Sunday, December 25, 2011

It's a Wonderful Life

Each Christmas Eve my cousin Marvin, my children, my husband, my mother and I put on our pajamas, eat pizza and the cookies we baked earlier in the day and watch movies until the wee hours of the morning. It never fails that Marvin will pick a movie that is so bad that it becomes funny and instead of watching the movie we laugh at all of the reasons it's so horrible. This Christmas Eve was bittersweet. Although Matt's girlfriend Devin and my step-daughter Tai Lynne were present, my mother was not able to travel.

Before going to sleep, we always read the children's classic The Crippled Lamb, a selection from the book of Matthew, feed the reindeer- although my children are all nearly grown- and leave cookies and milk for Santa. And as sure as the sun rises on Christmas morning, Santa will have sipped the milk and left crumbs on the table.

When Lyndsay was younger she would wake us up at an ungodly hour on Christmas morning and we would all walk bleary- eyed to the tree as she scurried beneath to see what Santa had brought her for being such a good girl. Now that she's almost 16 (and more sour than sweet most of the time) she wakes up much later in the morning, but since she is the baby of the family we let her be the first to make the Christmas morning discovery.

My husband and I have been up for hours waiting to hear movement. He's reading the paper as I write this and we both know it will be awhile because they stayed up until 4 am watching movies.

In a few hours there will be Christmas paper and bows scattered everywhere and the house I so carefully cleaned will look like a battle zone. Christmas music will be playing in the background and the kids will be enjoying their gifts while I sit in my favorite chair sipping tea and staring in amazement at how blessed I am. Lynn will begin preparing the lobster-stuffed grouper and then we will sit down as a family at the dinner table and once again give thanks to such a wonderfully amazing God.

But his holiday is not without sadness. At the moment Granddaddy is ill having given up his will to live. There have been several deaths that have shaken us and for too long we have had to deal with the evil motives of evil people.  We have had to tighten our belts financially and we have witnessed a world that gets crazier and scarier by the moment.

Just a moment ago Simba, our dog, threw up on the carpet and I remembered that I forgot to wrap a gift, but no matter how imperfect my life is, how silly our family traditions, or how wretched the world may seem, it truly is a wonderful life.

Monday, December 19, 2011

I See the God in You

     The other day I was talking to someone who had recently attended a hot yoga class upon my recommendation only to discover that that form of exercise was not for her. "No, never again!" Were her exact words. We laughed a bit about her experience and before saying goodbye she said in jest "Namaste." Another person overhearing the conversation turned to me and asked what does that mean? As I was explaining that Namaste is an expression that means "The Spirit in me bows to the Spirit in you," I started wondering how many opportunities I have missed in my own life to acknowledge the divinity I see in others.
     Of course it is easy to honor the miracle of my children. When I see them now I am humbled by the fact that just a few short years ago they were only an idea. A concept that my husband and I talked about and then one day I found out I was pregnant and thus began the miracle of their lives. With every heart beat and movement I realized that they were indeed divine creations and so when they were born it was easy to honor the Spirit from which I knew they came. They were God's creation and part of him was breathed into them on the day they were born.
     But when I encounter those people who bother me, it's not so easy. Through my life's journey I have sometimes had difficulty honoring the divinity that exists in everyone regardless of how vile he or she may seem. When that rude clerk at CVS throws my change on the counter without as much as a "thank you for shopping here," it's hard to remember that she is a child of God and deserves my love, honor and respect.
     Of course this doesn't mean that I should accept bad behavior or allow myself to be a doormat for others, but it does mean that before I open my mouth to cast judgement on another I have to think that this person was created by an Almighty God who loves them even in the midst of their bad behavior so why can't I?
     I have found that since I have began honoring the God I see in everyone I meet I have become more quiet in reverence for who they are and how we are ultimately connected even when I can't see anything that we could possibly have in common. The commonality is that we are all created by God and that makes us brothers and sisters, sons and daughters. Just like my children have a bit of me as part of their DNA each of us has a part of God as ours. 
     I'm sorry but I am no longer willing to look at someone who is different from me in either age, race, gender, socioeconomic status, religion, culture, creed, sexual preference or beliefs and not see myself in him. He is my brother. She is my sister and there is divinity in each of us because we honor the same God. There is only one. 
     Forgive me if it takes a moment for me to greet you audibly when we meet. Please just wait with me because I am not being standoffish. I am actually taking a moment to acknowledge the wonderful, divine creation that you are. Namaste.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

