A fictional conversation:

Overcomer: I'm pursuing my dream to [fill in the blank].
Fear: You know you've had some issues in the past, my love. Don't you fear failing?!
Overcomer: Everyone has had issues. What I fear is living a life of regret for not trying to fulfill my dream.

Fear: But what if you fail?!
Overcomer: What if I succeed?

Fear: Let's talk about that. Don't you fear what success can bring?
Overcomer: I'll let you know when I get there.

Overcomer: Fear, there's something I need to tell you.
Fear: What is it, dear? You know you can tell me anything. And you can count on me to point out your weaknesses so you don't get beside yourself. I'll always be here for you.
Overcomer: That's the problem. I've been in bondage because I've allowed you to keep me focused on my weaknesses. While I'm mindful of my weaknesses, I've decided to no longer be controlled by them. Instead, I'm focusing on my growth, my faith, my strengths, and the lessons I've learned. To that end, I need to tell you that your lease has been terminated, effective immediately!!! I took the liberty of packing your bags.
Your stuff has been taking up way too much space in my life. Bye, bye.

Often, we speak of having a "black sheep" in the family, or relatives or friends whose character, personality, outbursts, drunkenness, lewd behavior, etc. disgust or make us uncomfortable. (Think back to family gatherings--funerals, weddings, reunions, holidays, etc. as points of reference.) I'm referring to those who don't see themselves as having any issues and, accordingly, are doing nothing to improve themselves. This, despite the fact that very few willingly choose to be in their presence for extended periods of time. Typically, we have limited contact with them because we are distant in heart, geography, or both.

As I continue to work on my many imperfections, it makes me ask if I'm ready for my close-up? In other words, who am I without my life's makeup--for example, when I let down my hair, or when I'm alone? If those with whom I am distant got a good look at me and my life up close and personal, how cracked would my mirror be? Would I be the outcast? A question always worthy of examination for those of us on the path of continued improvement. "The true test of a man’s character is what he does when no one is watching." John Wooden

For purposes of traffic control, yellow lights caution us to slow down because a red light is imminent. How many of us race through yellow lights in an attempt to avoid/beat the red light, only to get caught by the next red light or behind a car traveling slower than the speed limit? I've been there a time or two.

We are presented with yellow lights in our daily lives, as well. Things that caution us to slow down or take a step back. We can get in a hurry if there's something we want or want to do, only to wish--once we have it--that we had taken the time to heed the cautionary yellow lights we saw along the way. Yellow lights like intuition, listening, observing, things learned through due diligence, etc. But we want what we want when we want it. And if we choose to race through the yellow light(s) and run through the red light(s) too, we may find there are consequences--for example, with business decisions, finances, friendships, romantic relationships, in attempts to achieve goals or live a dream, employment situations, etc.

I don't know about you, but I've raced through/ignored enough yellow lights in my life that I now respect and honor their protection. Clarity and blessings can result from respecting life's yellow lights. So, I've learned to slow down, put on the brakes in the presence of yellow lights, as it's better to proceed with caution than race to a bad result.
We sometimes allow others to tell us who we are--to name/define us--usually based on something negative. Growing up, we had the saying, "[s]ticks and stones may break my bones, but names will never hurt me." We, or our loved ones, repeated it when people were called out of their given names. Today, we hear countless stories of bullying; people using pejorative terms to describe others; folks telling others they're nothing or good for nothing; people being teased because they're different, etc. Everyone has moments of weakness, vulnerability, self-doubt, etc., and if those negative words are spoken repeatedly and/or at times of vulnerability, it may have a damaging effect.

For as long as I can remember, one of my favorite quotes has been, "[i]t does not matter so much what the thing is called as what the thing is".* So, for example, why not tear off the label of "victim" and be a victor; tear off the label of "good for nothing" and use your gift(s); tear off the label of "no one" and show you are a child of God who's loved,  blessed, precious, talented, and fearfully and wonderfully made; tear off the label of "ugly, disabled, or limited" and show your beauty while using your perceived limitation(s) to be a blessing to others; tear off the label of "outcast and different" and show your exceptionalism; tear off the label of "incapable" and step out of the shadows to exhibit your skills; tear off the label of "having little or nothing" and walk in your blessings. When people mislabel us it's often based on a snapshot in time and/or their own insecurities (we all have them). Absent unusual circumstances, why should any one thing, situation, or circumstance define the entirety of our lives? You know who you are and of what you're capable. If not, find others who can encourage you in this regard.

We must surround ourselves with people who know and call us by our proper name(s), who affirm, support, encourage, and uplift us. (For those of us fortunate to have such people in our lives, why not mentor others who don't?) We can't allow naysayers to tell us who we are or should be. Those folks struggle just like we do. We can't allow anyone to tell us what we're not capable of doing. Been there (see this). We can't allow anyone to tell us we're limited. Instead of absorbing things meant to harm us, we must allow them to motivate us to be everything we're purposed to be. Let's live up to who God says we are and can be rather than down to the naysayers.

