How to Achieve Hard Stuff

I considered myself to be a fairly fit person until I met Stone Mountain. Stone Mountain is a sight to behold, about 10 miles outside of downtown Atlanta,  it is the world’s largest piece of exposed granite. It is a sight to behold. When you get to the top of Stone Mountain, the view will take your breath away with a breathtaking view of Atlanta and the surrounding areas, it is glorious. On one side of the mountain is a carving of the leaders of the Confederate army, which is fraught with all types of controversy as to whether it should be removed but that is the subject for another post.

The road to Stone Mountain is steep, uneven and deceiving with jutting rocks and gravel. It is so deceiving you will ascend to one portion of the mountain and believe you have reached the top and then you will catch sight just ahead of an even steeper incline in front of you. It is completely unpredictable. At the end of summer, September 2018, I began my first of many hikes up Stone Mountain. The battle up the mountain made me consider what it means to achieve hard stuff in this world, to go against the tide, to scale high heights that not many would attempt.

It is not easy but so worth it. Once, I finally made it to the top, the view was so worth it. It was even more worth it for the euphoria of accomplishment and overcoming a difficult challenge. In my way down, in a moment of deep reflection, I began to list the top 5 necessary items and tools to achieve hard stuff so here are my musings:

5. Don’t be surprised by a lack of motivation or times of frustration, prepare for it.

When you start the challenge, you are going to be hyped, excited, ready to take on the world. It will not last, it never does. Most people think it will so they do not prepare for when it does not and they believe they no longer supposed to continue. Not true. Everything is seasonal, even motivation but the key is to keep going even when you are not feeling it. How do you do that? Great question. Here some other tips to keep yourself motivated in the midst of an uphill battle.

4. Get your tribe.

I started hiking by myself but eventually fell in step with a group. 
one was a man who looked to be in his 60s, another was a family with a boy who looked to be like 3 or 4 years old with a walking stick. Everytime I looked at these two athletes and the other people in our little makeshift group, I said surely, if they can do it, I can too. My ankle started throbbing at one point, I stopped briefly to stretch it out and then kept moving to catch up with the group. Get people around you who are moving in the same direction who will push you to make it.

3. Acknowledge the pain but do not bask in it.

Doing hard stuff is well…hard, no ifs, ands or buts around it, that is why so many people avoid hard stuff, it takes determination, time and resources do hard stuff. Some things you encounter will be painful, I guarantee it. But similar to what I mentioned with my ankle, acknowledge the pain but don’t fall into the trap of self pity and fear. I can say this honestly because I did it for years, it is easy to do but I believe if you keep moving you will learn how to manage the pain yet still make the destination (and win!) or the pain will go away on its own and the goal is still met (another win!) Keep moving, don’t let pain stop you.

2. Focus on the end to get you through.

At one point, every muscle in my body felt like it was screaming and ready to give up in protest. So, I started to play a game where I imagined myself at the top, wind blowing through my hair, relaxed and accomplished. Did it make the pain stop? Nope. Did it make it bearable? Absolutely. I stopped focusing on it, it was like an annoying photo bomber who just refuses to step out of your frame but it was not the main thing. The main thing was the top, the goal of completing, finishing, accomplishing, my mind was already there just had to physically get there

1. Pay it Forward.

When I got to the top, it was glorious, my body felt like one big ball of hurt but my mind and spirit felt incredible. It was better than I imagined the view, the feeling, the wind and the sense of peace and accomplishment. I basked in it for awhile and the headed back down the mountain, triumphant and pleased. Well on the way down the mountain, I ran into my former self, so many people still making the upward battle, faces twisted in pain, chests heaving, wondering when and if the end will ever come. And I started cheerleading, I encouraged them, told them “you are almost there, great job, keep going, you are going to feel so great when you are done.” I saw there faces relax for a bit, renewed confidence and focus and their pace quicken a bit in anticipation for the end. We all need encouragement, we are just wired that way. Once we make it, we have an obligation to help others, we cannot do it for them, we may not be able to carry them but we can encourage them, we can be open to serve as inspiration that they can do it too and it is possible.

I believe we are created for hard stuff, if you are not moving forward, you are falling back.