When You Know Better You Do Better

Maya Angelou's saying "when you know better you do better" has been playing in my head quite a bit lately as I prepare to close out 2011. I feel as if I know what I should be doing, yet I don't do it. I keep doing the same things over and over again, but I expect different results. Isn't that the very definition of insanity? I'm not sure how many times I need to hear that my life mirrors my thoughts and that in order to attract good things into my life I must focus on "whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable" (Philippians 4:8). But even though I know this, I find it so difficult to stop those thoughts that make me feel bad. For example this morning when I started to feel irritated about all of the things that I needed to do today and how little time I had, in stead of immediately taking note of how I felt and changing my thoughts to more positive ones, I rode the wave for a while. Actually it felt good, in a perverse kind of way,  to be in a bad mood. I allowed myself to wallow in this funk until I finally came to my senses and said, "stop! I'm going to make this a good day!"

I think the reason that I find this so difficult is because it really takes a great deal of effort. It's hard work thinking about what I'm thinking about! When I just go with the emotion, there's no effort on my part. But when I'm constantly checking my thoughts, I really have to be on top of things.

It even goes beyond what I'm thinking to what I actually say. Every snarky thought that I have that eventually works its way out of my mouth has the potential to destroy me. It seems so harmless to say something catty about someone else, but when I do it causes harm not only to the other person but to me as well because I create negativity and invite those same unkind words to be said about me.

Probably the hardest thing to do is to just remain silent or to walk away when I'm in a situation where I feel compelled to say something negative or critical about another. There's one person in my life who I really cannot stand. Truthfully I cannot find one good thing about her. No matter how hard I try I cannot think of one redeeming quality she possesses. To make matters worse I don't know anyone who likes her either so it's easy for me to feel justified in badmouthing her. But the thing is that I do know better. I know that words hurt just as much, if not worse, than sticks and stones because the pain lasts so much longer.

Yes, in my opinion she may be vile, but she is a child of God and He loves her.  I know this, but I don't want to like her. I don't wanna! I don't wanna! It's so much better to think bad things about her and to feel superior to her because of the stupid things she does and says, but since I know better I have to do better. I have to keep my mouth closed and my opinion to myself.

So here's the deal. From now until the January 1, 2012, I'm going to do what I know I'm supposed to do.  I'm starting with watching my thoughts and my words and then moving onto other things I know I should be doing. I invite you to take this journey with me. I won't promise it will be easy, but I do promise we'll be better for doing it.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Eternity is Too Darn Long if You're Unhappy

Recently I took my teenage daughter Lyndsay and my niece Najah  to see the latest installment of the Twilight series, Breaking Dawn. They were beside themselves with excitement about the romantic union of Bella and Edward and the happy ending they would surely have. Lyndsay has read all of the books and can't understand why I don't share her enthusiasm. Before the movie began, I explained to them that    although the books are well written,  I cut my teeth on Anne Rice, so I'm used to vampires that do something. At any rate, the girls were nearly swooning, so caught up in the rapturous love of these two characters on the big screen that they tuned me out. When the movie was over Lyndsay turned to me and asked, "Mom, wasn't that the best?"

Maybe I read too much into things, but I couldn't get past the fact that Bella was destined for a life of heartache and misery with Edward and here's my evidence:

1. In order to love Edward, she has to give up everything-including her soul.
Yes, it may seem exciting to be so enthralled in a relationship that you forget about your family and friends for a while, but eventually that gets old. Why should a beautiful, young woman have to turn her back on everything she is and everything she knows in order to get the guy? Healthy relationships are about compromise, but the only one I saw giving in was Bella.

2. When things got rough, Bella had to go through it alone.
Okay, Edward did finally come around, but at first when Bella began to have complications Edward emotionally abandoned her. She was forced to make sense of a world spinning out of control all by herself. I've been married long enough to know that sometimes the only thing holding you to your spouse are the promises you made before God on your wedding day. For richer and poorer, through sickness and in health, for better or for worse...Marriage is hard work and if the woman has to do the heavy lifting all by herself she can get resentful.  If a woman can only count on her man to be there when the rose petals are falling and the frame on the bed is being broken, then there are some definite problems on the horizon.