What's in a name? Nothing or everything. It depends on whether the name represents who we know we are and what we're capable of based on what God says about us.

*Carter G. Woodson
I'm taking inventory of my year, reflecting upon the things that were good; things that expired or that  need to expire; the love in my life; contributions I've  made to the lives of others; contributions others have made to my life; what caused me to grow; where I had setbacks; the state of my joy; what, if anything, I  allowed to compromise my joy; what surprised me; what disappointed me; how I can do better; how I can be better, etc. I try to be mindful not to assess my year, or how I feel about the year, based on what's happening at the present time. Especially if what I'm currently experiencing is so good, or so challenging, that it's all-consuming. Because while it's important to be/live in the present, I find tremendous value in taking time to contemplate my year in its entirety. Just as a life cannot/should not be measured by one experience in isolation, I don't want to define my year solely based on what's happening in my life at the present time. And this may cause me to revisit some of the pain I've experienced this year, but I'm alright with that. Because it will also cause me to revisit my joys. And once I've had my time of reflection, I will celebrate the joy and hope I have that the light of 2014 will shine brightly for us all.

Wishing you a joyous, healthy, loving, peaceful, and prosperous 2014!!!

Have you seen the movie "It's a Wonderful Life"? It's broadcast on television during the Christmas season, but I sometimes watch it at other times of the year as its messages resound throughout. In the movie, the life of the protagonist, George Bailey, is challenging--to say the least. As a young man, George dreamed of college and traveling the world. Those dreams were dashed when George's father died and George had to take over the family business. After that, George did what he could to make the best of his life--a great deal of which included helping others. And just when it seemed things were going well, something happened that shook George to his core. Having endured one setback too many, George got tired. He was at the end of his rope, and believed things would be better if he wasn't alive, or had never been born. But before he was able to act on his despair, George was sent a guardian angel who showed him the blessings he had and how his life made a significant difference in the lives of others. In the end, George saw that despite his challenges he had a life worth living, rich in love. It seemed like he was so accustomed to making sacrifices and being there for others that he didn't realize they would be there for him in his time of need.

Some of life's greatest lessons are learned in the midst of our trials and tribulations. We may be devastated or discouraged along the way, but it's important to hold on. As older people used to say when I was growing up, "just keep living . . . chances come around." Nothing good or bad lasts forever, so we must make the best of our circumstances and allow our blessings, our faith, our hope, our joy, to cushion life's harsh blows. One thing from the movie that really resonated with me was that George didn't reach out to his family and friends to say he needed help. He suffered in silence. Many of us do so, thinking no one will understand; no one will be there for us; others will criticize us; we can handle it on our own, etc. I've been there. But like George, I have learned that when we have others who will love and support us in the midst of and through our pain--and allow them to do so--we'll find that it is, indeed, a wonderful life.
Living My Joy
Conventional wisdom says we should live below our means, specifically, our financial means. Makes sense, right? Because living above our financial means can have repercussions that ripple throughout our lives.

I've been living above my means for years. Not my financial means, but my life's means--my own personal capabilities to make things happen. When confronted with circumstances I cannot handle on my own--for example, forgiving what seems unforgivable, mustering the strength and courage to handle serious health issues, dealing with life's various setbacks, living my dreams, etc.,--I find it necessary to tap into my faith line of credit. Sometimes, the amount available is very small. But I've found that each time I access the line, my faith balance grows. My repayment plan consists of regular deposits of gratitude for what I have and what's on the way, as well as sharing my journey (the challenges and the victories) with others to provide encouragement. Living beyond my means is recognition and acceptance that winging it is sometimes/ofttimes necessary. And through it all, I'm still standing.
Living My Joy
Living My Joy
We often face circumstances in life where we believe that if we can direct, or gain control of, the situation, things will get better. Sometimes, this is, indeed, the case. But I have learned that many of my challenges are best resolved when after doing all I can do, I throw up my hands--not to give up--but in surrender to what is beyond my control, having faith that it's fully in God's control.

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.

Living My Joy
Here are some of the lessons I've learned while living in Paris:

1) When we don't try to understand each other, any language--even our mother tongue--is a foreign language.

2) Common courtesy and respect will take you a long way.

3) It's easy to see beauty in the obvious, but heartwarming to see it in the not so obvious.

4) Different is not wrong or bad . . . it's just different.

5) Being set in your ways is bondage.

6) Curiosity and learning are necessary for growth.

7) You can make a friend anywhere. A person whose language you don't understand can become a friend if you use your heart to communicate.

8) You'll miss out on treasures if you're not willing to step outside your comfort zone.

9) Much of life is beyond our control, so it's important to make the most of what's within our control.

10) Allowing fear of the unknown to keep you from trying something new can block your blessings.

Universal, n'est ce pas?