Friday, December 31, 2010


This is the last day of 2010, and as is the case with most people, I have tried to do some reflecting on the past year.  The year began with family issues and relationship drama, which threw off my whole "2010 is going to be MY year!" mantra that I pretty much repeat every year.  (I'm sure no one can relate.)  Regardless, because one of the greatest life lessons I have learned is resilience, I didn't allow the painful beginning of 2010 to affect my attitude about how the rest of the year would go.  Besides, I started off 2009 with a horrible stomach virus, and it turned out to be a great year - there was (obviously) a spiritual lesson in that virus - this too shall pass!

During this time of the year, we all strive to reflect on our lives and make resolutions about what we are going to do and not do.  Many times, these "resolutions" are the same every year - lose weight, exercise more, stop watching any Kardashian reality show (oh wait, that's personal) - and as we look over our success in living out those resolutions, we find ourselves disappointed in our inability to "get it together".  And truthfully, with resolutions, isn't that really what we're trying to do - "get it together" so that "finally" we can be "happy"?
If you look at the definition and synonyms of resolution, you'll find that we use the word incorrectly.  We act as if a resolution is an action, when it is an attitude or a thought pattern. One of the definitions of resolution is, "the mental state or quality of being resolved or resolute; firmness of purpose." How will we be able to change our life circumstances, or "get it together" in order to be "happy", if we have not determined our purpose?

Purpose is defined as "the reason for which something exists or is done, made, used, etc."  Our purpose, our reason for living, is what we truly seek.  Our first resolution (or mental attitude) should be to STOP the meaningless pursuit of "getting it together" in order to "finally" be "happy".  Once we have determined our purpose, the reason for our existence, and begin to live that daily, joy will come.  Happiness comes with the understanding that sometimes it goes away, because happiness is a temporary emotional state that, if we stay in it too long, can distract us from our purpose.  If we focus on pursuing happiness, it will be elusive, because we were created to discover and pursue our purpose.  If we focus on pursuing our purpose, we'll have joy, which is not a temporary emotional state, but more of an inner knowing that we are living the life our Creator intended for us to live.

With that said, as I continue to pursue my purpose, I take another look at what the word "resolution" means.  One of the definitions is "a solution, accommodation, or settling of a problem, controversy, etc."  In order to be open to the purpose I was created for, I must bring resolution to anything that might remain unresolved in my life.  Any unresolved issues or relationships bring anxiety and confusion, two emotional states that truly distract us from our purpose.  As I look at the past year, I can honestly say that I allowed unresolved issues in my life to slow me down.  Unresolved relationships took an emotional toll on me.  Although I truly experienced many moments of happiness and joy this year, these unresolved issues and relationships sometimes (alright, many times) overshadowed those moments. 

I am determined not to allow this to continue to happen.  What does this mean?  Based on the lessons I've learned in 2010, I've made some promises to myself that will lead me closer to my purpose in 2011:
  • I will not want more for others than they want for themselves.
  • I will leave unresolved relationships & situations in 2010.
  • I will continue to love others, but will be more discriminating about who I give my heart to.
  • I will trust that God has better for me than what I've been trying to hold on to.
With the understanding that I am just a mere human being, prone to mistakes and full of flaws, I walk into 2011 determined to be more of who I was created to be.  

Monday, November 29, 2010

The One Thing I Don't Have (And Why I Won't Compromise To Get It)

"Honestly, there's a problem in general with men. They project whatever their issues are onto us.  So if they're insecure because they're not where they're supposed to be, they say we're insecure.  But their behavior causes us to be insecure.  And it's a cycle I don't want to be part of.  I don't want a perfect man, I want a man who is willing to grow."

I was chatting online with a close friend earlier this evening, and I wrote the above statement. It was the conclusion of a conversation that began with each of us talking about some of the struggles in our most recent relationships. Granted, I'm having a bit of a bad day today.  I just got back from a nice holiday with my family to my lonely, not-yet-settled-in apartment, I'm a bit tired from the long drive, and I had a dream this morning about the last person I dated, which caused me to wake up somewhat disturbed.  It made me think about what I don't have, when most times I try to focus on what I do have. I come from a good family, I have a strong faith in God, a job that I love, I'm educated, I have some talents and abilities that not everyone has, I look younger than my age, and I have really pretty hair.  I get told that I am loved more times than I can count in the span of one week.  I'm confident without being conceited, I definitely know what my areas of growth are, and I work on myself.  Constantly. There's a lot that I have, and I recognize that I am blessed.

There's something I do not have, that I want more than anything.  A family of my own.

I have always wanted to be a mother.  And I am traditional in that desire.  I want my own child.  I want a child that grows within me.  I'm not against adoption, but I want to live motherhood.  I want to experience the feeling of being pregnant, and I want to use it as an excuse to eat bacon and deep-fried pickles with abandon.  I want my child to have a father, to know his or her father, to live with his or her father.  I want the father to get up and cook my bacon and get me an order of deep-fried pickles.  Even at 3am.  Yes, I want the traditional husband and children.

I'm not apologizing for that, and I'm not desperate because I want that.  There's nothing wrong with me for wanting to have a traditional family.  But there is one thing I will not do.   I will not compromise myself for what I want.

This last guy I dated - let's just say that he taught me some things. Long story (that should never have lasted this long) short, he said he needed to focus on his career and couldn't focus on a relationship (sound familiar?).  I know enough to know that the career that he has chosen to pursue requires about 99.9% of his attention in order for him to succeed at it.  While I didn't necessarily disagree with his focus (in fact I encouraged it), I did disagree with the fact that his idea of not focusing on "a relationship" meant that he wanted to spread himself among many "relationships".  He and I had several conversations regarding our future.  An issue that arose a few times was that he said I didn't ever think he was "good enough" for me.  I've known him practically all my life, so when he said that, I knew he really felt that way.  And when I took the time to think about it, he was right.  I didn't think he was good enough for me.  Never did.

Despite that, I fell in love with him.  The main reason I fell for him was that he genuinely knew me - he knew my good qualities and loved them, but he also knew my crummy qualities, and pointed them out to me in a way that motivated me to grow.  I fought through the feeling that he wasn't good enough.  However, he didn't help.  He did some things which demonstrated that, because of his belief that I didn't think he was good enough, he wasn't going to try.  He wasn't going to work on the relationship.  In the end, I knew that he loved me.  He always did, ever since we were kids.  But my thoughts about him, as well as his thoughts about my thoughts about him, sabotaged any chance at a future that we could ever have.

I've learned that many men feel the need to be settled in their purpose - their careers, their spiritual beliefs, their desires, their personal growth - before settling down to create a family.  If they experience instability or insecurity in any of these areas, they find it difficult to maintain an intimate relationship with a woman. Perhaps this is because many women expect men to provide for and protect them.  (Don't shoot me, I'm just saying what a lot of people think but won't say in this era of political correctness.)  I've observed that both men and women expect perfection from each other.  If you don't believe me, check out some of those YouTube videos on "Black Marriage Negotiations".  I'm not perfect, but I work hard at everything I do.  I recognize my flaws, and when I have trouble doing so, I'll listen to feedback from those I love and trust to tell me the truth about me.  I TRY.