3. Edward was non-communicative.
He was the freakin' mind reader, not her! Imagine how frustrating life would be with your man if he never, ever told you what he felt. Admittedly,  Edward did have some romantic one liners, but occasionally I would imagine that Bella would need for him to talk to her during the difficult times and help her to process the horrible things that were happening in her life.

4. Ex-boyfriend drama.
E-Nuff said!

5.The possibility of a strained relationship with her daughter because her ex has 'imprinted' on her.
Maybe it's just me, but I don't want any of my exes to be doing anything with my daughter. Ever!

I know. I know. This is only a movie, but it did prove  to be a teachable moment. I need my daughter and niece to understand that they don't have to make foolish choices because they think they are in love and that true love doesn't consume a woman so there is nothing of her original self to recognize. I also want them to know that they need to graduate high school, get an education, take care of themselves for a while before they even consider running off to get married to someone like Edward. And maybe, I'm just way too serious, but I want them to avoid any man that makes them give up on an eternity with God in order to spend some time with him.

I guess you can imagine that after this lecture, Najah and Lyndsay jokingly vowed never to go to the movies with me again!

Friday, November 11, 2011

Nobody's Princess

     When our daughter was younger, my husband would make a big deal each year of taking her to a Father/Daughter Ball. In preparation, she and I would go shopping for a special dress and I would do her hair and get her ready for her big night out. My husband would have a flower for her and would make huge, sweeping gestures of chivalry. While they were away, they danced and ate chicken fingers and drank punch (as evidenced by the pictures) and she was the center of his attention for the entire night. She was his little princess.
     On the other 364 nights, he still managed to make her feel special. When he would come home from work, he would pick her up and twirl her around the room, and when he had to travel out of town for business, he always made it a point to call around bedtime to say prayers with her and to let her know how much he loved and missed her. There were times when I knew he had work to do, but instead of doing it, he would sit her on his lap and read to her or crawl down on the floor-bad knees and all-and play her favorite game as many times as she wished.
     When she entered high school he bought her a diamond ring for her birthday. The reason, he explained, is that he wanted to be the first to buy his little girl diamonds. He did not want 'some joker' to tempt her with nice things. Basically he wanted her to say, "I'm not impressed. My Daddy already did that for me!"
    One night I was having dinner with a friend and she and I were talking about how our daughter's relationships with their fathers were so different than our relationships with our own fathers. Both of us had been raised by single mothers with fathers who drifted in and out of our lives. That night we talked about how our lives would have been different had our father's assumed their responsibility and been present, physically or financially. We really made ourselves sad talking about the longing we grew up with wishing that our fathers would love us enough to stay  (or pay). We talked about the predators who attempted to come near us because there was not a man in the house to shoo them away and we talked about how it affected our adult lives knowing the first men to break our hearts were our fathers.
   Later I tried to explain the conversation to my husband and I told him that while growing up, I never got a chance to be anyone's princess. I told him that I never attended any Father/Daughter activities and I was always left sitting alone when the other children's Dads came along. And then I shared with him that before I met him, I didn't feel there was any man who loved me unconditionally and was just happy that I was alive.
    My husband is an eternal optimist and he always sees the beauty in things, so instead of allowing me to grow more maudlin by agreeing with me, he asked me a simple question: "Weren't you your grandfather's princess?" Truthfully, I had never even considered that. I was so focused on what I didn't have growing up that I forgot to be grateful for what I did have. I have a grandfather who loves me. I mean really, really loves me. I have always been his 'Chelle and he never lets too much time pass without saying "I love you." No, he didn't attend the Father/Daughter activities with me, but he did pick me up from school and take me for ice cream. He may not have spoiled me rotten with all of the things I wanted, but I always had what I needed and I was spoiled with love.
     My father still slips in and out of my life and I am no longer resentful because I know that God kept him out of my life for a reason. I still love him because the Bible says to honor our mother and our father, but I adore my grandfather. Granddaddy has grown older and because I live so far away from him I do not get to see him often. Because he cannot see well anymore, I have to wait for someone to be in the room with him when I call in order to hand him the phone. It's funny because whenever he hangs up he always says "Daddy loves you." Of course he realizes that I am his granddaughter, but although I've never asked him, I think he intentionally assumed the role of father in my life because my own did not want to be bothered. He had other, more pressing things to do.
     There are so many good men out there who are amazing fathers. They show their children, especially their little girls, how a man is supposed to treat them. They respect all women because they recognize that every woman is, indeed, someone's daughter. I applaud you. But to the men who are too busy or too selfish to realize the priceless gift you've been given and who do not treat your daughter like a little princess, shame on you! You will never get the time back and if you hurt her it will ripple through every other relationship she has.
     And to the grown women who never had a chance to be anyone's princess, that's okay because the past is over and it cannot be relived. Beginning today be grateful for whoever God placed in your life (or omitted) love yourself and be a Queen!

