It's been said that what others think of us is none of our business. But many of us spend a significant amount of time worrying about what others think and/or trying to please others, many of whom mean well and/or want the best for us. As a result, some live in bondage, full of fear and insecurities, unable to make decisions on their own. While there are times in life when we need guidance, support, and encouragement, it's important that we learn how and when to forge our own paths, without seeking validation/approval. We're all unique. How can we find our life's purpose or forge our own path if we don't learn to appreciate and rely upon our own faith, gifts, skills, strengths, values, talents, sensibilities, creativity, etc.? Always concerning ourselves with what others think may result in others dictating our life's journey. That makes it their journey, not ours. If we follow their path, anger, resentment, and dissatisfaction may result.

When we forge our own path, there will be mistakes, setbacks, and challenges. They are part of life's journey, and I don't know anyone who hasn't experienced them. Even if we're not successful on a path we take, it's the path we chose. That means we must accept responsibility for it, and the lessons are ours to learn. Is there the possibility of hearing, "I told you so", and "Oh, well", if the path we take turns out to be a bad one? Absolutely. And is it possible we'll need help? Yes.
But it's important to bear in mind that just like we chose one path, we can choose another. It may not be easy, but we shouldn't allow that to deter us. If we want to accomplish something, we should take as many paths as necessary to get there. Many successful people experienced some of their greatest successes after suffering disappointments and defeats on a path they chose. They succeeded because they stayed focused on their end game, and changed or corrected their course as necessary to get there.

In my own life, I've found it's easier to swallow the bitter pill of mistakes, challenges, and setbacks when I'm minding my own business--that is, forging my own path. Truth be told, those who may offer opinions have been there themselves.

 
 
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.


 
 
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LIVING MY JOY
Recently, I saw a little girl around the age of 3 dressed as a princess, waving a wand. She looked at me and said, "I'm on my boat." Clearly, she was using her imagination as we were standing on the ground. How wonderful it would be to one day learn that she owns a boat and/or a company that builds or sells boats. And it made me wonder, when do we lose that--our sense of imagination; our ability to envision things in our minds that don't [yet] exist? That's the stuff dreams are made of, right?

For the longest time, I thought everyone had dreams. It wasn't until I started speaking mine into existence and asking others about theirs that I discovered that's not the case. Some never had dreams; some had their dreams dashed; others believed their life circumstances made dreaming futile. But there are plenty of us who do have dreams. Those who think in terms of possibility rather than futility. In other words, that it's not over until it's over.

Having been blessed to realize most of my dreams, I know it's not easy. If you've been following this blog, you know I realized my dream to live in Paris, France as a result of illness. The dream existed many years before my move, and never in my wildest imagination could I have envisioned making the move while ill, let alone because of illness. That wasn't in my DNA. I didn't take such risks. Who in their right mind (some, I'm sure, questioned mine) would move to a foreign country, speaking little of the language, and wing it while ill? Me! Yes, indeed! Because that's where I needed to be to get the help/blessing I needed. And, honestly, when I moved it wasn't about living my dream, it was about getting help. But when the clouds began to lift, I saw a rainbow--the beauty in my journey. I was living my dream. Illness was a major blow to many aspects of my life, but it never occurred to me to let go of my dream. It felt like it was slipping away, and the journey to get there was far different than I imagined, but with the help of God and lots of love and support, I got there.

For those who have dreams and might be discouraged, I challenge you and encourage you to hold on. Don't lose your sense of wonder. Dare to imagine. Dare to dream. Speak your dream into existence, and take steps consistent with realizing it. Your path may be different than you envisioned--detours may be necessary. It may take longer than you imagined--life often brings delays. The ride may be bumpy. But hold on. Even when it's dark, hope can provide light. You never know what's on the horizon.

 
 
Are you carrying a load that's too heavy for you to bear? Problems here, problems there, problems problems everywhere--for example, with your family, in your relationships (personal, business or both), your finances, your job/business, your health, etc. Whether it's a problem in one area of our lives or in several areas at the same time, our problems can wear on us . . . literally. The weight of our issues may be written all over our faces as it's sometimes difficult to shield the external from the internal. We may not even realize we're wearing a scowl unless or until someone asks if everything is alright. Heavy loads can change our gait--the way we walk. Our shoulders may hunch as if we're carrying the weight of the world on them; and our heads may hang a little lower. Heavy loads can cause pain and agony--either of which can change our disposition. And if we're not careful, the weight of our problems may have social, financial, emotional and/or physical consequences.

We've all carried heavy loads at some point. While it may sound overly simplistic, I've found that the only way to lessen the weight of my load is to put it down; stop carrying it. To address what I can and move on. That doesn't mean I no longer care or that the problems are resolved; just that I can't/won't carry them anymore. Sure, it's easier said than done, but it's something I practice regularly. And when I say practice, I mean make the attempt so I can get better at it. Of course I fail from time to time, but each time I try to look for the lesson lest my joy be tempered. Because it's easy to become stuck agonizing over things beyond our control. And while it may seem as if time has been suspended--especially when we become engrossed in, or consumed by, our problems--life, in fact, goes on. So we, too, must go on.

Here's how I get there. I ask myself three questions in the face of an issue/problem:

1) How important is it?

2) Realistically, can I do anything about it?

3) Can I handle it on my own?

If it's important and within my power to do something about it, then I attempt to find a solution. If I'm unable to find a solution on my own,
I seek assistance from my support system or otherwise. If I'm unable to find a resolution after seeking assistance, I must accept that the problem is too heavy for me to carry.

Sometimes, I can clear my mind with a long walk. Meditation works for some. As a Christian, I believe there are some problems only God can work out. Their weight is too heavy for me to bear, whether alone or with someone. So I pray and release them because even though they may be too heavy for me, there's peace in knowing I don't have to wonder if God can carry the load.

 
 
Here's a poem I wrote about joy:
JOY

Cannot be explained;
Cannot be contained;
Touches everything and
Everyone in its path;
May not change who or
What it touches;
But leaves a definite impression;
Has an automatic memory bank;
So no matter the circumstance,
It's sure to return.

©Natalie Taylor, 2002
 
 
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
 
 
This song is a wonderful reminder of the hope and joy Christians associate with the birth of Christ. Buon Natale, Joyeux Noël, Merry Christmas!

 
 
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.
 
 
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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.
 
 
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Living My Joy
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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.