According to the dictionary, "masquerade" means "an action or appearance that is mere disguise or show", or "to assume the appearance of something one is not". Masquerading is nothing new. Older folks say it's been happening "since the beginning of time." You know, folks putting on airs; fronting, if you will.

Why do some folks masquerade, so much so that their lives often appear to be a masquerade ball? Who knows, maybe they're trying to keep up with the Joneses. And just who are the Joneses, and don't they know the Joneses have problems, too?! Some may masquerade because they envy their peers. Some may masquerade because they want their peers to envy them. But some may masquerade to hide pain--for example, the pain of brokenness, shame--broken lives, broken hearts, broken finances, loneliness (even those in a relationship), abusive relationships, depression, etc. For those of us who aren't masqueraders--at least not now--it's often easy to judge the "facades". But would we do so if we could see the pain and tears behind the masks?

One of the inherent dangers of masquerading is that we get so good at wearing our mask(s) that no one--not even those we want to know us--can see what we want them to see, including that we may need help. Masks can create distance and prevent us from truly connecting with others. So, before we ask others to see us, it's important that we see ourselves. Some of us are wearing so many masks that we don't even know ourselves. And sometimes we get our masks confused--wearing the wrong mask for the wrong occasion.

How exhausting, masking ourselves from ourselves and everyone else. But we can only hide out for so long. Because life has a way of making us drop our masks--at least temporarily. I don't know why this image came to mind, but have you ever seen someone snatch off their wig because it was too hot under there? Sometimes, life brings the kind of heat that causes us to snatch off our masks, or they inadvertently slip. In those instances, it's important that we've taken care to ensure that what's underneath the mask--our true identity--is a work in progress, no less worthy of being seen. And don't worry so much about what others may think . . . they have their issues, too.

Many of us are fortunate to be able to affirm ourselves, and have people in our lives who affirm us. But there are many who have no one to affirm them and, for whatever reason, are incapable of affirming themselves. Perhaps they feel lost, broken, wounded, rejected, dejected, worthless, hopeless, etc. Some don't even have the strength or ability to seek affirmation. They may fear rejection and/or embarrassment in doing so. What a difference we can make in the lives of others if we take a moment to affirm them. It can be as simple as offering a smile, saying hello, offering a hug, a compliment, a word of comfort or encouragement--letting people know they are seen, worthy of love, respect, support, compassion. Whether it's a stranger, a co-worker, an acquaintance, etc., we don't know what battles people are fighting on any given day. We often judge what we see, but the truth often lies in the unseen. We don't know who or what people go home to each day, assuming they have a home. We make assumptions based on limited knowledge, but we don't know. What will it cost us to affirm others? A little time and effort.

But what if we're presented with an opportunity to affirm someone we don't particularly like? What about someone we know doesn't like us? Or someone who has hurt us? Challenging, indeed. Will it cost us? Maybe. We may need to let down our guard, overlook our pride, our anger, our perceived need to hold on to a grudge or to be right, offer our time, effort, etc.--even if only temporarily. And there's always the possibility our efforts may be rebuffed, and we may suffer embarrassment. But if we are able to overcome those potential obstacles and make an attempt, we may find it is a salve not only for the person we affirm, but our own souls as well. And what if the person does rebuff our attempt to affirm them or continues with behavior we find offensive or unacceptable? As for me, if I've done what's in my heart, I'm learning to leave the rest to the person and God. That doesn't mean I won't have feelings about it, but I can only control my actions, not how others respond.

Whether affirming a stranger or someone we know, our act might just bring a ray of sunshine into the life of someone in need of a respite from life's rains. It could be the difference between someone holding on and giving up. While the gesture may seem small or inconsequential to us, it could change the course of someone's life.

Can you imagine your life without affirmation?

After you've prepared for the planting season, it's time to plant the seeds for your dream. By gathering the information necessary to formulate your plan and analyze your circumstances, you've had time to consider the amount of work involved. Now it's time to move from thinking to doing. The planting season is when your commitment to your dream will be tested. Because if you've truly prepared for the planting season, you're intimately familiar with your weeds (your baggage). It's time to start pulling them. Are they emotional, spiritual, financial, physical? And only you know the best approach for addressing them. Is it counseling, therapy, forgiving, releasing, asking others you believe are successful to mentor you, etc.? If you don't pull the weeds by this stage, you take the chance that they may strangle the shoots of your dream. At a minimum, they could significantly decrease the joy of realizing and living your dream.

