Sitting With Loneliness

                For the last few days, loneliness has come to keep company with me.  Loneliness just sits and says nothing but its presence is unnerving.  Loneliness is an unfamiliar visitor to me.  I have never really sat with it before.  I grew up in a large family.  I have five brothers and sisters and a host of cousins.  We all grew up together so there was always someone to play with and to talk to.  I got married and for a while, we lived with my family.  My oldest son was born in the house where I grew up and it was full.  When we moved out, I was working so there were people around and then our little family was together.  After the divorce, I moved back to my parent’s house and my youngest was born.  We moved out, from the “woods” to the city, where I taught school and had my sons to care for.  When I remarried our families blended and that house was full.  The children began to leave, yet there was still Oscar and I and work.

            When Oscar became too ill to live at home alone, I retired and came home to care for him.  Though I dreadfully missed the hustle and bustle of school and the clamoring of children, I did not feel lonely because my full attention was dedicated to caring for Oscar.  During that time our love grew exponentially, though it was one of the most challenging times of both our lives.  I was always busy doing things for him or thinking about and planning the things that needed to be done.

            The passing of my mother left a gaping hole in my heart that I have yet to find the words to adequately express.  Her passing was sudden and unexpected, though quiet and peaceful.  The necessity to remain focused on caring for Oscar, whose health was beginning to debilitate, caused me to compartmentalize my mother’s death and set it to the side.  There was no long period of mourning and consequently little time to “fall apart,” a somewhat necessary event at the death of one’s mother.  Later that same year when Oscar died I found myself grieving him and my mother simultaneously.  I am thankful for my strong faith in God and my therapist.

            Getting therapy was one of the best decisions I have made in my entire life.  Trying to navigate grief is difficult, to say the least.  Navigating grief amid a global pandemic as you are aware of the hundreds of thousands of people who have died, six of which are your family members who all died within a period of two months is a pain that I can only describe as excruciating.  So, today as I am writing this, I am sitting in the unwelcomed presence of loneliness. 

            Just like many other people, I hate the unfamiliar.  Whenever I have had to enter an unfamiliar situation, whether the first day of college, the first day of work, the birth of my firstborn, I experience a time of profuse crying.  Disequilibrium grips my brain and I seemingly fall apart.  I have come to realize however that this is the process my mind uses to wash my soul of fear and allow courage to enter.  Today is one of those days.  Loneliness has come for a visit and because it is unfamiliar to me my first response to its arrival was to cry.  Now, that I recognize it, although I find it a horrid guest, I refuse to turn from it.  And though I do not necessarily want to offer it a cup of coffee, I am willing to sit with it and learn whatever it has come to teach me.  Now that I have identified what it is by calling it by name, I am not afraid because I realize that it has come to give me further insight into the path ahead. 

            What does this have to do with LIFE – Living Inspired Free Enthusiastic?  Well, avoiding the unpleasant things that come into our presence will cause us to simply go around in circles.  The disequilibrium our mind experiences, if not resolved, will cause our thought processes to circle down into worry, complaining, and even depression.  Those are not good ingredients for LIFE.   However, identifying and recognizing even the most horrible experiences as a part of your present reality unleashes the mental power to move forward step-by-step towards resolution.  A balanced mind is a joyful mind.  Joy will always result in inspiration, freedom, and enthusiasm.  So, do not run from unpleasant, scary feelings like loneliness.  Face them.  Sit with them.  Learn from them.  Be healthy.  Be whole. Live LIFE.

The Gifts of Fasting and Prayer

21 Testimonies of 42 Days of Fasting and Prayer

In December 2020 our pastor, Rev. Dr. Tyree Anderson, called the church to a 21-day period of fasting and prayer in preparation for the approaching new year.  I have learned through the years that fasting as a discipline is most effective for my spiritual and intellectual growth when I fast “to” something in addition to fasting “from” something.  I decided that one of the areas I needed to enhance was my ability to speak to people with words that build up in opposed to words that tear down.  I set out to speak only words that edify.  I was not at all surprised when many days I had little to say.  It is amazing how easy it is to speak words that serve to hinder people.  In addition to fasting, our pastor gave us a list of scriptures to read and specific things to pray.  Afterwards, I found that this time in prayer and fasting enhanced my ability to see the world around me in a different, more truthful light.  It also aided in my ability to effectively communicate with my adult children, who often report that I am not good at listening to them and that my words are often harsh.  Holy Spirit continues this work in my life.

                In January 2021 a mentor, Rev. Dr. Kris Erskine called a fast for his church as well as “The MoveMent,” a group of believers who meet each morning via a variety of social media platforms to believe God for two things “the Radical and the Ridiculous.”  I joined the fast with a decision to fast from sugar and fast to better physical health.  Along with this fast there was Bible teaching and prayer each morning.  I have followed the MoveMent since it began.  This time however the teaching was deeper and stouter, challenging us to grow up.  It was as Dr. Erskine loves to say, “Phenomenal!”  At the completion of the fast, the participants were asked to submit a list of 21 testimonies of how God has worked in our lives during this time of fasting and prayer.  Below are mine.