Personally, I don't expect a man to be perfect.  I don't expect him to make a certain amount of money, though he should work hard.  I don't expect him to have a six-pack, because I certainly don't.  I don't expect him to quote the Bible verbatim, though he should have a personal relationship with God.  What I will not compromise is this:  If I am willing to grow and change and become a better version of myself, he should be willing to grow and change and become a better version of himself.  HE SHOULD TRY.  And, until I meet the man who is willing to try, I would rather live without the one thing that I don't have, that I want more than anything in the world. 

Sunday, November 7, 2010


Last weekend, I moved from an apartment complex in the suburbs of upstate New York, where I'd lived for the past six years, to an apartment in an area of the city that's reminiscent of some areas of New York City, my hometown.  Anyone who's originally from NYC and moves away carries a longing for sidewalks, Starbucks, and diversity.  So, while many single women my age are making the move to a house in the 'burbs, I decided to move into a more populated, diverse, and lively area, with a Starbucks that I can see from the front porch of my new place.

For some people, moving can be an exciting experience, because change usually means growth.  Moving from an apartment to a house would make one feel like singing the theme song from The Jeffersons; you know, "We're moving on up, to the east side" and all that good stuff.  I didn't move from an apartment to a house, but I did move eastward.  For some people, moving might cause anxiety, because they're not ready to do the work that comes along with moving: purging, packing, and cleaning.  For me, the opportunity to purge, reorganize, and clean were my main reasons for moving.  After six years of living in the same environment, surrounded by the same belongings, memories, and junk, I decided I was ready to do the work, and began the process of taking inventory of my life in a literal and figurative sense.  In going through old things, I found letters and cards from old friends, former students, family members, boyfriends, and my ex-husband.  I read through a few of them, and noticed patterns in my relationships: my romantic relationships were short-lived, but intense and full of emotions.  My friendships were fiercely loyal and affirming. My family has a pattern of saying little over time, but in a crisis, they come through full force, in a way that demonstrates love more than words ever could. Through this process, I learned some things about myself and my relationships, both professional and personal.

Romantic Relationships 
I learned that when I commit to someone in a romantic relationship, the ball is truly in my court.  If I'm open and genuine, I receive more open and genuine interaction in my relationships.  If I'm guarded and emotionally distant, my partner will be too.  The problem arises when I choose to be guarded and emotionally distant while expecting my partner to be open and genuine - something I recently noticed I'd been doing.  Although none of my relationships lasted very long, I learned that the ones in which I was willing to risk my heart were the ones that meant the most to me and the other person involved. 

Growing up, so many "best friends" came in and out of my life.  I noticed that my closest friends were the ones who I could trust with my true feelings; the ones who knew the real me behind the ever-present smile.  They were also the ones who told me the truth about myself, whether I liked it or not.  With my friendships, I learned that honesty and trust lead to loyalty and affirmation.  I also learned not to cling to people, but to allow people to come in and out of my life as they choose, and as God sees fit.  Just because a friendship changes doesn't mean the door is closed. Life takes us all in different directions, and if we accept that we've learned what we needed to learn when we needed to learn it from each other, it's easy to let go of a friend while remaining loyal in your heart to each other.

My family isn't the most demonstrative when it comes to love and affection, but when adversity hits, we come together and create safety for each other.  When my ex-husband and I separated, I left the safety of my family to go to graduate school six hours away from everyone I knew and loved.  My brother wrote me a letter in those early days.  I'd moved away, started a new job and a graduate program, and was establishing new friendships.  In that letter, he told me that he understood that the change wasn't going to be easy, but that I would learn through this "crisitunity" (a term learned through his Simpsons obsession) that I can do almost anything, to keep my eyes, ears, and mind open, and to always remember where I came from, as in family.  My family may not know the ins and outs of my life, but when my life feels like it's falling apart, I think of them, and I remember that my foundation is strong, firm, and built on a seldom-said, but often-felt word: love. 

I've worked in education for the last sixteen years.  (Wow, that's a long time.)  In that time, I worked as a Spanish teacher, a high school counselor, a resident director in a college dormitory, and now, as a college counselor and advisor.  I've interacted with hundreds of students, and I've kept in touch with many of them.  With my former and current students I've learned that demonstrating caring, concern for their personal well-being, and tough love matter so much more than what I could ever teach them, and that they really never forget the teacher, counselor, or college personnel that treated them as a unique individual rather than a number or file.  They remind me that what I do on a daily basis matters to someone, which helps me to see each day as an opportunity to live my mission and purpose in life. 

Time Really Does Heal All Wounds 
When you're going through a crisis or heartbreak, the phrase "time heals all wounds" has to be the worst thing to hear.  It means absolutely nothing to the person experiencing pain.  Not only that, it feels like the person stating such a cliché is heartless and lacks empathy.

But it's true.  The best part of this moving process was looking at old cards, poems, and letters from my ex-husband, and realizing that I had absolutely no emotional attachment to any of these things anymore.  I was able to throw away things he had purchased for me, things he'd written to me, things that somehow made it into my half of the stuff we split up between us when we separated, without a single ounce of regret.  Since he and I separated and subsequently divorced, I'd moved five times, and I'd carried these things with me everywhere I went.  This recent move, my sixth, was when I could finally let go of the material things that attached us to each other, and it was so easy to do so.  Time REALLY does heal all wounds, and once those wounds are healed, you can truly move forward with your life.

I Am Not Alone 
When I decided to move, something very unexpected happened.  I told my colleagues and students, and all of a sudden, people were coming forward to offer help.  Boxes were left in my office by the maintenance staff.  One of my coworkers who had moved in the past year loaned me all of her moving supplies and more boxes than I thought I'd ever need (turns out, I needed them all and then some).  Another colleague drove the moving truck I'd rented.  Yet another came and packed up my kitchen and helped me organize myself.  Students took time out of their fall break and Halloween weekends to help me pack and to work really hard at carrying some heavy stuff.  My nephew showed up without my calling or texting him (this is a big deal). They all agreed that I could not have moved by myself.  I did not ask these people for their help; they offered it.  I kept asking myself, over and over again, why I was blessed with so much help.  A part of me felt awkward, and a little uncomfortable, about allowing students and colleagues into my personal space.  When I mentioned that, one of the students said, "You've been in our lives for the past three years.  I think you could let us into yours."

