woman burst my bubble. By the way, he said it all happened while we were on a break. Yea, mmm “girlfriends” don’t happen on a break. Hook-ups? yes, but official titles and  rankings too? Chile Bye.

We have to do better. I don’t care if it’s the current preference or the thought we gotta take what we can get.   We line up for Jordan shoes like Jesus is giving discounts to Heaven and load up on Popeye’s on Tuesdays for the weekly specials.  So, please don’t tell me we don’t show up when things are  important to us. Part of it is, we don’t like to be told what to do. But I guess I’d deal with Nurse Ratchet’s face than have to look at my doctor while he tells me I’m going to have to take 9 pills a day for the rest of my life. Yes, medicine can cure some things, but if we set a new standard to stop the cycle of unnecessary high rates of STDs in our community, we won’t have to worry about that aspect of sex.  Consider this my PSA for safer sex and making sure you are his ONLY gal around town.

The Difficulty of Divorce-An Outsider’s Perspective-#30in30

Cover of "The War of the Roses"

Cover of The War of the Roses

I’m starting to think ’till death do us part’ really means “I’m staying  in it until I can’t take your ish anymore.” Divorce sucks. And I say that as an innocent bystander who once believed  the fantasy that any & every relationship can be saved out if you try hard enough. I know now that marriages work only because we (meaning both people) decide not to give up on the marriage and the person they committed their life to. In my immediate family, there have been two divorces  (with one remarrying) and countless friends and acquaintances who change their Facebook status daily to let the world know  Mr. & Mrs. is no more.  I’m not alone in this as everyone knows someone in their circle who parts ways regardless of the how long they knew each other or how happy they looked in pictures.

I really get a queasy feeling when people break up.  I have no idea why because it’s not my relationship, right? Maybe I see how badly it affects them and it tears me up that they become like Michael Douglas and Kathleen Turner in the mega divorce movie of them all, “The War of the Roses.”  They go from “I will love you always” to “I will take ALL your money and keep you from seeing your child, OKAY????  In the period declaring the “I want the hell out of this relationship” to the last signature on the papers,  it turns into whose the best at torturing the other?  For some, just saying the words “I can’t take this anymore” lifts 20lbs and they start to feel like they have hope  again.  But there’s a sick dance I’m sure R. Kelly  has a song for when the breaking up process hits.  My best example right now  is  Dwight Howard knowing full well he didn’t want to be with the Orlando Magic, but staying on the team, lying to himself and the public until he found something better. When he finally got out and upgraded to the Lakers, he left a ridiculous mess of Glad bag trash behind with his old coaches getting fired to tearing down the the morale of the team. For thos with kids, I liken his ignoring the kids who chose to attend his yearly kids camp with stopping visits and child support.  All because he didn’t know how to be honest and move on. I watch the news and see celebrities like Usher and Tameka attempting to destroy each other’s reputations with allegations and rumors to the point where we KNOW they don’t need to be together anymore.  But somehow, they just can’t get it together to move on. I mean, how many lawyers do you need to count that money and create the custody arrangement?  Even in my world of friends, it can get trifling and messy.  From bad mouthing the spouse in public to showing up on the job loud talking and  showing out, it reeks of a bad reality tv.  In my head, I hear one spouse saying “I don’t want to work this out, but I want you to suffer until I’m ready to let this crap go.” It’s kind of sick in a way because you now are at the point where you get pleasure out of controlling their day and creating unnecessary pain. I can’t imagine the heartbreak involved but I also know I’d be pissed and ready for my debut on “Snapped” if someone is continuing  to make my life worse than it already is.  

Then I had another thought.  Maybe they’re acting like donkeys because they said they want out, but really aren’t sure and want to hold on to any part of the relationship they can if just for a little bit longer. Your wife never showed up at the job before, but now she’s spitting a list of what’s she’s done for you and how you failed to deliver.  Your husband is calling to argue at 10am at work asking when you are going to fill out the divorce paperwork. Like he couldn’t wait until the 5 o clock after you got off work? It’s a special kind of crazy that makes friends pray for the day when it will all be over. And I won’t even go into having to pick which person you can still be friends with. Because they WILL expect you to choose and will talk bad about you for not choosing them.

This is a hard blog topic for me because I’ve been in at least 10 weddings, and at least five relationships are dead and gone. When I hear word the words “we are splitting up.”, I immediately go back to the walk down the aisle and remember how happy they were looking in each other’s eyes.  Maybe they carried the fantasy I had to let go of that it would work no matter what. Maybe they didn’t realize it really meant you can’t only think of yourself anymore. I don’t know what it is, and my mom even said “I just don’t know why marriage is different these days.”   Is marriage different or did we change it? I honestly can’t call it.

I’m a firm believer that God has to be in the center of any relationship for it to succeed. But, the Christian community has the same 50% divorce rate as the rest of the world.  So I watch trying to support but sit  helpless on the side just waiting for it to be over.  It’s been said  when you really love someone, you try your best not to hurt them even when you realize you can’t be together anymore. Maybe that’s what makes me queasy is that based on their actions, it seems like they never loved them at all.

#30in30….Shallow Gal

So, I got to thinking about a comment a guy made a while back when I asked him to pull up his pants when we went out. He said I was shallow because I wanted him to dress a certain way. I thought after a certain age (like 35), we all dressed a certain way so as not to seem like we still are sophomores in college trying to up our academic credit count from 30 to 45.  But I’m open, because he swiftly explained that I was not to judge him on his attire, but more of what came out of his mouth.  Fine, but in the same breath, he complained that the police were always profiling lack men unfairly. I know its true, but aren’t we all aware of the need to appear a certain way when it comes to police, on the job, and in large public places where Blacks are in the minority? It kind of bugged me because if I know anything as a Black woman, it’s Black America can’t have everything even if it’s a fair request. So, back to me being shallow. The same guy that told me he should be able to sag, asked me to wear my long hair (fake weave) the next time we went out. See….here’s the thing. When I gave him the side eye, he cleaned it up and  said, “I’m just kidding. I like your short hair but like your long hair too.”  Liar. Boy. Stop. I say the hair request was shallow. Obviously you know I’m a short-haired beauty but you prefer the fantasy to the reality. To me, that’s more shallow than asking you to dress appropriately in public so it doesn’t look like I’m out on a date with my little brother. Could these request be one in the same? Or not? Because one is indicative of maturity. The other just showed that I can rock Yaki half wig 4/30. What do you think? I’ve come a long way and will continue to love a man who takes care not to give reason to unfairly be profiled but hey, I could still be wayyyyyyy off with this one. Maybe I should just throw my weave in, and a thong to peek out above my low-cut skinny jeans, and work with his sag. Hmpf. I’ll pass.