  1. I published my first children’s book entitled, Yes, Junior.  Available at Amazon.com
  2. My youngest son got a new job.
  3. My oldest son developed and attitude of helpfulness.
  4. I got some unexpected money.
  5. I completed grief counseling (last meeting will be February 6, 2021).
  6. I learned to drink black coffee which is much more beneficial to my health.
  7. No one in my house, nor any of my siblings, nor any of their children have contracted COVID-19.
  8. I began journaling using the guided journal Self-Love NOT Self-Loathing by Dr. Dimple J. Martin.
  9. I am experiencing more happy, joyful moments that sad ones.
  10. I am eating practically no meat.
  11. My ear is more opened to hearing the truth.
  12. I am developing the capacity to not force my way, but to allow Holy Spirit to make the way.
  13. I am becoming more politically and socially aware.
  14. Began studying for the Praxis in Educational Leadership to renew my certification.
  15. My appetite for unhealthy food stuff has further diminished.
  16. I have earned some money on some investments.
  17. I am experiencing greater assurance that God is working on my behalf.
  18. I am gaining a better understanding of what it means to believe in Jesus.
  19. I am near the completion of another book project.
  20. I am being delivered form the desire to engage in unfruitful arguments.
  21. I am learning to be honest with God and people.

As we approach the Lenten season, our pastor has instructed us to begin to think and pray about what we will fast from as we prepare to celebrate the life of Jesus by remembering his death and resurrection.  I believe I will fast from unhealthy practices by fasting to a more consistent exercise routine.  I need my body to be stronger so that it is fit to carry out the upcoming work that will be assigned to me. 

I have learned that fasting and prayer are wonderful gifts that make the mind and body alert and energized.  In addition to these assigned times of fasting and prayer I also engage in intermittent fasting which I began as a treatment for diabetes.  I am determined to be all that God has created me to be and to accomplish all that God has assigned to me.  That is LIFE – Living Inspired Free Enthusiastic!

Yes, Junior!

A Book of Affirmation for Black Boys

                Today my first children’s book went live on Amazon.com.  It is entitled, Yes, Junior!  Junior is my grandson.  He was born with Congenital Heart Defect which required him to have surgery within twenty-four hours after his birth.  He did not suffer from low birth weight nor was he delivered pre-matures.  Doctors discovered that this trouble with his heart while his mother was still pregnant with him.  He was also born with one underdeveloped lung.  Doctors had no explanation as to why Junior was born this way.  Other than these two “abnormalities” he is a perfectly normal little boy.  Despite his many surgeries and difficulties as an infant, Junior has grown to be a fun loving, energetic boy. He loves to run, jump and play and makes excellent grades in school.  He is a real little boy.  He is a real little Black boy.

                I was inspired to write Yes, Junior! one day as I was looking at the book No, David! I was introduced to this book in the late nineties when it was a part of the Scholastic Book Fair at the school where I was serving as assistant principal.  It is the story of a little Caucasian boy, who like many boys is rambunctious, and is always doing something that causes his mother to respond to many of his actions with the word “No!”  My granddaughter loves this book, requiring that it be read several times during any of her visits.  While picking the book up off the floor to put it away it occurred to me that boys are always being told, “No.”  What if there was a book where boys heard the word, “Yes.”  I could not think of anyone else to feature in the book other than my grandson Zachary whom we call “Junior.”  Junior is as rambunctious as any boy and I am sure that his mother tells him “no” on many occasions.  Now, there would be a book where Junior and other little boys would hear about what they can do in opposed to what they should not do. 

                Upon completion of Yes, Junior! I realized what a powerful book it could be if used in the right way.  It starts off as the story of a little boy who is born with an extremely challenging health condition.  Yet, with the encouragement of his parents along with their affirmations, he set to learn of many brilliant African American men who despite social, political, and other systemic obstacles did magnificent things that changed the world.  Some of the characters in the book are well known to most people.  Some are not as famous to us living in the United States but are worthy of recognition and acknowledgment for their contributions to humankind.

                As the mother of two sons, I have a special affinity for Black boys.  I have witnessed first-hand how they are sometimes treated with contempt in many arenas including public schools where all children should be cared for equally.  I have observed where school operations favored girls over boys in areas of dress and hair style.  Girls are often allowed to hit boys simple because they “feel like it” and boys are punished if they retaliate.  Boys in school who appear too “active” are often misunderstood and receive punitive responses instead of needed understanding or counseling. 