Something as seemingly insignificant as moving has shown me that letting go of the old can make a way for new connections, new discoveries, and new opportunities.  It has shown me not to dwell on what I've lost.  This move has taught me that as I've opened up and chosen to give of my genuine self, many times without thought or awareness, the people in my universe have conspired to give me the goodness within themselves.  The decision to move created a movement in my heart, mind, soul, and spirit.  This movement creates an opportunity for the new to enter my life, and I am excited and hopeful for all it will bring.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

I Promise (A Woman Keepin' It Real With A Man)

I promise
That if you give me a choice between a burger and a salad
I'll choose the burger

I promise
That I will react to you looking at another woman
With the stereotypical Latina fire

I promise
That I will complain about something at least once a day
Whether it's my weight, or the newest economic policy

I promise
That I will try not to interrupt you during the game
Unless "the game" turns into 4, or 5, or a whole weekend

I promise
That I will gain weight
But I'll try to keep it in all the right places

I promise
That once a month I will REALLY want to throw shoes at you for no reason
Give me chocolate, let it pass, and DON'T tell me it's "just hormones"

I promise
That when you take the garbage out
I'll say that was the best taking out of the garbage I've ever seen

I promise
That when you wear the same sweatpants so much they can stand on their own
I'll quietly put them in the washer for you, and put them right back where you left them (on the floor)

I promise
That, although leaving the toilet seat up is disgusting and selfish
I'll just put it down when I need to, and leave it down, just to make a point (quietly)

I promise
That I'll make your favorite dish
When you're mad at me (but not if I'm mad at you too; there's drive-thrus for that)

I promise
That when times are hard and I have to pay the bills for a few months
I'll still let you be "the man"

I promise
That when even your mother puts you down
I'll lift you up

I promise
That when even your homies doubt you
I'll have your back

I promise
That when you need to hear the truth
I'll say it

I promise
That, when all else fails
My love for you will never fail
My love for you will never die
My love for you will conquer all

I promise.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Your Mother (In Remembrance of Domestic Violence Awareness Month)

I walk down the street and you whistle.
I do not respond.
You call me a stuck-up bitch.

I walk by you in the club.
You want my attention,
So you grab my ass.

You call me, and I don't call you back.
You expect me to be interested,
Just because you are.
You lie about me to your friends,
And tell them you had sex with me.

We're at work, and you tell me
You like my butt in these jeans.
I call it sexual harassment.
You tell me I'll lose my job if I report you.

We're at home, and I tell you
I'm too tired to have sex
So you take it by force,
Because you think I owe it to you
For being the "man" of the house.

We disagree,
Because that's what humans do.
You tell me I'm disobeying you.
You push me into a wall.

You're angry,
Because I question your behavior with other women
When you're obviously cheating on me.
You punch me in the face.

You're furious,
Because I don't think how you want me to think,
Or do what you want me to do,
Or say what you want me to say,
Or wear what you want me to wear,
So you beat me until I lose consciousness.

Every time you think of a woman as an object,
You touch her without her consent,
You call her vulgar and inappropriate names,
You cost her her job if she doesn't give in to your advances,
You force her to have sex when she doesn't want to,
You lie to her,
You cheat on her,
You punch, kick or beat her,
Or you kill her.
Would you like for her to be treated that way?

The Movement

In May of 2007, I began my current job as a college counselor and academic advisor.  I was excited to work with college students after having spent the previous three years counseling in a high school setting (also known as "changing schedules" and "mounds of paperwork").  Learning a new job, however, is legitimate cause for anxiety.  Although I had previous experience with college students, I was eager to do a great job, as this particular job was exactly what I had been wanting to do for years. 

Very soon after I started, we hired an intern.  My boss gave her the responsibility to start a new program for women, one that would help them learn leadership skills for use in running student organizations or obtaining leadership positions on campus.  For some reason, he asked her to work with me.  Not only did I have no idea where to start, I did not believe I was qualified to help coordinate a women's leadership program.  I did not think of myself as a leader, and I never really liked being around groups of women.  Many women have been socialized to believe that we are catty, dramatic, hypersensitive, and competitive.  I felt the burden of having to change that belief while continually experiencing it firsthand.  I was also learning my way around the college and wanted to be firmly planted in my own job duties before starting a new program.  I was very skeptical about taking part in starting this new program, yet something about working with a women's leadership program intrigued me.  In the past, I'd had the opportunity to co-facilitate a young women's support circle, and spent time mentoring young women individually both at work and outside of work.  I wrote my Master's thesis about middle school girls' perceptions of body image and self-esteem.  I was even the advisor of the high school girls' step team where I'd been a counselor.  Somehow, I always seemed to find myself working with groups of young women, so although I struggled with the idea of starting this women's leadership program, I was unconsciously drawn to it.

The program became known as the Women's Leadership Institute, or WLI.  During the first year, the program was primarily run by our intern, but I attended the sessions, provided planning ideas and support, and assisted in recruiting the first class of participants.  We planned development sessions for the ladies, as well as networking opportunities.  The idea took off, the college gave us support, and we became an entity.  At the end of the intern's contract, it was assumed that I would be taking over the coordination of WLI with a team of women chosen from the Institute's first class.  With the previous year's experience as well as my own interest in providing support for the young women, I instituted a support component to WLI, known as Woman II Woman.  Since WLI development sessions only took place once a month, the Woman II Woman sessions were meant to bring the young women together more often, but in an informal setting. We talked about relationships, stress, our fathers (or lack thereof), we wrote letters to past or future selves (for my letter, click here), and we had fun.  Anything that we felt was relevant to us as women was a topic for conversation.  We truly became a cohesive, supportive sisterhood through Woman II Woman. 

WLI is now in its fourth year, and if I had one word to describe it, both as a program and as an experience, that word would be: TRANSFORMING.  I've heard young women say that WLI has changed their lives; that it saved them; that if it wasn't for WLI they would not have had a positive social network.  I've seen the transformation in so many young women, and I look forward to incorporating the new class of 2011 into our sisterhood.  WLI now has over 60 graduates.  Each of these young women is making a difference, using her skills and the confidence she has developed to change lives. 

We're not perfect; we are in a process.  We are moving towards being women of strength, courage, power, and love.  What began as a doubt and a struggle has truly propelled me towards my dream.  I never knew how passionate I was about empowering young women to love themselves so much that their love would overflow and pour out on all those whom they come into contact with.  I've discovered my love, my passion, and my dream.  Women's Leadership Institute is not just a program; it's a movement.  Move with me.  Dream with me. 

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Do It For YOU...It's Okay. Really. No, I Really Mean It.

This morning I woke up with the worst backache.  As a matter of fact, I've had a backache for weeks.  My neck has also been strained for the past week.  Not to mention that I am moving in a little over a month, and I haven't started packing yet.  Oh, and I'm having people over next Friday, so I have to clean.  And I can't very well have boxes all over the place when they come.  Work was terrible this past week.  Actually, it's been pretty bad since the semester started.  I could probably count on one hand the days someone (or I) DIDN'T cry in my office.  In the past month.  We're down two counselors right now, so I am seeing my students as well as other "counselor-less" students.  There have been at least two major crises that I had to spend time getting taken care of.  So yes...I have a lot going on.  And dang.  I'm not even a wife or mother, I wonder what it would be like to add those to the mix.  Although I think I'll be happier, I also know from experience that men and children require tons of time, effort, patience, and sacrifice.  That's time, effort, patience, and sacrifice that I barely give to myself as a single woman now.

I have a list of things to do today.  Shred old bills, clean the living room and bathroom, vacuum, and do laundry.  Yet I didn't wake up until 11 am, after spending the day yesterday exhausted and unable to do much of anything.  So when I woke up (at 11 am), I thought, "Oh my goodness, I just wasted another day, and I have so much to do." But this backache was the only thing I could think of.  Most of the time the ache is in my lower back. This time it extended from my neck throughout my entire back.  It felt as if my back was screaming, "I HURT." 

I thought about driving to the gym, but that would entail putting gas in my car, then driving the 15 minutes it takes to get to the gym, working out for over an hour, then 15 minutes back.  By that time, the day would almost be over for me.  I made the decision to do 20 minutes of yoga.  The best invention ever: Exercise TV on Demand.  I found a yoga workout that includes cardio.  I just finished it.  And guess what?  My back really doesn't hurt anymore, and all of a sudden, my mind was clear to think about what is important.  Not all of that stuff I ranted about in the previous two paragraphs.  It became so clear to me what is essential for my survival, my happiness, and my peace.