Sunday, November 6, 2011

My Friends

"A friend is someone who is there for you when he'd rather be somewhere else." 
                                  Len Wein

     Early Saturday morning when I arrived in Gainesville, my friend Scott was waiting for me with a Starbuck's Caramel Macchiato and huge hug. Although he probably had other things to do, he spent the day in the bookstore with me laughing and people watching. We weren't necessarily laughing at people, but some of those diehard Gator fans were really special. I'm just saying...
     At 12:21 when the Gators were about to kickoff against Vanderbilt, I just knew Scott would abandon me, but he offered to buy me lunch and we spent the next few hours laughing some more over deep dish pizza and strawberry beignets. 
     It wasn't all laughter, though, because after lunch we drove to the gravesite of our friend Mimi McLendon who died of lung cancer earlier this year. Mimi was only 44 and never smoked a day in her life. As we lay pink roses on Mimi's grave, we talked about how tomorrow is not promised and how important it is to tell the people in our lives how much we love them while we have them. 

"It takes a long time to grow an old friend."
                                  -John Leonard

     When I arrived back in Daytona, I had just enough time to take a shower and change before heading off to my 20th class reunion. When I walked into the hotel, I was greeted with hugs and kisses from my classmates who attended Bethune-Cookman with me two decades ago. Although at first I could not remember all of the names, I remembered the faces, but more importantly I remembered the times we had shared together in the past. Here we were healthy and happy and living our dreams that we had only begun to visualize as bright-eyed college graduates twenty years ago. Each of us had walked across the stage at Commencement promising to uphold the legacy of our school's founder, Dr. Mary McLeod Bethune. We did not take the school's motto "Enter to Learn, Depart to Serve" lightly and each of us has committed ourselves in one way or another to being what our classmate Kelvin described as  "a bridge for those who come behind us."
     The love and respect in the room was palpable and I left feeling so grateful that God placed me at that little school all those years ago and allowed me to make friends with such amazing men and women. I left knowing that the bonds of friendship would only grow stronger as time passed.
     When we were in school together, Dr. Oswald P. Bronson was the president and he always addressed the students and faculty with two words..."My Friends"... I don't think he realized the power of what he was saying. Those two little words told us that we mattered; that we were seen; that we were worthy enough, loved enough, important enough to be called a friend.
"Your friend is the one who knows all about you, and still likes you."
                             Elbert Hubard

     My doorbell just rang as I am writing this. It was my new friend and neighbor Sheila. I had called her earlier and awakened her from a deep sleep. The truth was I had run out of the vitamins she had turned me onto and I wanted them right then. You see, I am an only child and at times I am spoiled and  impatient and forgetful. Sheila was not mad at me and got me what I needed as soon as she could. She even gave me more than I asked for. She didn't stop loving me because I am impatient.
     My friend Dee's birthday was around Labor Day and I am just getting her card in the mail. Instead of being mad at me for being forgetful, she sent me a text  telling me she was craving Bahama Breeze and was going to treat herself to dinner with the gift certificate I had slipped into the card and just a few moments ago I received a phone call from my friend Winnie. She didn't call to talk because she knows I spend Sundays writing, but she wanted to share something funny with me. We laughed and then hung up. She respects that I am busy and even if two months or two years pass before we talk again we will pick up just where we left off. To me, that's friendship. 

"Two are better than one; because they have a good reward for their labour. For if they fall, the one will lift up his fellow; but woe to him that is alone when he falleth; for he hath not another to help him up.

     If nothing else, this weekend has reminded me that I am nothing without my friends. Friends like Paula, Gina and Kender who pick me up and brush me off and push me back out there one more time. And friends like Natalie who when I get discouraged and say "I'm never going to be a famous writer," remind me of Jeremiah 29:11. And then there are those friends like Mia, Yolanda and so may others who I am just reconnecting with on Facebook. I am so happy that our paths have crossed in life. 
     I am grateful for those who I call and who call me "friend." This world would be a lonely, scary place if I did not have each of you with me. I love you! And for those of you who I still have yet to meet, when we encounter each other, let's smile, embrace and then say with affection: "My friend!"