Look at how beautifully complex our bodies and minds are, we were created to solve problems, achieve the unattainable and scale the impossible.

We owe it to our Creator and we owe it to ourselves.

Go get it.

Good Dirt

I am not extremely familiar with horticulture but I am pretty familiar with the basics. The cycle of horticulture is standard, the cycle of planting, tending, watering, growing, pruning and harvesting. This concept is a powerful analogy of the concept of our lives. In the lives of humans, ideas, habits, mindsets, activities are planted in our lives either through things we have adopted through experiences like family or environment, things we have learned and adopted along the way. These systems will inevitably produce a harvest, one that we appreciate or one that we struggle with. When these new habits or thoughts are presented to our lives, we often do not give much thought to the outcome, perhaps at the time it addresses a need or seems like a worthy pastime.

I remember when I started feeling anxious as a child. It was all tied to my mother. As a precocious only child raised by a single mother, I viewed my parent as my only lifeline and I constantly worried something would happen to her. I remember fearfully looking out a large picture window in the living room of our flat waiting for my mom to arrive home. My ten year old mind would race fearing she had been in a car accident or accosted by an armed person because she should have been home ten minutes ago. Each night, she would arrive home a few minutes later and I would breathe a huge sigh of relief. This went on for years and my fears graduated to what people thought of me, my future, my job, my safety, and anything else I could find to be afraid of. In retrospect, I never learned the skill of acknowledging and addressing fear in a positive manner. I never challenged the fear with trust or love. And so it grew, like a seed planted, I watered it with insecurity, fear, ignorance and consistency. As an adult in her thirties, I bore the harvest of years of unaddressed fears. I suffered anxiety attacks every day and would sleep for hours just to escape the thoughts. Sometimes, I would wake up and mercifully, I could function for awhile, most often I could not, they would instantly return.

Through misery and pain, I learned something had to change and it needed to be me. I began to plant different seeds through actively seeking a relationship with God, facing my vulnerabilities and dysfunctions, allowing God to heal my insecurities and destroy lies with truth. It was a slow process, too slow for my liking. But, we must understand planting and harvesting is a slow process despite the desire for immediate results.

God’s process is so much better than immediate results. It was four years before I started to feel some substantive relief But, during that time, I experienced the most ugly and beautiful time of my life as I clung to God as the only lifeline who could help me. God rooted me in Him, I can never fool myself into thinking I did anything, during those four years I was sustained by God. Not only did I keep my job but I thrived in my job, received a promotion and received awards for the work I had done. Simultaneously, I became the president of a non profit organization with over 150 members and managed a team of 12 board members, all while experiencing the most challenging season of my life. In hindsight, it is incredible and glorious to see the favor of God in your life even as you struggle.

Every day, you are planting with the thoughts you think, the activities you do, the people you spend time with and the words you say. Make them good, make them holy so it will reap and incredible harvest. A good question to ask, is will this thought, person or experience bring me a positive result in the future? Or negative? Then with your knowledge make a choice.

the Bible says, “the power of life and death is in the power of the tongue and those that love it, shall eat its fruit, Proverbs 18:21. In Deuteronomy 30:19-20 it says, “This day I call the heavens and the earth as witnesses against you that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Now choose life, so that you and your children may live and that you may love the Lord your God, listen to his voice, and hold fast to him.”

We make choices every day, recognize that choices are connected to the future, they have promissory notes that state, if you do this, this will happen or if you select this, that will happen. Choose that which will serve God and bring life. Choose wisely.

Beauty Trap

Hi Darling!

Beauty is an addiction and an obsession for many.

This world has equated the worth of women to the perception of their beauty. The impossible measure of beauty has caused many so much pain and that was never God’s intention in making women.

Many of us are always seeking the magic answer that will make us more beautiful, more desirable to the world. I just got finished watching 30 minutes on Youtube of mid-twenty wholesome, beautiful girls spending an inordinate of times transforming themselves with endless loads of makeup into glamazons. Amid compliments of “girl, your face is beat” and “SLAY….” they are just a shadow of their makeup-free, fresh-faced selves. When did we get so obsessed with our looks to the detriment of our inner beauty? When did we get so obsessed with ourselves? Trust me, I put myself in this category as well.