Exercise: I hate the idea of preparing to exercise.  I keep thinking about this gym membership I pay for, and it upsets me so much not to be able to go to the gym as often as I want to, but the truth is, I really don't have the time to make the trip every day.  So, on the days I don't go, why can't I just do 20 minutes of something that I find on Exercise TV on Demand?  Because I told myself, "It's not okay to skip the gym.  I pay for it."  So I do nothing?  How does that help?

So, today I'm telling myself, "It's okay to skip the gym, but I have to exercise, because it makes my body feel great, and it clears my mind.  So whatever form that takes, I am exercising.  As often as possible."

Prayer and Worship: I love God. Everyone may not feel the same way, or even believe in God, but I literally have a heart full of love for God, because things have happened in my life that I believe could only have happened because God saw the pinch I was in, and He rescued me.  However, for years I thought that loving God meant I had to get up at 5 am every morning, get on my knees, pray and praise God for at least a half hour, then read the Bible.  When I tried that, I would either fall asleep before I could get out of bed, or I would fall asleep while kneeling next to my bed.  Also, sometimes I'm so tired, I can't put the thoughts together to pray.  Or, I would start praying, then I would be overwhelmed by my prayer requests, and I would feel helpless.  Um, this praying to God was becoming more stressful than peaceful.  What I've noticed is that it's much easier to have a relationship with God when I tell Him I love Him, and then thank Him for the ways He has shown me He loves me.  He already knows my circumstances.  He knows everything that concerns me.  And His Word says in Psalm 138:8: "The Lord will perfect that which concerns me."  That means He's got it under control, and He's going to make sure that all of my concerns are worked out.

So, today I'm telling myself, "It's okay not to get up at 5 am to pray, or to even list all of my concerns to God.  The Lord will perfect that which concerns me.  I will tell Him I love Him, I will sing songs of praise and worship with the gift of singing He has given me, I will check in with Him anytime I need Him, and I will be quiet so that my spirit can be free to hear what He wants to say to me, and so that He can lead me and guide me in the way I should go."

Writing: All day, every day, I have thoughts that need to be written down.  Even if those thoughts don't necessarily lead to whole blog posts or essays or books, they are important thoughts.  These are the thoughts that many times I would write in my journal.  However, I've told myself that I'm being self-indulgent when I do that.  I've told myself that I have real work to do, so I can't spend the time writing in my journal or even turning my computer on to post on this blog.  That's wasting my time, the time I could be cleaning or doing laundry or doing something for someone else.  But I've noticed that when I post something, or even update my facebook or twitter status with these thoughts, they resonate with someone.  I can't recount the comments or emails I've received thanking me for a blog post, note, or facebook status update.  What I write touches people. And HELLO, I've dreamed of writing a book for so long, maybe I should be putting more time and energy into writing, no? 

So, today I'm telling myself, "It's okay to write, even when I have other things to do.  I will make the time to write.  Writing is like breathing to me, and when I do it, I reach a new level of awareness, and my heart and soul connect to the hearts and souls of those who enjoy reading my writing." 

If you don't do what you love to do, you won't love doing what you're doing.  I'm exercising, praying and worshiping God, and writing so that I can let LOVE flow through my mind, heart, soul and body, not pain.

Do it for YOU.  Tell yourself it's okay.  And others will surely benefit from it.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Coming Out of Hiding

Last month, I took a trip to Miami, and met up with an old friend and colleague.  We had not seen each other in about ten years.  We were teaching at the same school in New York City, and I had decided to move upstate to begin graduate school.  At the same time, I was separated from my husband, and going through a tough time.  Once I moved upstate, I tried to keep in touch with my friends through email, but I was terrible at phoning, and never really visited anyone but my family members whenever I went back to the City.  Eventually, all of the relationships I had built over the years while I was in New York City began to fade.

My friend and I actually had the kind of relationship that I've learned over the past ten years is the only kind of relationship I want.  I call her my soul sister because, although I hesitate to believe in soul mates, she was one of those rare people who knew me (the real me), and still accepted me.  Not only did she accept me, she loved me.  It wasn't the kind of friendship where we had to talk everyday, but when we were together, it felt like I could be (figuratively) naked and know that I would not be judged. 

After ten years, we spent a day together in Miami at the beach.  We ate and talked and walked and laughed and almost cried.  In one of those moments, I wondered aloud what happened in the ten years that had passed, and why we hadn't talked in so long.  She said (and I paraphrase), "I figured you were hiding, and I knew eventually, you wouldn't hide forever.  I knew we would be back in touch again."

Ten years ago, I left my family and friends to pursue my Master's degree. I immersed myself in my job, my grad program, and my new-found relationship with God. Over the past ten years, I have spent most of my time either at work or at church.  Yes, I do have friends.  Some friendships are more authentic than others, but very few of my friends, if any, could be considered "soul sisters".  As I was going through my separation and divorce, I refused to open up to men at all.  I gave women a time-frame before I would consider them friends.  I wore a smile, I talked a lot, and I shared what I was experiencing; but truly, I never really opened my heart to anyone.  I used work and church to cover me.  My spirituality was worn as a cloak to protect me from anyone who would break my heart or cause me to lose trust.  I told myself over and over again that, "I cannot trust anyone but God."  I even used Scripture to back me up: "It is better to trust in the Lord than to put confidence in man." (Psalm 118:8).  As a result, a cocoon of protection wound tightly around my heart.

One of my grad school professors, whom I often quote (and probably have several times here), told me in my first year of grad school that, "You have such a beautiful heart.  It's such a shame you won't allow anyone to see it."  I really had no idea what the man was talking about at the time.  For many years, those words haunted me.  I thought I was "letting my light shine" - and I was, at the very least, letting people see glimpses of it.  At work, with my students.  At church, with the other congregants.  But in my personal life, the isolation I insisted upon kept me hidden from anyone who could potentially hurt me.  The truth was that I had allowed myself to live without breathing.  (Huh?)

Cocoons, according to, are a protective casing around an insect, spun during the pupal stage - the life stage in which an insect undergoes transformation.  The cocoon is built to protect the insect from a "harsh or unfriendly environment".  In a cocoon, an insect can live up to an entire winter season without food or water, the essentials necessary for our survival.

According to my favorite source of information (Wikipedia, of course) the English word "Spirit" comes from the Latin word Spiritus, meaning "breath".  The spirit is known as the energy present in all living things.  It is active; the vital principle that gives life to a being.

So, how did I allow myself to live without breathing?  The protection around my heart allowed me to live, even without the essentials of love, connection, and authenticity.  But my spirit (my breath), although fed by God, was closed to others.  I inhaled God, but I never exhaled.  I kept it in, just for myself - for my own survival, never to be shared with others.

The cocoon is breaking now.  It is being split open, because the "winter season" of my life is over; God and people are demanding that it be over.  The splitting is a bit painful, but it brings to mind a conversation I had with another friend who came to visit me over the summer.