Sunday, October 23, 2011

I Can't Complain

Not long ago when I was in Nashville for a book signing, my sister-in-law and I were driving frantically around town to complete some last minute errands in preparation for a dinner she was hosting later that evening. We were both exhausted and ready to go back to her house and rest for a little while before her friends arrived. Unfortunately we didn't have that luxury because there was just too much to do! Since I was leaving for Chattanooga the next morning to attend my son's football game, I needed to buy snacks. I was already suffering from working mother guilt because I had been too busy to bake cookies, but that's another story...To make matters worse, the temperature had plummeted and I was trying to figure out a way to get to the mall in order to buy warmer clothes. My sister-in-law was feeling overwhelmed, too. She still had to find the perfect wine to complement dinner and she wanted to make some last minute adjustments to her menu.

We pulled up to a stoplight and out of the corner of my eye I saw a homeless woman standing on the corner of the busy intersection selling newspapers. Her face was red from the cold wind and her clothes were slightly dirty although it looked as if she had tried to make herself as presentable as possible considering her circumstances. My sister-in-law maneuvered so that she could be in the lane closest to the woman and explained to me that she always purchased a paper because the organization the woman was selling papers for helped provide housing, employment, and other resources for homeless men and women in the area.

When the car came to a stop, I rolled down the window and the woman limped slowly to the car. She finally approached the car and took the single dollar from my hand. Her smile was a genuine one of gratitude. It lit up her face and reached her eyes, making them sparkle. 

 "How are you today?" she asked.

My sister-in-law and I said we were fine although we had spent the last half hour bitching about all we still needed to do and how tired and cold we were.

 "How are you?" was our obligatory response.

I had no idea the homeless woman's response would change my life. Here was this woman who was disabled, without permanent housing, dirty, cold and probably tireder than I could ever imagine being and when asked how she was she replied,

"I can't complain."

The reality was that she had a great deal to complain about, but she chose NOT to complain.

My sister-in-law and I drove away in silence, each of us grateful for this gentle reminder. You see, God could have easily taught us a lesson of gratitude by having us lose everything and stand on that corner with the woman peddling newspapers for a buck. But by the grace of God that could have been us! Instead, He reminded us that we had so much to be grateful for without stripping us of everything we had to teach the lesson.

That brief encounter reminded me that I have the choice to complain or to give thanks. Although I had never put much thought into my "little moanings," I suddenly realized what I must have sounded like to God. A spoiled, ungrateful  brat! Here I was in a designer suit and shoes with a trendy bag resting on the back seat of a luxury car. I had a full stomach, a healthy body, money to buy the things I needed and a warm comfortable bed to come home to. Yet, I had the nerve to complain.

My angel selling newspapers that day taught me that it was my choice whether or not I complained. Yes, there will always be things that bother me, but instead of groaning and moaning I can just stay silent or give thanks, instead, for all of the things that are going my way!

Friday, October 14, 2011

"He says he hits me because he loves me..."

Several years ago a friend called me because she had decided to leave her husband. Although he had been verbally abusive for many years, she never really saw herself as a victim of domestic violence. In her mind, that was something that happened to those women. However, it was when he threw the puppy against the wall in a violent rage and then pulled his gun on her that she realized she had to get out of the situation. Immediately. When she arrived at my house, she had her purse slung across one shoulder and her young son bundled in her arms. She looked so young and vulnerable it made me want to cry. As we sat in the comfort and relative safety of my living room drinking coffee, we explored her options. The only problem was that she had few. Like many women she had given her husband  complete control over their finances and he rationed out an allowance to her although she worked full-time outside of the house. Additionally she had allowed him to poison her relationships so that she had very few friends left. 

While she attended to her son, I called domestic abuse shelters and organizations in our area from my home phone. My husband placed calls from his cellphone. The more calls we made the grimmer the situation seemed. The reality was that she would have to leave her home and most of her belongings behind in order to go to a shelter, and it would only be a temporary fix. In the shelter she would live, for a while, with other women whose plight was similar to hers. She was completely defenseless: no clothes, no money, no security. She couldn't even go to work because she knew that eventually he would show up there.

Thankfully the shelter was an option, but a dreaded one.