                Noted author Dr. Juwanza Kunjufu warned long ago of the Conspiracy to Destroy Black Boys.  Systemic racism relegates Black men to positions where, even when raised under similar conditions, they earn less money than their White male counterparts.  Studies have long shown that the number of prisons built in the United States is determine by the reading level indicated on standardized test in as low as third grade.  We can look on any social media or news outlet and see the daily inequality that Black boys face when dealing with this country’s justice system.

                It is important that Black boys know that there are many Black men who have accomplished feats that enhanced life on this planet.  It was equally important to me that the readers of this book learn that great Black men exists throughout the globe and that history notes that innovative, ingenious Black men have existed throughout the ages. 

                Although Yes, Junior! is the story of a Black boy and features Black men, it is recommended for boys of any ethnic background.  It tells the truth of the contributions of Black men causing any boy to admire such accomplishment and aspire to do great things in this world.

                Yes, Junior! is available at Amazon.com.

Juwanza Kunjufu. Africanamericanimages.com

Extensive Data Shows Punishing Reach of Racism for Black Boys – The New York Times (nytimes.com)

Lessons From 2020

                2020 has been a year to remember.  For many, it is a year they hope they soon forget.  The ravages of 2020 began for me a few months prior to the discovery of COVID-19 within the borders of the United States.  2020 greeted me with a funeral for my beloved husband who died the day after Christmas.   It was and is still surreal.  I was thrown into a crucible heated with a flame fueled by grief and isolation.  I have endured this process for the entire year and am sure even now that it is not complete.  Like many others I have experienced the death of loved ones.  I have seen the effects of job loss.  I have been in food lines as both the giver and the receiver.  I am fortunate not to have a mortgage but have been engaged in a court battle to keep the home in which I have lived for almost twenty years. 

                 I find myself reflecting on this year to extract the lessons it contains.  This year has taught me a plethora of things about myself, my relationships, and the world in which we live.  While some of the lessons were difficult and even hurtful, all were necessary for the transformation I see taking place. 

  • God is Faithful

When my husband died, one of the first words I heard in my spirit was, “God has not been unfair to me.”  That was comforting because so often when someone we love dies, we feel as though we have been treated unfairly.  At that moment I was quickened to understand that death is a part of life on earth and that what I was experiencing others had already experienced and still others would experience.  Amid it all however, God was faithfully to me as God has always been.  God is always faithful to ensure that I am not unfairly treated.  For what I experience in my life is simply what is common to humankind.

  • Family Should be Loved and Appreciated

I am blessed to have two sons, five grandchildren, three brothers and two sisters.  In addition, I have a huge family of aunts, uncles, cousins, nieces, and nephews.  I am fortunate to have always known the unconditional love of family.  Loving my family is something that I have always known to do.  However, before this year I am not sure that I deeply appreciated them for who they are and how they enrich my life.  Each family member brings a unique flavor and perspective to the family dynamic.  No one family member of group of family members possess the right to determine what the family should be.  The family just is and being a part of it has provided me with joy that has sustained me through not only this year but my entire life.

  • Peace of Mind is Worth More Than Riches

My husband used to say that the reason rich people commit suicide was because they had things but did not have peace of mind.  He would always ask God to give him peace of mind above everything else.  My mind is extremely important to me.  It must be kept whole and sound.  This year, minds have been bombarded with so many horrific images.  Images of people dying from COVID-19 alone and without family support, images of police brutality and murder, images of people in food lines, and many others are enough to cause minds to snap.  Yet, while we acknowledge the images we see and create the images we long to see we gain peace in our minds.  Putting our minds and hands to work to make the world better gives us peace of mind that extends far beyond anything acquired with riches.

  • Faith and a Faith Family are Important

I had just joined a new church congregation when COVID-19 hit.  I had only been a member two week when churches were shut down.  Our church like many others decided to utilize social media platforms to provide a virtual worship experience.  Determined to make that experience as close to a face-to-face experience as possible, our pastor conducted each Sunday Service from the church sanctuary.  With only himself, the minister of music, the media ministry and sometimes a soloist or small group of singers, our pastor preached from the church pulpit every Sunday.  He taught Bible Study and Weekly Teachers’ Meeting virtually from his church office.  We came together using COVID-19 precautions to feed the hungry, appreciate our youth and minister to the community.  “Church” burst out of the building and found its way into the streets of the community. 

  • Forgiveness is Key to Survival

My pastor called for 21 days of fasting and prayer from December 11-21.  One of the items on our prayer list was forgiveness.  One day, I was made keenly aware that although I was asking for and extending forgiveness in my prayers, deep down I was harboring unforgiveness towards someone that I felt had betrayed me.  For several hours, Holy Spirit dealt with me concerning this.  I realized that the only way to know for sure that we are practicing forgiveness is to allow Holy Spirit to examine our hearts and minds.  Unforgiveness can derail dreams and cause distractions that disrupt focus.  To survive and thrive, I must be made aware of hidden resentment and submit to forgiveness for others and accept forgiveness for myself.