This friend is someone I have known for almost thirty years, but we hadn't seen each other in twenty years.  When we first reconnected, he told me that he believed God brought us back together.  We have had some ups and downs since we've reconnected, and I thought it was time for us to separate because I felt hurt a lot during the process of building a relationship with this person. During this last visit, I refused to leave the protection of my cocoon, but before he left, I asked him why he thought God had brought us back into each other's lives.  He said (and again, I paraphrase), "I have always known that you have something so special within you - a light - that you hide.  You live in an unhappy state, almost a state of depression, and I believe God wanted me to help you, so that what is inside of you can show."

And so, the light that fights to shine brightly - that light that is seen by others even when I desperately fight to keep it hidden sometimes - has won.  I am not going to fight myself anymore.  I am coming out of hiding.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Just "Be" (For Those Beginning A New Season In Life)

As summer ends and fall begins, so do new seasons in the various aspects of our lives - school, college, work, church, football, etc.  A new season is a time for change.  For me, this new season represents the opportunity to make the most out of my relationships with family, friends, colleagues and students, in a way that is different for me.  This year, I am pledging to put myself at the top of my list, after God.  In putting myself first, I am going to become a better counselor, friend, daughter, sister, and eventually, wife and mother.  As I reflect on what I want to happen in my life, I realize that our destiny is not always determined by what we do, but by who we are.  With that in mind, I've set goals that consist, not of things that I need to DO, but of what I would like to BE.

1. BE COMMITTED. I will keep my promises to myself. I will give 100% to what I commit to do.

2. BE POSITIVE. I will change my thoughts so that they are more affirmative, and my life will follow the direction of my thoughts.

3. BE GENUINE. I will be my authentic self, which will engender authenticity in my relationships.

4. BE ACCOUNTABLE. I will do what I have said I would do. I will let others know what my goals are, and will seek help in achieving them.

5. BE GRATEFUL. I will enjoy the present. I will focus more on what I have than on what I want. When I am grateful for what I have, I am demonstrating that I can be trusted to receive what I want.

In sharing these goals with you, I hope to inspire you to just "be"!

Based on goals I set for myself last year, inspired to share again by a conversation with one of my wonderful students today!  (Hi C.C.!)

Monday, August 23, 2010

Insomniac Thoughts

For the past ten years, I have experienced insomnia. I'll go to bed fine, but I'll wake up about 3am and stay up for at least two hours.  Many times, I get frustrated, angry, sometimes I even cry.  Even if I get back to sleep, I usually have to wake up in less than an hour, which leaves me exhausted for most of the day. 

Some days I'll still be frustrated, but many times I try to work with the insomnia.  I'll write in my journal, read, or get up and put the dishes in the dishwasher.  Last week I decided to freewrite the thoughts that ran through my mind - though these occurred in the same night, much of these are typical thoughts for me:

God really loves me.

Sometimes, I get sick of myself.

Am I one of those people that you either love or you hate?

I'm so self-absorbed.

Yet, I think about others way more than I think of myself.

Well, I don't know about that.

Why doesn't God answer my most consistent prayers, like healing my mom or making a man love me enough to put a ring on it?

Do I expect too much from people?

Am I living the life God intended for me to live?

I think I'm just supposed to laugh a lot. That's what feels best.

Why do my old boyfriends look me up after 10, 20, almost 30 years?

Did I really have a boyfriend almost 30 years ago? I shouldn't have.

One thing I'll never regret: eating anything chocolate.

It hurts to love, but at least I'm feeling something.

Take the time to write your insomniac thoughts.  Thoughts that run through your mind in the quiet of the night might be trying to tell you something.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Broken Glass (A Poem About The Risk of Loving)

It draws me in
Beautiful colors reflected in its light
I'm intrigued; fascinated by its radiance
Its beauty, not in its whole, but in its parts
Compels me to come closer
Study it, investigate it, want more
As I draw closer
I reach out to touch it
And, what was beautiful to behold
Now cuts me
It causes me to bleed
Just like broken glass

You drew me in
Your brilliance reflected in your words
I was intrigued; fascinated by your intensity
Your beauty, not in your whole, but in the sum of your parts
Compelled me to come closer
Smell you, taste you, want more
And, as I opened my heart and reached out to touch you
You cut me
You caused my heart to bleed
Just like broken glass

Monday, August 9, 2010

On Kourtney & Khloe, T.O. & Ocho

Last night, I was flipping the channels between VH1 and E! on a quest to give my mind a break.  Although I get easily annoyed by the privileged and spoiled, I decided to watch a couple of episodes of Kourtney and Khloe Take Miami, as well as Ochocinco: The Ultimate Catch and The T.O. Show.  Although I realize that these so-called reality shows are very much scripted, I was intrigued by the interwoven themes in these shows, especially between the Kardashians' and Terrell Owens' lives as played out for all of us to see.  (My brain doesn't like to take long breaks, apparently.)

The ongoing saga of Kourtney Kardashian's relationship with Scott Disick (her "babydaddy") grew even more dramatic with his (self-)destructive actions, his admission of problems with alcohol and decision to seek therapy.  Meanwhile, on VH1, T.O. discussed problems in his current relationship with his girlfriend Kari with his therapist.  In both shows, the men seem to realize that their behavior is impacting their relationships negatively.  They seem to value the women in their lives, but don't want these women to hold them accountable for their behavior.  The women seem to put up with behavior that they know is unacceptable, and although Kari seems pretty firm with Terrell about ending their relationship, she's asserted herself before, only to find herself right back in the same situation.  Same with Kourtney, who seems quite strong-willed and sometimes incapable of listening to others, yet she takes Scott back time after time with no real improvement.  (So okay, I know a little more about these shows than I originally let on.)

Here's my question:  Did these women realize the history and baggage these men have carried with them before getting involved?  Was there no indication that these men are quite self-absorbed; no red flags, no doubts floating through these women's minds that these men were destined to bring pain along for the ride?  Of course.  Kourtney and Kari knew this.  Who wouldn't know that someone like T.O., who's not a team player and can't stay committed to one football team, would have difficulty committing to one woman?  Who wouldn't know that Scott, who didn't have a job before the Kardashian Konnection (sorry!) hooked him up, was basically sponging off of the fame and fortune of a family in the spotlight?  These women have demonstrated that they are not stupid, and that they have respect for themselves, yet they expected more from these men than either of them have demonstrated they could do.

I'm not judging.  Believe me, I am not one to judge.  I've asked myself the same questions.  I'm known to be strong-willed, intelligent, independent, and feisty.  Yet, I have found myself wondering where that strong woman goes when the man in my life demonstrates behavior that I find unacceptable.

Here's my theory, though it's getting late and I haven't fully formed it: In our society, women have been conditioned to believe that men are to be loved, and not respected.  Flow with me here.  Mothers love their sons in ways that make it difficult for boys to understand that, if they want respect, it must be earned.  For example, my mother did not require the males in the family to lift a finger to clean.  The cleaning was done by my sisters and me.  While my brothers participated in sports on Saturday mornings, I cleaned their rooms.  There was no expectation that they should clean up the mess they made.  Now, for the most part my brothers are good men.  However, using the cleaning analogy, THE MEN DID NOT HAVE TO CLEAN UP THEIR MESS.  THEIR MESS WAS CLEANED UP BY A WOMAN.  Some men (I won't generalize) are raised to believe that they are not accountable for their actions.  When men are not held accountable, they do not learn how to earn respect.  In the Bible, in the book of Ephesians, chapter five, verse 33 says, "However, each one of you also must love his wife as he loves himself, and the wife must respect her husband."  While the Word of God admonishes men to love their wives as themselves (causing them to have to examine their own self-love and stepping out of themselves to love someone else), it admonishes women to RESPECT their husbands.  Interesting, isn't it?  How easy is it to respect someone who hasn't earned it?  Not very.