God made us beautiful, every single one of us.

Each one of us, He knit us perfectly in our mother’s wombs. When we were little, we knew we were magnificent and no one could not tell us any different. Slowly but surely, somewhere around grade school, the self confidence, the internal assurance began to crumble.

I remember one incident that especially hurt my self esteem. My mother had gone out of town and I was staying with a family friend. I really adored the daughters of this family, the older I worshiped and the younger I adored. On one particular day, it was just myself and the older daughter in the house. She was on the phone talking to a friend and complaining bitterly about me, “Her hair is so nappy and so thick, god, it is ugly!” In the next room, I heard every word she uttered and remembered the shame and embarrassment.

Subconsciously, I believed that something was wrong with me, with my hair and maybe I was not as amazing and beautiful as my mother told me.

As I grew, whenever there was a rejection it seemed like a confirmation of that destructive thought, “I am not pretty, I am not OK as I am.”

So I got in line, I permed my hair, I wore makeup, I wore the right clothing, I worked on being friends with the right girls and sought affirmation from men. I was elated when I received it and crushed when I did not receive it.

But no matter what, there was always this emptiness, I equate it to a black hole because the affirmation and the acceptance felt good for a little while but eventually I was needy again.

This world is unforgiving with women and it can never affirm us, people can never affirm us, only God can.

We have to go to God to find our worth to find our true beauty. He is the only one who can affirm us and fill up the black hole with his love, acceptance and encouragement, not people.

So here are my top five reasons why God can be the only answer to the aching question, “am I beautiful?”

Top 5 Reasons to Seek God for Affirmation

“A king’s heart is a water channel in the Lord’s hand:He directs it wherever He chooses.” Why waste your time seeking affirmation from ants when you can serve the Almighty God? He controls all things and all people.When God is rooting for you, He can turn the heart of your boss, the heart of your spouse, the heart of your enemy to benefit you. Proverbs 21:1 says in the Lord’s hand, the king can provide abundance, favor and blessings to God’s chosen. Look at the stories of Esther, Joseph, David, Daniel, and many others in the Bible who God hand picked and elevated through the governing powers of that time. Stop sitting at the kids table when God has a seat for you with adults.

“Charm is deceptive and beauty is fleeting but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised.” Proverbs 31:30 says fearing the Lord is the beginning of all wisdom and those who fear the Lord shall be praised. Fleeting means vanishing quickly, short-lived brief and swift. So therefore, if you have hung your life on being beautiful what happens when beauty fades? Do not root your worth in temporal things.

“Your beauty should not come from outward adornment, such as braided hair and the wearing of gold jewelry and fine clothes. Instead it should be that of your inner self, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is of great worth in God’s sight.” Your beauty should be innate as much a part of you as your energy and your soul. Beauty should not be something you can take off or put on for that matter like jewelry, clothes or makeup, it should be baked into your spirit. Taking on the character of Jesus, his humility and his kindness is beauty incarnate. When you find your beauty in worldly things in your external looks, it is counterfeit, not lasting. Find your affirmation and worth in the character of Jesus.

“For it was You who created my inward parts; you knit me together in my mother’s womb.I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made, your works are wonderful and I know this very well.” I read Psalm 139:14 countless times but I understood this verse much differently as I grew closer to the Lord. God made every single one of us, each person He handcrafted with precision and purpose. I do not know if you have ever knitted before, I tried it for a half a second and gave up in frustration. Knitting is not for the impatient, it is for the precise, the painstaking and the patient. And God took his time with you, He was precise, He was particular and He was purposeful. God makes no mistakes, He made you for a time such as this, He made you to look just as you do and you are perfection in His eyes, bump what everyone else thinks.

“For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly that you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgement, in accordance with the faith God has distributed to each of you.” I was whining about some small annoyance to a dear sister friend in Christ, she listened patiently and then quoted Romans 12:3. It snapped me right out of my self-obsessed coma and I thanked her quickly for the correction. A huge reason why we crave affirmation is to feed our always hungry, never satisfied egos. Behind all of it is a sin that has proven to be the downfall of many including our enemy, that is PRIDE. Ladies, we have to check ourselves, check our prideful attitudes and our obsession with self. Jesus never thought of Himself only others, He was extremely obedient to God to the point of dying for us. We, too, must lay down our focus on self and focus on Christ.