  • Mental Therapy is a Gift

This year I began seeing a counselor.  I have known for years that I needed it.  I would research and read but never make a commitment.  When my husband died and the full onslaught of the pandemic occurred, I realized that my mental stability was at stake.  Grief affects people in unimaginable ways, and I wanted to be fully aware of what was happening to me and posses the strategies to move through it.  I think therapy in some form will be in my life for the rest of my life.

  • Self-Love is the First Step to Loving Others

Someone once sang, “Learning to love yourself is the greatest love of all.”  This year I have learned that my ability to love others is predicated on my love for myself.  Like so many others, for years I did what was expected without giving much thought to how I was affected.   I have gained revelation that requires that I care for all aspects of my health. To accomplish my purpose in the earth, I must posses a sound body and a sound mind.  How I eat, what I drink, how I sleep and what I take in through my senses either enhance or deplete my life.  This awareness has pushed me to love myself.  That is the only way I can be beneficial to others.

  • Life is a Precious Gift

Not just because so many people have died from COVID-19, but because of the many other struggles I have endured in addition to that reality, I realize that life is a precious gift.  So many things that I thought were important are not.  Things that I would normally engage debate about are not even worth discussion.  This blog was started to help us live life in a manner that is inspired, free and enthusiastic.  As I have journeyed through this year, I have learned to seek out the inspiration in my soul that allows me to live free and enthusiastic. 

This year has been filled with constraints that citizens of a free country never thought we would have to endure.  Ours eyes have been forced to view and speak out concerning conditions like homelessness, educational disparity, political malfeasance, and food insecurity.  These conditions have always affected those living in the margins.   Hopefully, this new year will garner the unity necessary to bring about lasting change.  The beauty of life is each day we choose to live it.  As we enter a new year, my hope is that we help others find the beauty in life and that they choose to live it.

To Whom Do I Matter

LIFE Requires That You Love Yourself First

                During these times of isolation and irritation many are seeking to understand to whom they matter.  Times are stressful and people are tightening their circles of friends and influencers. Social media sites are filled to with comments of people “cutting people off.” People are evaluating the significance of each relationship in which they are involved.  Trust issues are rising as instincts move toward self-preservation.  Still others do not seem to be concerned with their own preservation or the preservation of anyone else as they flaunt their bare faces in public, declaring their right to be free from mask wearing and social distancing.

                Things are weird.  People are dying slow, painful deaths alone in hospitals and nursing facilities.  Others have not been outside their homes for months and long for the accustomed visits from friends and loved ones.  Media stories giving conflicting information, render sound decisions difficult to make.  Those who thought they would live forever have come face to face with their mortality, sometimes questioning how they have lived their lives thus far and how they can live better if the future is granted to them. 

                Life has become a rollercoaster of change.  Up, down, twist, turn, loop the loop; what we rely on as facts change with the blink of an eye.  As soon as we are sure of the right thing to do, news reports inform us that we must do something different.  In this great time of tossing and shifting many people are finding it troublesome to hold on to familiar bonds.  Simply trying to survive the arduous stress of these times has left some so tiringly exhausted that they lack the vigor necessary to maintain relationships.

                These times have left and will leave many alone and without connections on which they have learned to depend.  Death has invaded many families, violently taking away loved ones that members refer to as “the rock,” or the “backbone,” of the family.  Financial strain has caused husbands, wives and lovers who swore their love was unbreakable to trade partnership for separation and disregard.  One is easier to feed than two or three or five. 

                Many are alone, afraid, distressed, anxious and unhappy.  They are in crisis.  Yet, there is good news.  Although crisis is a time of disaster and calamity, it is also a time of opportunity.   Times of crisis can serve as a catalyst that help you to realize your own value and your inner ability to not only survive crisis but to thrive at life.   This time is perfect for self-examination; not to figure what is wrong with you but to better learn what is right with you.  This is the time to discover or rediscover your gifts, skills and talents and make them work for you.  Once unveiled, you can develop your gifts, skills, and talents to the level of excellence.  This might mean taking classes, watching videos, spending time in prayer, meditation, and discovery.  What if this is the time for you to do what you have always dreamed of doing? 

                Spend time improving yourself.  If you have always wanted to be writer, then get a notebook or computer and start writing.  Write every day.  Read books about a variety of things including writing.  You must spend time practicing your craft.  One of the wonderful things about this time is that many universities and colleges are offering courses for free or little pay.  If you have always been curious about something, maybe now is the perfect time to learn about it. 

                Set goals.  Have grand expectations for yourself.  It may sound outdated but making a list for the day can be motivating by keeping you on task and providing data for daily accomplishments.  Computer apps can record your progress on goals that you have set from the number of steps you walk to the number of calories you have eaten to the number of books you have read. 