A few months ago, I dreamt that I was surprising a man that I had been dating for awhile.  I walked into his apartment, into his bedroom, and found another woman hiding in the room.  In the dream, I proceeded to clean up after the other woman (right after I pulled her up by her hair and threw her out of the apartment, of course.  I said I was feisty.)  A couple more women came in, and I threw them out, cleaning up any traces of women who this man was carrying on with.  Meanwhile, although in the dream he seemed fearful of the possibility of losing me, this man did nothing but stand by and watch.  The dream ended when an older woman who seemed to have this man's respect came in and told him that he needed to stop messing around with so many women and look to God to fill the void in his life.

WOW.  What did that dream symbolize?  Aside from the fact that God symbolizes the ultimate authority who has expectations of us and holds us accountable for our actions, I believe it meant that I needed to stop "cleaning up" after the messes of the men in my life, whether they be a love interest, my brothers, even my male students.  In my work, I need to make sure that I hold ALL of my students accountable to achieving their goals, but I notice that, while female students often come to me with specific goals and action steps in mind, male students might have one long-term goal (often to make money), but no clear and specific ways that they will achieve that goal.  It will only benefit them if I ask them to make short term goals and objectives, and as they achieve short-term goals, express pride in, and respect for, their accomplishments.  This will help them to "earn" the respect men truly desire from women.

Men are so lovable, and we can't help but to love them.  But we really need to respect them.  And the best way I believe I can genuinely respect a man is to demonstrate to him, in a loving but firm manner, that I have expectations of him that are realistic and achievable, and then to hold him accountable for meeting those expectations.  And then, when those expectations are met or exceeded, I can shower him with the love and respect he truly deserves.  Am I right or what?

To be continued...(or, on the next episode of...)

Sunday, June 6, 2010

How Open is Too Open?

Over the weekend I attended a conference for college counselors and academic advisors.  One of the recurring themes of the conference was intrusive advising.  Intrusive advising, as described by several academic advising sources, is proactive, caring contact with students with the goal of inspiring academic motivation and persistence in students, especially "at-risk" students.  For example, one technique of intrusive advising is to attend events where students are participants, even if those events occur "after-hours".  One of the questions that was discussed either in workshops or among counselors was the use of social networking as an intrusive advising technique.  Facebook is commonly used by colleges as a resource for connecting with students, because we all know that, if a student doesn't respond to emails, he or she will see your message on their Facebook page.

Personally, I created my Facebook profile because a student asked me to.  She was able to convince me, after several conversations, that Facebook would be a great way to connect with my students, so I gave in after many years of rejecting the notion of using social networking sites.  I started with one simple rule about Facebook that I still follow to this day:  I would not request any of my students as friends, but if they requested me, I would accept their request.  I even had the conversation with several students that they might not want to request me as a friend if they thought there was something on their Facebook page that they really didn't want me to see.  I frequently used Facebook posts to remind students of deadline dates, post events for my women's leadership group, and even encourage students to study and work hard.

Then something happened.  I had an active Facebook page for about a year when an old high school and college friend posted old pictures and tagged me in them.  She was connected to many of my old high school and college friends and acquaintances.  When we left college, there was no such thing as the internet, much less Facebook.  There was barely email.  I'd lost contact with many people who I'd connected with in high school and college, and Facebook became the easiest way to get back in contact without having to spend hours on the telephone, which was and still is pretty impractical.  Within the span of one month, the number of Facebook connections I'd made tripled.  There was lots of photo-tagging, so my students were privy to pictures of my old college days.  My family started to join Facebook too, so my students were seeing posts by my family members, as well as photos of family events, because photos are so easy to share and upload onto one place - and where better than Facebook, where you can comment on photos?  Soon, former students from my teaching days were requesting me.  Then, people from the church I attend began requesting me.  Of course, nothing I posted or was tagged in was inappropriate or offensive, but a line was crossed.  I was becoming more than just an advisor and counselor to my students.  I was becoming a whole person.  Gaps in their knowledge of who I am were slowly becoming filled. 

As I reconnected with more people on Facebook, it became easier to use it for personal purposes, and not so much for the purpose of providing information to my students.   There is a group page for my women's leadership group where I post events.  When the earthquake struck in Haiti this past January, I created a Facebook page for students on my college campus to discuss ideas on how to help.  My personal page became much more personal.  It was a place where I could share my spiritual beliefs, keep in contact with friends, and be my normally sarcastic self.  I also post some of my writing on Facebook for feedback from those who know me.  I have found that, through Facebook as well as this blog, I have been able to help people open up about some of the same issues I write or post updates about.  I've received private messages from many, many people who've said that even a simple status update has provided them with new perspectives and encouragement.

My last blog post was a laborious outpouring of some of the thoughts and feelings I'd been wrestling with.  When I'd finished the blog post, I felt as if I had given birth to new understanding of myself.  I felt more clarity.  I added the link to my Facebook page as usual.  I received feedback from others who said that they needed to read those words; they had also received clarity.  I felt great. The following morning, I received a private message from a person who considers herself my friend, saying that she felt my pain.  Then she asked, "Why do you feel you have to share this with the Facebook audience?"  Immediately, I felt judged.  I began to question if I had been too open, if I had shared too much.  I began to doubt the positive effect my words might have had on those who had read them.  In addition, I questioned my whole purpose for beginning this blog, which was to write more often with purpose so that I could fulfill my life-long dream of being a writer. What I found interesting in that message was that, under the guise of being concerned about me, the person really wanted to know how I could be so open with what was in my heart. 

Then, on the way home from the conference, I had an interesting conversation with a colleague.  Going back to one of the conference themes of intrusive advising, she discussed a situation where she also thought I had opened up, maybe a little too much, to some of my students.  From my point of view, my years of experience have provided me with the wisdom and good judgment to decide what is "too open".  I explained that I might approach things differently based on those experiences.  After a long discussion, she came to the conclusion that SHE might not be as comfortable sharing so much with her students as I seem to be, and connected that new awareness with feedback she'd received from some students.  It was a "light-bulb" moment for her.  She realized that, rather than be so concerned with my decisions regarding being open, she would benefit greatly from reflecting upon how open she would like to be with her students.  

To be clear, in my opinion, there's nothing inappropriate or vulgar about me or what I share, either on Facebook or this blog.  I never reveal names or specifics about people, and I keep others' confidences.  What students get when they see my Facebook page are glimpses of the real me.  When they become aware that I am a real person with real challenges and real victories, they let down their guards and become more real with themselves, and with me.  It leads to an open counseling relationship where I can be honest with them, and encourage them to be honest with themselves, about their challenges, which could possibly propel them forward into victory. 

I believe I'm able to discern what is ethical, right, and appropriate to share about who I am as a person. I am okay with being open with others, including my students.  Maybe those who aren't as open might need to examine themselves, or just leave me alone.  Am I right or what?