Masterpiece

For most of my life, I have not really liked myself. I just sort of put up with me like an intolerable sibling that you wish you could shake but know there is no way. I secretly wished I was more intelligent, more witty, more pretty, more accomplished and just more. When I experienced rejection, disappointment or heartbreak subconsciously I attributed it to the fact that I was not enough. Yet when things went my way, it must have been dumb luck because I was not really sure how it happened to me. 

I hid my distaste for myself pretty well, you would never know it to interact with me or even as my friend.

It was not something you could easily see and I always said self affirming and confident comments concerning myself but I was hiding. In hindsight, I do not believe I was intentionally dishonest, I just did not know me and I just said what I thought I was supposed to say not what I really, truly felt. The truth of it all was that not only did I not like me, I actually hated myself. 

Can you relate to any of this?

It can be tough to love yourself in this world. This world encourages comparison, materialism and accomplishment. The house of self-worth and self-love is often built on the shaky foundation of image, positions, relationships and possessions. It is conditional tied to outcome and not intrinsic.  So, I love myself based on conditions, because I have this car, this job, this opportunity, this partner, even if my hair looks cute today, it is based on external things, conditions outside of who we truly are, which is dangerous. Oftentimes, the shaky house must come crashing down for us to discover what it truly means to love oneself. We can then see the foundation for what it truly is, weak and flimsy. And then begin to build our house on a foundation that is unshakable. 

A big part of loving yourself is knowing yourself. Well that creates a problem because many of us will not take the time to get to know ourselves, slow down from the rat race, the continuous checklists, appointments, events and need to dos in order to spend some alone time. I know that life all too well, I had no idea who I was, had no interest in getting to know me, I much preferred hearing how others experienced me. Until the day came, where I had no choice but to face myself and get to know who I actually was, the good, the bad and the ugly. One of the most fascinating parts about learning oneself is that it is a lifelong journey, you will evolve, change and progress and learn more about yourself as time goes on. Each lesson learned and opportunity provides an experience to love yourself more.

Why is self love so important?

Simply because it affects everything in your life, the way you see yourself will affect how you see God, the world and others. It will affect your ability to follow God and do His will. It will affect your capacity to serve others. It will determine the presence or absence of joy in your life. It will dictate your friends, your job, your surroundings and even the spouse that you marry. It will affect what type of parent you will be or currently are and how you will raise your kids, it will determine how you show up in situations, what you permit and what you do not allow. It will determine your ability to achieve the purpose God has for you in this world.

The awesome part about this journey is that God does not leave us alone to figure this out, He would much prefer that you see yourself through His eyes with His outlook. As our creator, He can provide detail and context that you cannot possibly understand. The best way to understand and fully optimize anything is to understand the purpose and instructions for use from its creator.

Let’s take a look at how God sees us to see how it measures up to how we think about ourselves.

First God, formed and knitted us in our mother’s wombs, He determined how you would look, the way your eyes would look, your smile and your hands, your temperament and your laugh. He created all of that. In all of his time, God has NEVER made a mistake, never created something that was just OK. Everything he creates is good so by process of elimination that must mean you are good too. 

GOOD.

God also says that we are his masterpiece created to do good works. Mona Lisa is probably one of the most well known masterpieces in the world. Painted by Leonardo Da Vinci, the original is housed in the Louvre in Paris, France with armed guards, under climate controlled LED bulletproof glass. The original is worth nearly a billion dollars, the Mona Lisa has been imitated, reproduced and even spoofed but there is only one. That is how God sees you as His masterpiece, He created only one of you and you are priceless to Him so much so He gave Himself up for you.

MASTERPIECE.

When there is an exchange that takes place, it demonstrates equal value between the two items in question. To God, He believes your life, your worth and value is comparable to His own. What incredible love….

BELOVED.

When you see yourself through the eyes of God, it is no longer about where you measure up, it is all about the inherent value that you have just by being His child, His offspring.