                Maybe before this pandemic you were the go-to person.  They called on you for everything and you were always there.  Truth be told you basked in what you thought was your importance in someone’s life while at the same time you were wearing yourself out as thin as a sheet of rice paper.  This time of isolation is the time for you to learn to say, “No.”  Just face it.  Oftentimes others use us, and the benefits are not reciprocal.  And we allow this to continue as we, in a state of sheer exhaustion, complain of not being loved or cared for.  This is the time for that to cease.

                During this pandemic you are learning how strong you really are.  You are discovering your resolve, your stamina, and your perseverance.  You are also discovering that you were sent to earth with specific gifts and talents just for this time.  All the things that are happening to you, in you, and around you are showing up your own uniqueness and value.  They are also forcing you, if you take time to notice, to see these wonderful gifts in yourself.  Now, the question is will you love yourself enough to cultivate your gifts, talents, and skills, and live in the purpose for which you were born?

                God and the entire universe are waiting on you to understand that the person to whom you matter most must be you.  This is not selfishness; it is self-love.  Selfness means I love only me.  Self-love means I love me and therefore I possess the capacity and the strength to love others. You must love yourself to the point where every gift that is in you is displayed and every purpose for which you were born is accomplished.  Be number one to yourself and watch your dreams come true and the entire universe stand up and take notice.

Thanksgiving Reflections

Beginning the Holiday Season Without My Husband

                During my therapy session we discussed how I planned to handle this first Thanksgiving without my husband.  I was given the assignment to create a blog post the day after.  As I am writing this my son is in the next room playing music.  I make a note that I need to purchase a pair of noise canceling headphones.  This is not my usual writing time and usually my son is at work and I have the entire house to myself.  However, since it is a holiday, everyone is home and there is noise in the house to which I am not accustomed.  One more thing through which to persevere.

                After leaving my therapy session I began to think about Thanksgiving and what it would entail.  For about three days I felt a considerable bout of sadness.  I subscribe to “One Fit Widow’s” page on Facebook.  It always has timely advise for those of us dealing with grief and how it has irreversibly changed our lives.  A resent post dealt with the effects of being overwhelmed and how overwhelm sometimes comes over us and we find it difficult to interact with the world.  This sometimes causes us to feel as though we are not accomplishing anything and that in fact, we are throwing away time and opportunity.  Yet, it cannot be pushed to the side and is simply something we must go through and allow to pass at its own pace.  That post and a post by Candice Benbow explaining that she was withdrawing from social media and other activities during the week that marked her mother’s death,  helped me to realize that I was in the process of being overwhelmed and that my best bet was to just allow it to happen and if I have to spend a day or days on the couch covered with a blanket, it’s okay.  That’s what I did.  I decided that to deal with what might be a challenging day, I needed a day of complete rest.  So, I spent the day before Thanksgiving on the couch in front of the television under a blanket.  That evening I planned what I would wear to dinner the next day, what time I would leave to go to my sister’s house, and prepared to gather the items I was to bring to dinner.  I had a few opportunities to fall completely apart but the rest and prayer made it possible for me to successful maneuver those situations.  

                I started Thanksgiving just as I start every day, in prayer.  A few days earlier I returned to the practice of keeping a prayer journal.  I have been beset with anxiety which manifests as discomfort in my core with bouts of gas and lower to mid-back pain.  There is a scripture that advises us that instead of being anxious we should tell God what it is we need and want to happen.  I started a list.  Now, each time I experience anxiety I think about what it is I need or want to happen, and I add it to the list. 

                I got dressed early and went to the store to acquire the items I needed to take to dinner.  I was fortunate that there was a store near me that had everything I needed.  I felt accomplished.  I was ready to go to my sister’s house but was having difficulty locating my adult children concerning our time of departure.  My sister suggested that our brother come to get me and that my sons could come when they were ready.  A marvelous idea!  I always enjoy time with my brother and the conversation during the ride was great.  Good conversation always works wonders for me. 

                My sister and her daughter had been cooking all day preparing for dinner.  She and her adult children live in the house we grew up in.  That house always provides comfort for me.  We greeted each other with hugs and laughter, and I was able to watch football on television with my brother and simply relax.  My sons, grandson and future daughter-in-law arrived soon after and the house was filled with even more laughter and conversation.  There was so much food!  All the traditional fare and a few things that I had never seen on the Thanksgiving table.  I ate a little of all of it and mindfully enjoyed every smell, taste, and texture. 

                Conversation is always on point when my family gathers.  There is little or no talking during the actual eating of dinner.  But, afterwards, we delve into all types of topics.  We talked about the pandemic and how it was affecting our lives.  We talked about the elections and how we felt that present leadership was adversely affecting our ability to move forward as a country.  We talked about local politics.  We talked about racism, white supremacy, and our own effort to attempt to fathom what is really going on with people in this country.  At one point there were several conversations going on at once.  We know how to do that.  There was however no religious conversation and no coffee drinking.  That was probably since my other brother was not there.  He generally requests coffee.