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

I Used to Love Him...But Now I Don't (Well, Maybe I Still Do, A Little Bit)

This afternoon on my way home from work, I was listening to a favorite song of mine by Lauryn Hill, called "I Used to Love Him".   It is a song that resonates with many a woman who has been the victim of a broken heart.  Although Lauryn Hill recorded this song in 1998, many of the young women I work with think the album "The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill" is a classic that still speaks what's in their hearts.  I tend to agree.

"One situation involved a young man
He was the ocean and I was the sand
He stole my heart like a thief in the night
Dulled my senses and blurred my sight"

Who doesn't know the feeling of being swept away in a rush of emotion for another human being?  Many times, loving someone makes it difficult to think objectively and make rational decisions.  The phrase "love is blind" comes to mind.  How many times have your friends told you, "I don't know what you see in him/her?"  Yet, something about the person you love awakens a possible "sixth sense" within you - a more spiritual, supernatural sense that "sees" what others don't see about the loved one.

"I chose the road of passion and pain
Sacrificed too much and waited in vain
Gave up my power, ceased being queen
Addicted to love like the drug of, drug of a fiend"

A recurring issue in the Woman II Woman support sessions I facilitate is the guarded heart.  The pain of being heart-broken - many times precipitated by the absence of a father - causes so many women to shut down emotionally, not allowing others to truly experience their genuine inner beauty.  Sometimes, walls erected to protect the heart calcify to the point where we're no longer able to identify the emotions we begin to feel when we're asked to engage in relationships.  The decision to engage is a courageous one.  Love brings pain as well as passion.  The giddy happiness that first accompanies love can, sometimes very quickly, turn to fear and anxiety.  Expectations begin to weigh down the relationship to the point where you might think, "If I don't get what I expect, I won't have the upper hand."  It seems that relationships become power struggles rather than partnerships.  Yet, once the protective walls around our hearts come down, we struggle with setting boundaries, compromise more (which sometimes is a bad thing), and can't seem to give up the pain - because we're waiting for the passion to come back. 

"See, torn and confused, wasted and used
Reached the crossroad, which path would I choose?

Stuck and frustrated I waited, debated
For something to happen that just wasn't fated

Thought what I wanted was something I needed
When Momma said no, then I just should have heeded

After experiencing more pain in a relationship, we reach a point where we have to decide if this is the road we should be traveling.  Often, we spend more time debating the pros and cons of a relationship than we do actually experiencing and enjoying the relationship.  Our expectations, and others' expectations for us, can lead us to believe a relationship is supposed to go in a certain direction.  Many times we look at what we consider to be successful relationships and say, "I want what they have."  However, we don't see beyond the surface of others' relationships.  We don't know what they're struggling with, and take it from me: every successful relationship has  been through at least one major struggle.  As the saying goes, "Be careful what you wish for, you just might get it."

Many times we engage in relationships without taking the time to reflect on the difference between our wants and needs.  I might want someone to call me everyday, but do I really need it?  Would three times a week of genuine conversation be more akin to what I need?  Is it more important to receive gifts, or to know that, in your greatest time of need, that person will be there for you?  Sometimes we're in the wrong relationship for us because we're so distracted by what we want that we never stop to think about what we really need.  Our own lack of self-reflection causes us to feel frustrated.  Only true awareness and introspection can move us out of the rut caused by the disappointment of unmet expectations. 

 "Misled, I bled till the poison was gone
And out of the darkness arrived the sweet dawn"

Bleeding is the emission of blood from the body, whether internally or externally.  No one can bleed for you; only you can emit blood from your own body.  Bleeding can also be considered draining, and in the case of love, time alone, in anguish and pain, can have a cleansing effect.  Once the bleeding caused by brokenness diminishes, the healing process can begin. 

"Father, you saved me and you showed me that life
Was much more than being some foolish man's wife
Showed me that love was respect and devotion
Greater than planets and deeper than any ocean
See, my soul was weary, but now it's replenished
Content because that part of my life is finished"

This particular lyric hits close to home for me.  For those who haven't followed my blog posts, I was previously married.  It wasn't a very long relationship, and truthfully, I was young and lacked the wisdom that comes with age and life experiences.  Not only was the man foolish, I was foolish as well.  I got married without really knowing and understanding what love is.  I thought I needed to be married in order to find those qualities that were missing in me.  So many times we're told that our companion in life should balance us; I wouldn't disagree with that, but we don't often understand that "balance" means steadiness or equilibrium.  It doesn't mean that whatever we're missing will be compensated for by another human being.  That's asking too much of someone.  There's always a risk that the scale is more weighted on one side than the other.  When my marriage ended, a chapter of my life was finished.  Losing that "love" gave me the desire, the hunger and need, to find true love.  I found that unconditional love in a relationship with God.  I realize, in every interaction with everyone in my life, there is a capacity for hurt and disappointment to occur.  With God, there's no abandonment.  There's no pain.  There's only the contentment of knowing that there's Someone who's always there for you.  As Hebrews 13:5 states, "Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you."

"I see him sometimes and the look in his eye
Is one of a man who's lost treasures untold 

But my heart is gold, I took back my soul
And totally let my Creator control
The life which was His
The life which was His, to begin with"

Let me be transparent (can I be anything else?): I have been contacted by several men from my past, especially over the past three years or so.  Some of these men broke my heart.  Some of their hearts were broken by me.  Apparently, and of course I speak only from personal experience, as men reach their mid- to late 30's, they seem to take time to reflect on some of their more genuine relationships.  This is not to say that I was always as self-aware and introspective as I am now (a counseling degree doesn't hurt).  It is to say that I wasn't as calculated, or manipulative, or guarded, as a life of broken relationships can cause a woman to become.  I gave my heart irresponsibly, irreverently and with abandon, to some of these men.  Some of them were little boys, and I didn't know how to be anything but a little girl who liked, or was liked by, those boys.  Some of these men are unhappy in their marriages, and contact me to reminisce about the innocence of young love.  Some of these men have experienced so many broken relationships with women in general, that they think going back to the one who first made their heart beat quickly is a way to start fresh; the heart's "do-over".  Some of them, I think, might just have memories of me that make them smile.  I have to admit that it is flattering to be contacted by the men in my past.  However, I often wonder why there are so many from my past, but none (past or present) pursue a committed relationship with me (either because they're married or emotionally unavailable).  I might be reaching, but sometimes I think God allows these re-encounters so that I could look back at who I was when I was involved with these men and remember who I am at my core.  Before some of my heartbreaks, and the ultimate heartbreak of divorce, I was more willing and able to share my heart.  I have a heart of gold.  Everyone I know deserves the truest version of me.  And the best way for me to be the truest version of me is to allow my Creator control over my life and my heart.  

"I used to love him, but now I don't"

The difficulty in reuniting with past loves, for me, is having to reconcile who I was with who I am now.  I can't throw out all of my experiences and reject the wisdom that comes with a broken heart.  I need to let down my guard, but I need to protect myself as well.  I want to be that innocent, loving, caring young girl I once was, but I still encounter men who forgot what it was like to feel.  I'm dealing with men who have been so hurt and disappointed that they might even be looking to hurt that little girl in me who once broke their heart.  However, the need to protect myself, so strong and essential in the ten years since the breakdown of my marriage, is being overcome by a need that is much stronger: the need to love and to be loved.  I used to love him, and heartache, bitterness, and disappointment make me want to say "now I don't".  But I would be lying.  