VALUED.

Feeding Time

Every plant I get eventually dies, every single one. Plants seem like a great idea in theory but they just do not work for me. It is something about the feeding, I either do not feed the plants enough or sometimes too much and before I know it, it is wilted, dry and just sad. Another one bites the dust.

Everything around us including ourselves, need regular feeding, it is a necessary part of life to receive sustenance in order to grow and produce. We feed our bodies consistently with all types of food, which allow us to function with energy and vitality throughout the day. We feed our minds with books, vision and challenges. We feed our bodies with food, exercise and rest.

Yet, how do we feed the Spirit?

if you have or currently attended a Christian church, you have likely heard of the trinity, God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit. Yet, who exactly is the Holy Spirit? Why is the Spirit so important?

The Holy Spirit is the most powerful creator, healer, teacher, counselor and transformer you will ever experience. And he is so much more…

Genesis 1:1-3, ” In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. The art was formless and empty, and darkness covered the deep waters. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the surface of the waters. Then God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. And God saw the light was good. Then he separated light from darkness.”

The Holy Spirit then went on to create water and earth, plants, trees, animals days and nights, man and woman. The Holy Spirit took nothing and made what we know as creation with all of its beauty, complexity and balance.

2 Corinthians, 3:16, “But whenever someone turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away. For the Lord is the Spirit  and wherever the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. So all of us who have had that veil removed can see and reflect the glory of the Lord. And the Lord-who is the Spirit- makes us more and more like him as we are changed into his glorious image.”

The Holy Spirit sets us free and has the power to transform and change us from who we are into who we truly are.

I recently saw the superhero movie Black Panther, which was a wonderful movie. Our society seems to have an obsession with superheroes, those individuals with superhuman powers and gifting that have the ability to free, save and transform. I believe we secretly want to be superheroes in our own lives, to those we love and care about and even society at large.

We want to save the day, we want to be the answer.

Truth is, we already are all of those things through the Holy Spirit.

The Holy Spirit is greater than Superman, Spiderman, Iron Man, Black Panther, Wonder Woman and any other superhero past or future. Matter of fact, it is not even a close competition. So if this type of incredible power lies in each one of us, why oh why, don’t we rely upon it?

Ruled by own free will, we consciously make decisions to rely on our own shaky and frail devices, our minds, our strength and intuition, rather than rely on the unmitigated power of the Holy Spirit. It is similar to benching the  best, undefeated professional football players that have never been defeated, the best of the best, the A-team, the quarterback, wide receiver and offensive and defensive players during the Super Bowl and then trotting out an elementary school PeeWee team to play against a formidable opponent.

Sounds crazy right? It is.

Just like with our body and mind, we must intentionally join in relationship with the Holy Spirit. Spending time is key by reading the Bible regularly, praying, applying God’s Word to your life, being thankful for what God has given you. Feed the Holy Spirit with consistency and intentionality to tap into the awesome power.

Think about when you have been intentional about growing a relationship with a significant other, spouse of new friend, you consistently spent time together and learned about each other. In this case, the Holy Spirit knows everything about you but you need to learn about him. The relationship progresses as does the trust and love, you may hit rough spots and have wonderful moments as well but you make it through and the relationship is stronger for it. The same is true for your relationship with God.

After leaning on the Holy Spirit for several years, I had a moment of reflection and gratefulness for everything the Holy Spirit had brought me through.

My life changed in almost every way I lost a lot but what I gained was beyond my wildest dreams, I lost low self-esteem and insecurity, I lost friends that were not headed in the same direction, I lost my addiction to TV. I lost the need to define myself by being in relationships and the clothes I wore. I gained purpose, freedom, peace, joy, love and my best friend in the Holy Spirit. I have never been so fulfilled in my entire life yet I do not have any of the people or things I thought I needed.

The Holy Spirit will make you completely new, change you into who you were created to be.

Ephesians 4:21-24, “Since you have heard about Jesus and have learned the truth that comes from him, throw off your old sinful nature and your former way of life, which is corrupted by lust and deception. Instead, let the Spirit renew your thoughts and attitudes. Put on your new nature, created to be like God-truly righteous and holy.”