This past spring my husband and I planted some tomatoes, red bell peppers, jalapenos and habaneros, but between parenting, getting our kids to their activities, and work, we just did not have the time to weed and take care of the plants. By the time we went out to look at the plants, they were almost all dead and weren’t salvageable.
The sunshine and rain were in abundance, but couldn’t sustain the plants. By not taking the time to remove the weeds, the plants were overrun by weeds while the plants vainly competed to survive. This experience is also applicable to our relationships, what you put in will determine the output. If you neglect the people that matters to you and fail to let them know that you care in actions or words, don’t assume that they know or should have known. If you do not express gratitude to your loved ones, don’t expect them to know that you appreciate them. If you don’t spend time connecting with the people you love, don’t think that the connection you have will stand the test of time.
While the sun and rain were essential for our plant’s growth, it was also a food source for the weeds. When you neglect your relationships, you create the perfect conditions for the weeds of life: seeds of despair, distance and divorce to take root. Our plants needed nurture from us, but the weeds did not need us to do anything for them to take root, grow and blossom. They simply filled the vacuum left by the lack of nurture. Bad seeds like weeds don’t need much to survive. They just need the right opportunity and a host to take root, they are opportunists!
If you deprive your relationship of love and affection, you are cultivating its death. No one does this intentionally, it usually just happens. So when the seed of discontent is planted, it fights hard to kill the seeds of joy, happiness and peace you have worked hard to plant and if care is not taken, the relationship will begin to wilt and die. Bad seeds are like viruses, they need a host and they multiply very quickly. Beware! Our lack of attention to the plants that we took the time to plant created an environment for the weeds to grow, thrive and kill the plants.
Despite our best intentions to grow our food this summer, we failed. We failed because of lack of focus, becoming too comfortable, and developing a sense of entitlement that the plants will just grow, after all…they are resilient, and they had sun and water. We postponed every opportunity to just go out there and weed. While many relationships and marriages start off with joy and optimism, optimism and joy aren’t adequate to keep it going. Without intentional nurturing and care, marriages fail or stop thriving.
Many times, we provide excuses for neglecting our relationships the way I provided excuses for neglecting my plants. We cite our jobs, children, tiredness, and life routines for our lack of attention to our relationships. Some of us throw money vis-à-vis gifts, some of us have a new baby with hopes to jump start it, some of us emotionally disconnect, some have affairs and some simply do nothing.
Whether it is a plant, a marriage, parenting, friendship, you often get what you put into the relationship. If you are not saying it and showing it, then you might be neglecting it and will ultimately kill it. The truth is this- It is easier to live in apathy than to live with intention.
I ended up with no harvest this year, not because I did not care about my plants, not because the plant did not have the will to survive, but because I neglected it, for that, I must take responsibility.
I encourage you to pay attention to the relationships you are neglecting and ask yourself these 3 questions. “Do I care about this relationship? Do I want it to die? What am I willing to do to make it better TODAY?” Then like the Nike tag line, Just Do it!
The day started early for a Saturday morning as my wife, Jummy woke up around 6 O’ Clock to begin preparation for the longest race of her life. It was just the beginning of fall, yet the central heat in the house was blowing full blast, the air outside was wet and damp with the coldness of fall. The leaves on the trees glowed reddish yellow and have started dropping and floating around like homeless colorful butterflies. The temperature this Saturday morning was in the 40’s, a cold day to be outside. Yet, it was on this day that my wife had registered to run her first 10K (6.2miles) race.
You might be wondering what was the big deal about this race, isn’t it just an ordinary race that some people run daily? In deed it was an ordinary race, what made it extraordinary was the story of the journey it took to get there.
After we got married over a decade ago, I tried to get Jummy to exercise like me. I have been an active and fit person all my life. So, I didn’t think it was a big deal if my wife joined my fitness regimen of running, lifting weights and participating in sports. I thought all I had to do was get her to go with me to the gym, see me use the machines or run the track and she’ll be inspired. Alas! I was dead wrong and was met with vociferous resistance and trailer loads of excuses. In fairness, we went to the gym together a number of times, but after each episode, she would complain about the pain and how much she hates running and how she was not a natural athlete and not naturally inclined to run. “Running puts too much impact on my knees, I can’t do it. It’s too painful. I’ll rather spend all day on the elliptical,” she’d say.