Thank you, Lauryn Hill, for speaking what is in my heart, and the hearts of many women who have loved, and now don't, but still want to.

Monday, April 19, 2010

"Secure Your Own Oxygen Mask Before Assisting Others..."

Over the past weekend, I had the opportunity to attend the Heal a Woman to Heal a Nation conference in Baltimore, Maryland.  The circumstances by which I attended this conference were almost serendipitous.  A colleague heard about the conference and mentioned it to her supervisor, who said it would be a great professional development opportunity.  Her supervisor then mentioned that she should ask me to go.  INTERESTING.  We work in separate divisions, and I'm not someone in the supervisor's sphere on a daily basis.  So, when I heard about this conference, took a look at the website and the workshop descriptions, and found out I would be getting a free trip to Baltimore, I thought, HECK YEAH!

The conference took place during a full weekend of events at work.  My women's leadership group had an important culminating activity as part of their community service project on Saturday, and on Sunday the student staff we just hired for our summer program had their first training session.  However, for some reason, I felt the need to go to this conference.  I got the go-ahead from all parties involved, and I went.  I truly enjoyed myself, and came back yesterday with a new energy that I needed.

The entire spring semester had been personally and professionally taxing.  Family and relationship issues were weighing heavily on me, and I had been staying at work late almost every night.  When I say late, I don't mean an hour.  I was leaving work three or four hours later, either because I had an event to coordinate or attend, or because someone needed to talk to me.  No matter how much I said I needed to take care of myself, I found myself sacrificing myself because I felt needed.

Finally, after several months of late nights and weekends at work, I got sick.  Fever, chills, sore throat, sinus headache, and a cough lasted more than these things ever need to last.  Obviously, my immune system was not working well.  I had to miss several days of work during academic advisement, one of the busiest times of the semester.  While I was home sick, I thought, "I have been sick for the past three days, had the past two days off from work because I have run myself into the ground, and I wonder, how do I stop that from happening?"  When I was married, my ex-husband would make me get in bed when I started to look "peaked" as he used to say.  But now, it doesn't seem to hit me until it hits me full force.  No one is there to make me get in bed.  No one is calling me to come home.  No one really kicks me out of the office, either.  People always tell me I need to take care of myself, but the question remains: "How do I take care of myself?" 

The keynote speaker at the Heal a Woman to Heal a Nation, Dee Marshall, was a ball of energy who had so many inspiring things to say.  The theme of her keynote speech was "Do You, Be You, Love You".  I think I have the "Do You" and "Be You" portions down; and I do love myself, but as I stated in my last post, love requires action.  I'm not doing anything to show myself, or others for that matter, that I love myself.  Loving others requires that you love yourself first; you have to fill your own tank with love before trying to share love with others.  At one point in her speech Ms. Marshall stated, "Secure your own oxygen mask before assisting others."  That really hit home.  In order for me to "Love Me", I have to "secure my oxygen mask".  Let's look at the definition of those words, courtesy of

Verb: To free from danger or harm; make safe; to effect; make certain of; ensure; to protect from attack by taking cover.  Adjective: Free from care; without anxiety.

A nonmetallic element constituting 21 percent of the atmosphere by volume that occurs as a diatomic gas, 
and in many compounds such as water and iron ore. It combines with most elements, and is essential for plant and animal respiration. 

Any protective covering for the face or head.
If we look at the definitions of the above words, the phrase "Secure your own oxygen mask" means to protect yourself from harm and ensure your safety by utilizing the necessary elements for your survival.  Once you are able to identify the elements necessary for your survival, you can protect your mind, body, and spirit.  Once all of these necessary elements of your life are protected - then, and only then - are you are able to assist others.  

I find it interesting that the adjective "secure" means "free from care; without anxiety".  Taking care of myself will help me to be free from care and less anxious.  This will make me better and more effective to those who require my assistance.

The Heal a Woman to Heal a Nation conference gave me an opportunity to step back from everything that has caused me stress and anxiety, and affirmed that I am valuable enough, to myself and to others, to "secure my own oxygen mask".  I am more determined now than I have ever been to learn what "loving me" really means.  I know that once I can "love me" - by identifying the necessary elements for my survival and implementing them on a daily basis - others will have a better, more effective version of me.

Am I right or what?  What are some ways we can "secure our oxygen masks"? 

Thursday, April 8, 2010

More Lessons on Love (Because I'm still learning...)

In a previous post, I wrote about having gone through divorce, and touched on my recent venture out into the world of dating.  Although things haven't gone the way I hoped with that particular person, the experience served as empirical research as I seek to understand and empathize with the students I work with, the majority of whom are struggling in romantic relationships.  A break in any relationship is painful, but it also provides an opportunity for reflection and growth.

I took some time to think about my experiences, and over the past few weeks have found that these reflections have been helpful to more than a few young women, and I decided to post them here.  So, here are more lessons.  Although they are directed towards women in relationships with men, I believe these are useful in all kinds of relationships.

  • You can fall in love many times.  You'll always love those you fell in love with.  But the one whom you show your appreciation to and who shows you he appreciates you is the one that lasts. You can live without someone you fell in love with.  The one who shows you he doesn't want to live without you is the one that matters.
  • Falling in love is a feeling. Living in love requires action.  It is a demonstration of how you feel. If you don't demonstrate that you love the person you claim to love, then to that person, there is no love. People don't see feelings unless there's an action that demonstrates the feeling.  
  • If you, as the lover, cannot demonstrate how you feel, then you might want to reflect upon whether or not you love yourself.  People who love themselves want to pour that love out onto others.  If you're bankrupt in the love department, you believe you have nothing to give.  
  • Loving yourself is not selfish; it's actually selfish not to love yourself, because you don't want to share yourself with others when you have no love of self.  
  • People who are always worried about getting hurt lack love for themselves.  They don't believe that someone else will want the best for them.  They don't believe they are worthy of being treated well.
  • Don't get stuck on one person, especially if he's not showing you that he loves you. But be careful that you're not looking for one specific demonstration of love. There are many ways to show love.  It's when there's no action behind the words "I love you" that you need to move on. 
  • Believe that you can, and will, fall in love again.  There's not one "soulmate" for everyone.  The person who wants to work through the hard work of love with you is your mate.  Walking in love together is what binds you to the person, not some cosmic force.  
  • Take the good you've learned from every relationship, and throw out the bad. Don't harbor any bad feelings for someone.  Hurt people hurt people. If someone hurts you, try to see what's behind the hurt. There are, most likely, issues of rejection in that person's life.  Don't let that person's issues attach themselves to you.  But don't try to fix his issues either.    Trying to fix someone is selfish. It's manipulative.  You want to change or fix someone because you want him to do what you want, or be how you want him to be.  He has to want to change for his own sake. Let that person go through his journey on his own.  Who knows?  His journey may lead him back to you.
  • Be grateful for every opportunity you've had to demonstrate your love. It makes you better at loving yourself and others.
Who knows when these reflections will end?  I'm still learning.

- Trish