                As the evening concluded I found that I was full of food, ideas, new thoughts, and joy.  That’s and unbeatable combination in my book.  My oldest on drove the car so I didn’t even have to do that.  After calling my sister to inform her that we had all made it home safely, I put on my night clothes and went to bed.  I ended the day just like I started it, in prayer.  I was thankful to God for the love and comfort of my family.

                When I arose this morning, there was a tinge of sadness and a few tears.  I miss Oscar and Daddy and Mama.  There was music though coming from my grandson’s room, then from my son’s room.  I drank my morning coffee and Red Velvet cake was my breakfast.  After my morning devotional I sat down to write this blog.  My son was playing hip-hop on his phone, M&M, I think.  Later I recognize the lyrics from a familiar song, “Don’t push me cause I’m close to the edge. I’m trying not to lose my head.  It’s like a jungle sometimes, it makes me wonder how I keep from going under.”  I begin dancing in my chair as I wrote.  Cancel the order for the noise cancelling headphones.  The sounds of my family are the perfect solace for my soul.

Sorrowful Souls

Don’t Fall Asleep on the Sad and Depressed

                I am prompted to write this blog piece because these are extremely difficult times.  Thanksgiving is tomorrow, Christmas is fast approaching, and the New Year promises more of what we have experienced in this present year.  People are sad, depressed, and anxious.  We are being urged to limit our contact with the people we love during a time when we most need the people we love.  Our traditions are being forced to changed along with our understanding of how to navigate in the world. 

                This year has been hard for all of us.  There are some who were experiencing depression and anxiety long before the upheaval that COVID-19 has caused.  For me it started on January 5, 2019, when my mother died quietly in her home.  I was already providing primary care for my husband who had suffered multiple strokes in previous years.  On December 26, 2019, my husband died.  Since then, like so many others, I have struggled to make ends meet.  Family members and friends have become ill and some have died.  The ongoing racial tension, inability to gather with loved ones, and the seeming lack of compassion for fellow human beings weighs heavy on the mind.  

                Recently on Facebook, I saw several posts meant to encourage people during this holiday season by admonishing them to choose to be happy. “Happiness is a choice,” I have heard many times.  I understand exactly what this is meant to convey, and I believe there is no malice intended in the statement.  Yet, there are people among us who are not just a little “blue,” but actually clinically depressed and no one knows about it because they have internalized the statement, “choose to be happy,” and pretend to be so.  They want to be happy.  After all who wants to be depressed.  They just cannot bring that feeling to the surface, and in an effort to not “ruin the holiday for everyone else,” they suffer in heart wrenching silence.

                “My soul is crushed with grief to the point of death. Stay here and keep watch with me.” (NLT). These are the words Jesus spoke to his disciples just before the soldiers came to take him away to be executed.  Despite all the good he had done; he was betrayed by one closest to him.  Knowing his impending predicament, Jesus asked his friends to simply stay awake and be present with him while he pray and wait.  Their response was to fall asleep. 

                They like many people did not know what to do with Jesus’s sadness and grief.  It appears that the Church today has a difficult time dealing with people who are experiencing sadness or depression.  For some reason we have come to believe that faith in God requires us to either always “be happy,” or at least always “look happy.”  People are being forced to face the difficulties of life and the emotions that accompany those difficulties alone.  Many are distressed and choose suicide as a vehicle for relief.  The Church must become more comfortable dealing with the sadness of people and provide comfort for those who are sad or depressed.

                This holiday season I urge you to beware of the sadness and depression of others.  Stop trying to make people be happy so that you can feel comfortable and escape your responsibility to show compassion and comfort.  “In this world you will have tribulation but be of good cheer for I have overcome the world.”  Jesus said this but we do not seem to grasp the insight that “be of good cheer,” is sometimes a process that may require having someone to talk to, long hours of therapy, or just someone dedicated to being present.  Do as Jesus request and as the Holy Spirit urges.  Be present for someone and be a comfort to them.

Note: If you or someone you know is experiencing suicidal thoughts or need someone to talk to please utilize the resource below.

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 1-800-273-8255              Emergency 911

                          

Thinking About Eating

Mindful Eating Enhances the Entire Eating Experience

                I want to talk with you about thinking about what and how you are eat.  Mindful eating is an approach to eating that is based in the Buddhist meditation of Mindfulness.  It has been utilized and achieved success for some who are challenged with obesity or eating disorders.  It is also a wonderful technique for those who, like me, engage in emotional and external eating.  Anxiety often triggers me to eat, even when I am not hunger.  I am also triggered by the sight and smell of food.  Recognizing this about myself aids me in resisting the temptation to overeat and encourages me to engage in some other activity.  I am not one hundred percent effective at this, but I have made tremendous progress and it is evident in my feelings and my figure.