Over the years, we continued to have the same conversation as she also battled the resultant bulges of two pregnancies and deliveries. “I am not you, running is not my thing. My knees cannot stand it,” she’d say after I pushed. “Moreover, I’m not like you. I hate exercising, it doesn’t give me a high, like it does you.”
Although, she’ll go to the gym occasionally to use the elliptical and stationary bikes. But there was no consistency and no result either.
Then about a year ago in 2014, Jummy decided without prompting to join me in my early morning weight training. We started training five days a week, focusing on different body parts daily. She started gaining strength and strangely enjoying exercising. After about six months, we decided it is better she got a personal trainer who can force her and push her harder because sometimes, she’d refuse to do an extra set or tell me she’s not capable of lifting or doing certain exercises. “You are so mean and you like to torture me with these weights,” “No, I can’t do that, I can never do that, you need to understand me and my capabilities,” she’d say indignantly.
She started training with her personal trainer in May 2015 from 5.30am to 6.30am three times a week. She got even stronger, became freshly motivated and was pushed to do the exercise routines she had believed her body incapable of handling. Then, she decided to incorporate running into her regimen to help with the weight loss and fitness. So she started training for her first 5K race (3.1mile) in June 2015. Mind you, this is someone who had long ago decided that her body was never built to run, who associated running with pain and believed that it was something meant for people with innate athletic abilities.
The beginning was rough as she experienced the associated pain in her knees, shins and calves, but this time around, she didn’t give up. She’d wake up early in the morning to run at least two miles within the first few weeks. She’d huff, puff, scrunch her face, feel the pain, yet she did not stop. She also did not complain about the pain. She stopped focusing on the pain, on the hardships and the obstacles. Then, the pain disappeared, her heart got stronger, her pace improved and her confidence soared. By July, she ran her first 5K and ran a couple of other 5k races within the same month and the following months.
After conquering and mastering the 5K, she decided to run a 10K (6.2 miles). So, she applied the same techniques she used to get her body and mind into believing she could run that too and started training for it. So by this cold Saturday in October, two months after she decided to run a 10K, she was ready to officially complete the longest race she had ever ran, but the weather was not promising.
In spite of the cold weather, she bundled up, joined hundreds of other runners and completed the race breaking her personal record.
There are notable lessons from this experience. First, no one can force us into our destiny unless we are willing and ready to make the commitment. I tried for many years to cajole my wife into exercising and running, yet I did not succeed. I didn’t succeed because it wasn’t organic. When she was ready, the determination came from within her and hence the commitment. So, your situation might have to do with a job, career, marriage, relationship or studies and you are trying to get that person you love to do things the “proper” way at the “proper” time; while you can encourage them, the decision to make changes have to be organic and come from them. You can’t nag a person into their destiny. The decision to move forward and succeed is personal and can only be made by the person who desires the result.
Second, it is easy to make excuses and give reasons why we believe we cannot do or accomplish something. It is self-consoling when we focus on the potential obstacles that can stop us from moving forward. But when we do that we create a mental block which also engenders physical inability. When we believe that we’re incapable of accomplishing a goal, it is highly likely than not that we will never accomplish that goal. If you believe you can never earn a college degree, that belief would stop you from enrolling and if you are forced to enroll, you’d likely not graduate because of that belief.
Until we change our mindset from “I cannot” to “I can” and decide to at least make an attempt on the goal, there’ll not be any forward movement and success would remain elusive. My wife believed for a long time that she could never run and that running was pain, so she was never able to run without pain. You attract what you desire and life rewards according to the measure of our bargains; when we view it with positive expectations, the universe conspires to actualize the positives. So the moment she changed her belief and stopped focusing on the perceived impediments, which was pain in this case, everything changed and she started seeing results. When she decided to overcome the mental block, which was causing her physical pain, she overcame both the mental obstacle as well as the physical hindrance.