If you've determined you don't have the necessary professional and/or interpersonal skills to realize your dream, this is the time to close that gap. It might be through volunteering with an organization that does what you're dreaming of, attending classes--whether in-person or online, networking with others via social media, or good old-fashioned face-to-face connections, etc.

Whatever your dream, it's time to put your plan into action--file the applications, apply for the license, the loan, find your office, house, purchase your airline ticket, etc. And while there's often a natural order to things, it's the nature of life that some things happen before you're ready or think you're ready. The question is whether you take the leap and move forward or wait until you feel prepared. Sometimes, it's an opportunity to stretch yourself; other times, it's testing your willingness to wait for the right timing. It's important to catch opportunities when you can, but it's also important not to jump too soon. Either way, there's a lesson involved, and only you know based on your individual circumstances which risk(s) you're willing to take.

I believe it's important to envision yourself actually living your dream. In my case, I don't think I could have made the leap to move to Paris if I had not envisioned myself there. My circumstances were such that it didn't seem possible, even though there was no doubt in my mind that I had to go. But it's also important not to throw caution to the wind. There will be flags. Some mean move forward, some mean stop, some mean proceed with caution. Rather than moving forward with reckless abandon, see the flags for what they are and be grateful for them. Perhaps there's more work to be done, or the timing is off. Or, maybe they appear because of your doubts and fears. Just don't let them paralyze you. Otherwise, they'll steal your blessing(s).

Finally, the planting season is an opportune time to allow for and make revisions to your plan. It's important to leave a little room around your seed for it to grow. If you hold on too tightly to your original plan, you may jeopardize the health of your seed. Make room for mistakes, setbacks, discouragement and disappointments--they will occur. Try to see them as opportunities for growth. If you're committed to your dream, you'll find the courage to face them and make the soil for planting the seeds of your dream healthier. Utilize your support system for encouragement as it's important to water/nurture your soil.

Is it possible to realize your dream without taking the aforementioned steps? Some people do. But a strong, firm foundation certainly helps when you're trying to maintain what you've accomplished. As in life, there are no guarantees. Bear in mind that weeds will sprout from time to time, but if you nurture your soil, you'll be more likely to battle the weeds successfully. If you remain grateful, optimistic yet realistic, committed, and tenacious, with proper preparation and action you should be well on your way to determining if the seeds you've planted will take root and grow into the realization of your dream. Enjoy the journey!
Are you familiar with the bible story of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego? It's one of my favorites. You can read it in its entirety in Daniel 3. In summary, it's the story of three men who disobeyed the king's edict to fall down and worship the king's golden statue, and ended up being thrown into a fiery furnace. They stood firmly on their belief that there is only one true God--the only one they would worship. They believed that their God would deliver them from the furnace, but even if He did not, they would not bow down to serve any other god. As a result, the king had the heat in the furnace increased sevenfold, and the men were bound and thrown fully clothed into the fiery furnace. Many people came to watch. However, as the king was looking inside the burning furnace, he noticed there were not 3, but 4, men walking around in the fire, with one looking like a god. He called for Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego to come out. The fire hadn't touched them at all--they were unscorched, unsinged, untainted even by the smell of smoke.

Have you ever been thrown in life's furnace? I know I have. Many times. And I've often felt like a circus monkey with some folks watching to see if I would be scorched. Now  there were times when I was singed because I was trying to handle things on my own. But in those times when I wore the right clothes (some of you know where I'm going with this), I came out unharmed. I don't mean there weren't some lessons learned. If we're smart, we're always looking for lessons. But when I put on my armor and, instead of trying to handle it myself, looked to God for my help, those are the times I came out of the fire without even a hint of smoke. And I feel joy in my soul about that.
How about you? Have you ever felt like Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego? How did you handle it?