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
What is the predominant language of your life? Hopefully, it's a language of hope, faith, gratitude, and possibility. For some of us, our predominant language is of lack, limitation, and negativity. For example, we speak in terms of what we don't have; what's wrong in our lives; what we can't do; how good things never or rarely happen to us, etc. And then when something doesn't work out for us, we see it as confirmation of our language/way of thinking. Such language/thinking can discourage us and others with whom we come into contact. We all suffer disappointments and setbacks from time to time, but when we consistently use the language of lack and limitation, we underestimate ourselves and God. When we speak the language of lack and limitation, we risk living a life of lack and limitation. We often draw to ourselves what we think/believe.

It may be time to "learn" a different language so our words reflect our desires. I say "learn" because the more deeply entrenched we are in our words, habits, and patterns of behavior, the more difficult it is to change them. When we find ourselves complaining about what we don't have and what's wrong in our lives, why not express gratitude for what we do have and what's right in our lives. When we feel inclined to talk about what we can't do, why not discuss what we can do. And then do it. When we find ourselves saying that good things never or rarely happen to us, why not look back to where we've been and what we've overcome and own that goodness. A change of language may create opportunities, encourage faith, and inspire ourselves and others. If we say we desire something, our words and actions should reflect that desire. And while changing our language is not a guarantee that things will go exactly as we hope or plan, it can certainly place us on a better path. Who knows, we may just end up accomplishing goals and living our dream(s). Those are possibilities that make it worth examining the language of our lives.
Spring is here. And with its arrival has come a new season of allergies, requiring a range of treatments from antihistamines to epinephrine.

I have found that I suffer from other allergies. For example, I'm allergic to drama, envy, negativity, discouragement, dishonesty, a lack of compassion, a lack of accountability, and other things. These traits--in myself or others--cause me discomfort and/or irritation, much like allergies with physical consequences. If I allow the discomfort or irritation  to remain untreated, the consequences may range from joystipation to stealing my joy. And anything that threatens my joy requires attention. So I use faith, hope, peace, courage, love, patience, honesty, compassion, encouragement, and gratitude, among other things, to address the discomfort. And when I'm successful, I find relief.

Negativity is a "gift" that keeps on giving. If, upon receipt, we don't immediately discard it as ugly and unappreciated, we may end up sharing or re-gifting it. I can think of better gifts to give and receive. How about you?
I'm always moved by this performance from the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater--partly due to the performance itself; partly due to the background song. At this time of the year when Christians, in particular, are taking stock of our lives, the song reminds me that there are just some things I can't fix myself.
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!
Last week's post discussed lessons I learned in the process of living my dream, as well as those learned in hindsight. All things I would have found instructive had I known them at the beginning of my process. This week's post is about the process of preparing to realize your dream*--what I call the "getting real with yourself" assessment process. Honesty with yourself is crucial at this point to eliminate or limit issues you may face as you progress with your plans. It was during this part of the process that I felt most vulnerable to discouragement but driven to succeed.

It helps to begin by articulating your dream, determining if it's actually your dream or a dream someone else has for you, and then formulating a plan to realize your dream. What is the broad framework of the plan? What are the details? I found significant value in committing my thoughts to writing. Although my initial plan required revision as it began to take form, having it in writing helped me to get organized and visualize where I was headed. Some people like to create vision boards for this purpose.

Writing down your thoughts may also assist in determining what due diligence is necessary. For example, have others done what you want to do? If so, how? What research is necessary to facilitate your plan? What tools or skills are necessary to realize your dream? What is a realistic timeframe, some of the potential challenges, etc? Due diligence is important because it provides perspective on how much work will be required during the planting season--that is, when you begin to actually put your plan into effect. Some people get stuck at this stage due to the magnitude of their goals or dreams. The more they realize what's required they don't know where to begin. If that's the case, I say dream big, start small. While it's inevitable that you'll miss some things along the way, at this point you're just gathering information. Try to avoid taking on too much and becoming overwhelmed.

Finally, it's important to make an honest examination and assessment of your soil (your personal circumstances) to determine its suitability for the planting season. This includes your family situation, your talents and skills, doubts, fears, openness to change, ability and willingness to learn, resilience, influences, finances, commitment to your plan, etc. It's not about perfection. It's about knowing and considering how your circumstances may impact pursuing your dream.

The value of preparing for the planting season is that it gives you clarity on both your plan and your circumstances. It's important to listen and learn during this stage--even from those who may attempt to discourage or influence you. You will have to live with the decision you make, so make the one you are prepared to live with and accept the consequences. This might be a very emotional and time-intensive stage. Find encouragement (learning to encourage yourself is critical), enjoy the journey (don't get so bogged down in the process that you lose your joy and the excitement of your dream), be patient, find or create laughter where you can, and don't underestimate yourself. Be grateful for where you are now, for what you have, the challenges of this process that will help you learn about things, yourself, and others, and know that your journey will likely inspire you and others.

*For purposes of this discussion, when I use the word "dream", I'm including "purpose". For some people, their dream and purpose are the same. For others, they are different.

Ok, here's a little pep talk:
Living My Joy
Whenever I see this sculpture, I'm reminded of life's walls. They come in many shapes, sizes, textures, and dimensions. Some seem insurmountable. And walls serve different purposes. Some act as protection. Some as detours. Some as complete barriers. Some as nuisances. Some as tests. Some walls are dangerous to touch or climb. Some can be climbed over, passed under, or walked around. Some can be razed. And some walls require breaking through. But how can we know? Whether it's a hope, dream, goal, or daily life, I have found through much trial and error that the only way to approach my life's walls is through prayer for discernment. In its absence, I've suffered many broken bones or gotten stuck trying to break through walls that were intended to protect me or teach me lessons. It's important to know which walls are meant to be broken through, and which are not.
Her eyes sparkled like stars in the sky, her smile lit up a room like the sun, her heart was open, and her love unconditional. My friend, Gigi.  She was the kind of friend who supported and encouraged you when she was the one in need.  Gigi battled cancer throughout most of our friendship.  And battle she did.  She battled it with faith in God and joy.  It was difficult to believe Gigi was sick because she didn't look sick and spent as much time as possible loving, giving, laughing, and dancing.  She never hesitated to thank God for the many blessings in her life, and always counseled me to have faith--that "doubt is the thief of God's blessings."  I remember when Gigi called to tell me she had breast cancer.  And I remember years later when she called to tell me that her breast cancer metastasized to her bones.  Throughout this time we would attend church together and I would watch in amazement as she praised God.  I had no understanding.  Although I was a Christian at the time, my faith was weak and I was a "woe is me" disciple, so I did not recognize or understand Gigi's joy.  I found her circumstances depressing and could not figure out why she wasn't in bed cradled in a fetal position.  But Gigi had that fire on the inside.  She knew something I didn't--that you may not be able to choose whether illness befalls you, but you can often choose whether you suffer or live joyfully.  Gigi chose to live joyfully.  I had the pleasure of seeing her raise her children, find love and get married during her battle with cancer.  By no means was her journey easy, but she lived her life with a fierce determination to make it as rich and meaningful as possible.

I have learned that life's lessons are sometimes presented before we need them.  Rarely does a week go by when I don't think of Gigi and all she taught me about living joyfully in the midst of illness.  It has been seventeen years since Gigi died a physical death, but her legacy of joy lives on.  What a gift!