Third, the journey to success is not promised to be pain-free. Just because we decide to make changes, determine in our hearts to succeed does not mean that the journey would be trouble-free or not be laden with the possibility of failure. We are going to experience pain and possible failures along the way. We might experience oppositions and resistance from other people, even crisis from within ourselves, be inundated with self-doubt. However, with perseverance we can overcome the attending pain, failures and self-doubt. When my wife started running and training for her first race, it was laden with pain and sometimes, she was so slow that even neighborhood snails bragged about their speed compared to hers. Yet, she did not focus on the pain or the slow days, she persevered and eventually overcame both the physical pain, self-doubt and the slow transmission of oxygen. She also stopped complaining about the pain, as such she eliminated its negative effect on her. When we complain and focus on our weaknesses, we magnify them beyond their significance and allow them to dominate us. On the road to success, there definitely will be obstacles, enemies and hindrances, especially when you are close to victory, but don’t focus on the naysayers, the weaknesses or obstacles, reduce them to insignificance and persevere until you achieve your goal.
Fourth, process leads to production. To produce in life, there are certain process that must be followed. If you desire to compete at the Olympics, you must train like an Olympian for three or more years before the actual games. A 100meter run at the Olympics took three or more years of training for the ten seconds run. When my wife decided to participate in the races, she just did not wake up one day to join the other hundreds of folks to run 5K or 10K, she trained for the races. If she had tried to race without adequate training, she might end up with injuries and frustration. The training conditioned her body, her heart, her spirit to participate and complete the race. Sometimes, when process and procedures are ignored, calamitous failure can result which may forever impede future attempts. The same applies when we set a goal, we need to prepare and follow the steps and process. There is no short cut to success, so we must be prepared to achieve it, handle it and maintain it. The preparation may involve studying, reading books, trainings, seeking professional counsels or mentors- we have to acquire the knowledge, skills and qualifications necessary to prepare us in achieving that dream.
Fifth, we have to be consistent in the preparation for and pursuit of our goal. Consistency breeds competency. When Jummy was going to the gym haphazardly, she saw little or no result. But when she consistently committed herself to the training, she experienced marked improvement, built strength, endurance and became conditioned. Once we set a goal, we must be consistent in our preparation towards its achievement, the more we practice a skill, the more proficient we become. Consistency is the mother of competency and proficiency. An experienced attorney or surgeon only become experienced based on consistent application and modification of their skills to solve their clients’ or patients’ problems. Lack of consistency to the process of preparation leads to mediocrity and failure.
Sixth, don’t give up on your dream and don’t give up on yourself. You can always do better than your last success. Having the drive for more or to do better does not equate to ingratitude. It only means that you are not complacent, when we stop growing, we start dying. Although, the first goal for my wife was to get herself to exercise, then she moved on to running, then she is now pushing to run longer distances. Our race in life ought to follow this same example, aim higher, desire more and put in the work to achieve the goals.
Seventh, don’t wait until the “perfect” moment. The moment does not have to be perfect for you to start that new business, relationship or project. When we procrastinate and wait for the “perfect” moment, the moment often never comes. On the day of the 10K, most of the participants around my wife complained about the terrible weather. My wife could have given up in the morning when the temperature forecast wasn’t gracious, yet she was determined to complete the longest race of her life regardless. In our journey of life, waiting for the perfect moment to embark on a journey of success often leads to failure to launch. Your goal may not wait for you and may not be available at your “perfect moment.” Everything may not be in alignment before we embark on our goals, when we start, everything else would fall in place, then the moment of our decision to start becomes the perfect moment.
Here are the seven steps in a nutshell:
About the Author: Emmanuel Olawale is an attorney and the author of the book "The Flavor of Favor: Quest for The American Dream."
A picture says a thousand words. While looking at a picture of my husband with our 2 year old daughter Lily, I was struck by a deep sense of love and appreciation for the father he is to our children. That picture captures the father that my husband is to our two children. He is patient, attentive, loving and very active in their lives.
In my household, my husband being a phenomenal father is simply a “normal” thing. While looking at that picture, I thought about many children without their fathers in their lives. This made me sad and made me realize how very easily normal is often taken for granted.
The truth is that we should celebrate normal more often because normal things are extraordinary events happening in real time and because we are witnesses to their frequent occurrences, we routinely lose the miraculous gaze which we ought to fix on them.
When waking up and breathing is normal, we ought to remind ourselves that the difference between a dead person and someone that’s alive at any given moment is breath or lack thereof.