I could feel the fear pulsating off my friend. I shared with her the information that my husband and I had gathered while making the phone calls. She listened still unsure of what she was going to do. And then something broke in my spirit and I told her my story. I told her about the boyfriend from years ago before I married who managed to place seeds of doubt in my mind about the trustworthiness of my friends and family. I told her about the time he and I were on the freeway and I said something he didn't agree with that made him hit me so hard that my head knocked violently against the glass in the passenger side window causing the semi-driver in the next lane to lean on his horn and yell something at my boyfriend that I could not hear because of the buzzing in my ears and the throbbing in my sore head. 

I told her about the courage I finally summoned to break up with him, but when he showed up on my doorstep with two dozen long stem red roses and a sheepish smile saying how sorry he was I foolishly opened the door. And it was only when he had wrapped his massive hands around my neck and squeezed did I realize he was going to kill me. It  was the look in his eyes as he looked into mine that left no doubt that I was taking my final breaths. 

I told her that it was only God that made him get up and walk back out the door leaving me gasping on the ground with a black eye, bruises and roses strewn everywhere. He had come to kill me and I had gotten lucky-that time. 

Like I picked up the destroyed roses that day, my friend ended up having to pick up the pieces of her own life. I won't lie. It was hard. There were tears, doubts, anger and mourning for the relationship, but she survived. I survived.

There are many survivors of domestic violence and then there are those who don't. There are those women who the system fails. Women who get restraining orders and who are later murdered when he chooses to ignore the law. Then there are those women who foolishly go back home thinking that the situation will get better. Unfortunately according to the Domestic Violence Awareness Project, an average of three women die as a result of domestic violence each day in America and one in every four women will experience domestic violence in her lifetime. Keep in mind that statistic only includes the women who share their experiences.

Each of us must work to end violence against women in all forms. We have to speak up when we hear young men objectify women and call them outside their names and we must remind our beautiful young women that it's what they answer to that matters. He might just be calling them a bitch now, but if he is disrespecting her like this today, what will he do tomorrow? If we suspect domestic violence we have to find ways to help without making the situation worse. We must provide financial support to shelters in our communities who open their doors to abused women and children.

We also have to get past the belief that "he only does this because he loves me" or "a woman's place is..." This logic is idiotic and we have to call it out. If he hits you, belittles you, or threatens you he does not love you in the true sense of the word because love is "patient and kind."

Further, women must have their own resources. There's absolutely no getting around this. I know my mother, aunts, and godmother always told me to have enough money to get my own place even if I never needed it. Even Billie chimed in at times when she sang, "God bless the child that's got [her] own."

Recently my heart leaped for joy when a young student came to my office. Anthony had just finished reading The Other Side of Through and told me that he had truly been moved by it. When I asked him what it was that affected him, he said it was Claire's story. The way she suffered at the hand's of her husband and how it ultimately affected their daughter, Jessie, the protagonist. 

I guess that is what this month is about. Making sure that people, like Anthony, become aware of the reality of domestic violence because it's more pervasive than we realize. It truly is not just those women's problem. According to the DVAP website, this month is about connecting "advocates across the nation who [are] working to end violence against women and their children."

Please do not think that I have forgotten my American brothers, one in every thirteen who is victimized in his lifetime at the hands of a loved one. I feel his pain, just as I felt the pain of my situation so many years ago and the pain of my terrified friend who had fled an abusive marriage. Perhaps I feel my abused brother's pain even more because he may not be able to speak up because of the added embarrassment of being an abused man. 

This issue is so big and we have so much work to do that I fear that the month of October just isn't long enough. Nevertheless, will you join me this month in making others aware?