                I realize that it is Thanksgiving week and many of you are not interested in talking about being mindful of what you eat when there is about to be mounds of food set before you.  You are thinking about getting your turkey or ham and who is going to cook what.  You’re probably doing your grocery, pulling out your recipes and creating your plan of action.  Since Thanksgiving is a time when we concentrate so much on food, I think it is the perfect time to begin the process of thinking about eat food. 

                Mindful eating entails thinking about what you eat, where you eat, when you eat, why you eat and how you eat.  It requires that we process every aspect of eating and that we eat with intention and purpose.  Mindful eating has helped me to better appreciate my food, making my food more enjoyable and beneficial.  There are steps to mindful eating that you can check out in the article referred to below.  I take heed to those steps and in this article, I am going to tell you how I do it.  No, I am not an expert and I may not follow these steps with every meal, but I am becoming more proficient.

                I practice Intermittent Fasting (IF), so I rarely eat breakfast and my first meal is generally not before 11 a.m.  I spend a portion of the morning thinking about what I am going to eat.  I think about how I am going to prepare it and what ingredients and cooking method I am going to use.  I envision myself putting it together and the pleasure I am going to experience preparing and eating it.  I rarely eat food that is not prepared at home.

                I place my prepared meal on a small plate.  Dinner plates hold far more food than most of us require.  Salads are usually served in a pasta bowl.  I look at my plate for several minutes.  I take in the colors, shapes, and textures.  I note in my mind whether my plate has a variety of colors on it.  That is a goal for me.  I smell my food, even attempting to identify the spices and herbs used in preparation. 

                I am learning how to eat in a quiet place, free from distractions including television and other electronic devices.  I always give thanks for my food, mindful of those who have nothing to eat and equally mindful of how much food is available to me and how easy it is for me to access.  When I pray over my food, I ask God to bless those who have nothing to eat and to use me to feed them.

                I chew my food slowly, attempting to savor every bite.  Chewing slowly helps to prevent overeating by giving the brain time to realize that you are eating.  Chewing quickly or gulping down food can cause overeating because by the time the brain signals that you are full you have already eaten too much.  I eat until I am no longer hunger.  I do not feel guilty if there is still food on my plate.  I simply save it for a future meal.

                When I finish eating, I think about how the food makes me feel.  Did I enjoy the meal?  Will I prepare this again?  Was it satisfying?  Do I feel energized or sleepy?  I try to listen to my body’s response to the meal.  I drink water afterwards.  I say, “Thank you,” again to God.

                That’s it.  That’s how I practice mindful eating.  It really helps me to eat intentionally and with purpose.  It makes me mindful of the people involved in ensuring that my food is accessible and safe.  It increases my desire to eat more “real” food and fewer processed items.  I believe it increases my body’s ability to utilize food more effectively and efficiently.  You should try it.  Start with one meal and see how it works for you.

https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/mindful-eating-guide#bottom-line

Make Sure the Children Are OKAY

Helping Our Children Through These Uncertain Times

                It was nothing but pride that made me refuse to see that my sons were experiencing depression.  It was nothing but pride that made me buy into the idea that children do not feel pain and loss to the same degree as adults.  It was nothing but pride that made me believe that I knew what was best for my children simply because I was their mother.  It was nothing but pride that prevented me from standing on the rooftop and crying for help for my broken family until someone heard and responded.  It was nothing but pride that made me ignore my mother’s suggestion that we get family counseling.  It was nothing but pride that made me believe that if I were okay, they would be okay.  Yet none of us were okay.

                By the grace of God my sons endured loss, pain, being misunderstood, their mother’s selfishness, their father’s rejection, and their stepfather’s sometime overbearing discipline.  By the grace of God, we continued to love each other even when we did not understand or like each other.  By the grace of God, we persevered through feelings of being misplaced.  By God’s grace we moved beyond the ignorance of believing that everything that is wrong with a child can be handled through punishment and whippings.  By the grace of God our healing process is in full effect and our beliefs on rearing children have evolve.

We are thankful for God’s grace.  Yet, our journey may not have been as rocky and tumultuous had I realized that as a parent it is not necessary for me to be the sole source for meeting every need.  Sometimes parents are the facilitators that ensures that those who are trained to meet needs are employed to do so.  The best parents seek out help and utilize it. 