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Do You Possess Your Power

We take for granted this luxury we call empowerment. Rarely do we even question what it means to be empowered. We buy the t-shirt and wear it and shout at the top of our lungs to whoever is listening. Through the years it’s gone from "I am Woman" to "Girl Power" and now it's "Black Girls Rock!" Regardless of the slogan, the message has always been the same: Look at me. I am beautiful ; I’m special; I’m powerful and I have every right to be here.Like the water we drink and the air we breathe, most of us cannot imagine a world without this feminine power.
We enjoy the privilege of living in a country where women have so many rights although this is not the case around the world. We have…the right to  vote...the right to change our minds...we have the right to marry…or not…to procreate…or not….and regardless of our faith or our politics, we all benefit from current laws that say we have the right to our own bodies. At least for now.
Although women are not paid quite as much as their male counterparts, we are still represented in the marketplace and when we see a woman headed to work-outside of the home- we don’t immediately assume she is a nurse, teacher or secretary.
When I was younger, there was a saying and it went like this: “we’ve come a long way, baby!” Yes, we have come a long way but…We’ve come so far that many of us have taken our power for granted and we now are willingly giving it away. Oftentimes giving it to those who are unworthy.
I teach. I teach English and creative writing at a college in Florida and I volunteer so I’ve worked with young women for a long time. Everyday I come across women of all ages who take their power and wrap it up beautifully and then hand it over to someone who rips it open and then devours it and leaves her bruised and  bleeding. I guess my question is do you possess your power?
If empowerment is a process that fosters power in one’s life and then enables one to impact the community and then society, then I really, really need to know whether or not you have fully embraced your own power because if you are powerful, then you make me powerful, and then we make the world better.
I am often saddened by the young women who don’t recognize their own power and diminishthemselves by playing down their abilities, intelligence, or natural beauty.Sometimes it’s because they don’t want to intimidate their man…or outshine their friends because heaven forbid someone think they are trying to act cute  or be better than the rest of them.
Sometimes these young women don’t hand over their power to anyone in particular but instead let it evaporate spending years in limbo too afraid to move outside of their comfort zone.Then there are those young women who mistake movement for progress and dilute their power by being on this committee and in that club. They are so frazzled and frustrated that they don’t do any real good.
I guess the luxury of getting older is you stop  caring what anyone thinks about you and you’re no longer infected with the disease to please, but more importantly those of us who have some mileage on us have  lived through some stuff and we’re able to speak from a place of experience and hopefully wisdom.
We may remember a time when we willing handed over our power to anyone who would take it as long as they agreed to be the designated driver in our lives.  Admittedly it’s nice to have someone else be in charge for a while but the problem is once you give your power a way it’s hard as hell to get it back.
You have to fight for it.
That’s what the protagonist, Jessie Winters, in my novel The Other Side of Through faces. She has lived as a passive observer in her own life. Basically she is sleep walking through life because it is too difficult for her to face the anger that is seething within her. She is mad at her mother, she is mad at her mother-in-law, she is mad at her husband, she is mad at the church, she’s mad at God and she’s mad at herself.
In the novel, Jessie willingly gives what little power she has left to a sexy stranger named Marcus whom she meets in a coffee shop one day and she follows him down a path of despair and quiet desperation. She makes the mistake of confusing pleasure with happiness.
It takes the guidance of an older woman to get Jessie back on a path to herself, a path to empowerment. A path to self-love.
Those are the words that change it all.
When we get to that place where we love ourselves unconditionally and free ourselves from the dogma, the doctrine and the negative internal dialogue, we get to a place where we are powerful beyond our wildest imaginations.
We don’t have to run from ourselves because we love ourselves.
We realize we can do anything,
be anything,
love everything!
This self- love frees us from picking at ourselves and criticizing every thing we see as an imperfection or hindrance.
So what if I’m a size 26 or a size 6 my love is still the same.
Who cares if my hair is natural or if I’m in the salon every week. It’s what’s in my head that matters.
I might have a hummer or a hooptie-whichever it is it can get me there.
And the beauty is that when we stop tearing ourselves a part we stop tearing each other apart.
There’s no place for the cattiness and the bitchiness and backstabbing and fighting. We see that our empowerment is dependent upon our sister’s empowerment, and this happens with the simple, revolutionary act of loving one self completely.
Jessie realizes that she is powerless to face her life until she learns to love herself, and that in order to love herself she must realize that she is alright just as she is.
She’s enough.
Not only does Jessie have the wisdom of the woman who has walked the path before her, she also has her friends Lydia and Crystal who are doing life right along with her and she has her husband David who truly loves her.
 These loved ones  encourage her to self-empowerment through artistic expression. They remind her that she was created to be a creator, each of us was, and whether we paint like Jessie, or write like me, or cook amazing dinners or crochet or knit or sew…whatever… we don’t feel the fullness of life if we deny what we were created to do…
So Jessie painted.
What do you do?
What longing do you have deep in your soul?
Is it to get that poem published? Is it to write the next great American novel?
Is it to paint a masterpiece or just your bedroom?
Could it be to begin a journal to write down all of those life experiences if for no
other reason than to see just how far you’ve come.
Because you know, after all, you’ve come a long way, baby.
So she takes her power back, as small and fragile as it may be, and she gives it to herself so, hopefully later she can give it to the world.