During this pandemic, when parents are being forced to spend more time with their children, I hope that parents are paying attention to children.  Remember that children are people just as adults are people.  Children feel the same anxieties, fears, and angst as adults.  All is not well for our children.  Pay attention to your children.  This pandemic has caused them to suffer much loss.  Children often lack the language acquisition to express their feeling.  Sometimes they act out in ways we consider strange.  Pay close attention.  Do not brush off what your gut tells you is something you should be mindful of.  If you find your child’s behavior unsettling talk with your pediatrician.  Be proactive.   Of course, give plenty of hugs, have fun as much as you can, make life at home as simple as possible.  Enjoy each other. Be receptive to your children’s needs.

These times are affecting us all in ways that we cannot explain and may not even be aware of.  Do not ignore your own anxiety, fears, and angst.  Be honest and truthful with yourself and talk to your physician.  Get your own counseling to help you deal with the pressures and demands of family life during this time.  Most of us have never lived through anything like this.  Unfamiliarity often sparks trepidation.  So many varying news reports and conflicting information can make it difficult to make decisions and cause us to be unsure of ourselves. Family counseling may be necessary.

Children are vulnerable at every stage.  They must be protected and cared for during these times of great uncertainty and change.  Things may never be as they once were, but we must do everything we can to make children feel safe and secure.  There will be long term affects and transformations associated with this time in history.  Right now, families must work to emerge strong.  The future depends on it.  Make sure the children are okay.

These links may be helpful

https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/beyond-freud/202003/how-parents-can-help-their-children-during-the-pandemic

Encouragement for Care Givers

                This blog post is a portion from my book Encouragement for Care Givers.  November is Family Caregivers Awareness Month.  In 2013 I retired from a twenty-five year career as an educator to care for my husband after he suffered his second stroke.  It was a journey that took my entire family through a myriad of changes.  I continue to pray for caregivers everywhere.  While caregiving is rewarding and honorable it is difficult and requires self-care. 

                Get Regular Checkups

                The caregiver must remain healthy.  If you get sick, your loved on is in big trouble.  Get regular health checkups.  You are not helping the situation by avoiding the doctor.  You ensure that your loved one makes every doctor’s and therapy appointment.  You see to it that prescriptions are filled and picked up in a timely fashion and that all medication is given according to directions.  Now, do yourself and your loved one a favor and get a checkup.  The stress of being a caregiver can impede your body’s ability to function. Your immune system can be compromised.  What you think is the onset of a cold could be the onset of pneumonia.  Your blood pressure or glucose level might be higher than normal, wreaking havoc on your entire body.  You will never know what is going on inside your body and what to do about it unless you get a checkup.

                Eat Healthy and Exercise

                Caregivers use a great deal of energy.  That’s why it is important that you eat right.  You must fuel your body with the nutrients necessary for you to properly function.  You have many physical and mental task to undertake within the course of a day.  Take time to eat.  Eat right.  For optimal performance, eat food that God created.  Limit processed foods. Drink plenty of water.  Take nutritional supplements as needed.

                Caregivers are constantly on the move.  That does not take the place of concentrated exercise.  Your body needs to be strengthened inside and out.  Something as simple as stretching for twenty minutes a day will get your blood pumping and oxygen flowing throughout your body.  Oftentimes, caregivers are unable to go to the gym or hit the walking trail, but you can turn on your computer.  There is a vast collection of exercise videos on YouTube and other sites.  There are also exercise programs on some television stations.  If those options are not available, the do the calisthenics you learned in your high school physical education class or walk/jog in place.  The point is you need to get moving, concentrating on strengthening your own body for your own optimal health.

                Be Good to Yourself

                You may ask, “When do I have time to be good to myself?”  You make time.  During your time with God, ask him to lead you to time that is just for you.  In order to care for someone else, you must be physically, mentally and emotionally healthy.  Being a caregiver can take a toll on you in all three of these areas.  You are not required to be a martyr.  In addition to getting regular checkups be good to yourself.  Do something you enjoy.  Find time to laugh, time to have fun.  Read or listen to a good book.  Sit still for a moment.  Close your eyes.  Sit in the sun.  Breath the fresh air.  Listen to the birds sing.  Relax.

                Find someone to talk to.  You may be thinking that there is no one in whom you can confide.  Pray and ask God to send you someone who will listen to you and pray for you.  Start by talking to God first.  He understands your situation and is always available for you. 

                Spend time in solitude.  Time alone gives you the opportunity to decompress.  It also provides time to focus on something other than caregiving for a period of time.  Most of your thought throughout the day are concerned with caring for your loved one.  Practicing solitude gives your soul and your brain a much needed rest.

                Sleep.  The body and mind need rest.  The stress and energy expended caring for another can cause damage to your body.  Although there is much to do, refuse to work yourself to death.  Sleeps give the body the necessary time to repair itself.  God instated rest from the beginning of time.  Sleep is a part of that rest.

alone and away from the situation.  You need respite.  Pray to God to send you the right person and to put you at ease so that you can let someone help you.

Encouragement for Care Givers is available at Amazon.com and Barnesandnoble.com