When your children are aggravating you and you’re feeling the weight and stress of parenthood, remember that children are gifts from God; conceiving them is a miracle, birthing them is a huge risk and one of the most amazing miracles of life. There is a saying in Yoruba (A Nigerian language), a salutation to congratulate new parents who have just given birth. They say, “eku ewu omo,” which means congratulations on surviving the perils of child birth. I think that statement fully encapsulates what a huge risk pregnancy and childbirth is.
When your wife gives up her career to stay at home to take care of the children or when she goes to work and despite being tired, she still takes care of you and the children, then that is extraordinary. Celebrate and appreciate her efforts.
When your husband works hard to provide for his family, helps around the house and is present in the lives of his children, remember that is extraordinary. Be thankful.
Don’t let the frequency of extraordinary events dilute its miracle, don’t allow the frequency of these sacred moments make you take your life and the gifts therein for granted.
You may have a job that’s not exciting, or you are not where you had hoped you would be at this time in your finances, career or other areas of life. Don’t take the normal things for granted, your job might not be exciting at this time, but it is taking care of the necessities. It might not be a destination, but it is a road to the destination.
You need to stop and take inventory of your successes. Gratitude is to the soul what oxygenated blood is to the brain. Reminding yourself of how far you have come and how blessed you are not to have taken some paths that would have led you to destruction is instructive. Instead of focusing on what you don’t have and how other people are doing better than you, focus on what you do have. Focus on what you have deemed to be normal, ordinary, not worthy of appreciation. The accumulation of gratitude of that which you take for granted in itself offset the burden of self-pity.
For my ladies, myself included who practice self-loathing because our hairs are too short, too long, too straight, too curly, too afro, too thick, too thin, too light or our arms are too big, our thighs are too fat, our tummies are too heavy and our butts too wide. Yes, you! Remember that you are made in the image of God and that your body is a miracle. What you are busy criticizing and hating is what someone else is wishing to have. I am not saying we should be unhealthy and not take care of our bodies. We should exercise and eat well, but we should at the same time abdicate the unhealthy act of engaging in self and body loathing. Engaging in self and body hate has the same impact on the mind as self-mutilation has on the body, it leaves invisible scars. Love your bodies and thank it for the extraordinary things it does for you each day because having all your parts in working order is not normal, it is a gift.
What is extraordinary? Extraordinary things are the common things we do every day. What makes them extraordinary is when we give the normal things a second look, a miraculous gaze, when we pay close attention to them. Then, we will see what has been there all along, that those normal things are special, remarkable, exceptional and extraordinary “normal” things.
If you don’t take the time to appreciate the normal things in your life, you will misuse and mismanage them. I want to appreciate my husband for being an exemplary and extraordinary father to our children. It is normal in our household, but being a present, loving and attentive father is not an ordinary and normal thing, it is extraordinary normal!
Forgiveness is the most CHALLENGING thing for me in my relationships with friends, family members and my husband. I have ALWAYS had issues with this topic of forgiveness and have found that I am not alone in my struggles.
I remember when I was a teenager, I used to brag about the length of time I could hold grudges as though it was worthy of a gold medal. I would brag about not speaking to a former friend for 2 years or 5 years with pride and joy. I almost expected a standing ovation for my actions. In my mind, only tough people could keep malice for years. I proved my toughness by how long I could hold grudges and reveled in my unforgiveness skills. I used to have no qualms about cutting people off like King Henry VIII famously beheaded people.
The older I have gotten, the less I have engaged in this behavior, but I continue to struggle with the issue of forgiveness. My experience with forgiveness is that I still struggle despite my decision to forgive. All it takes is a trigger to take me back to that memory and I am fuming and foaming in the mouth as though the experience just occurred. I have listened to many messages, read books and blogs on forgiveness, but they all made me feel good about forgiving until something happens that takes me back to that issue.
After many years of struggling with forgiveness, and working with many clients in counseling on this topic, I decided to write this blog about my personal experience, and observations on forgiveness and I hope it blesses someone who is struggling with this issue.
I believe that the biggest myth about forgiveness that has ever been told is that forgiveness is an act we do once. It is something that we decide to do and it automatically happens. My Clinical and personal experience dispels that myth. I have discovered that forgiveness is not just a decision, it is a process. Making a decision to forgive is only the beginning of this long, arduous process.
Once we decide to forgive, the next process is to continue to consistently forgive the issue until the sting is completely gone. As a matter of fact, once we make the decision to forgive, life will bring us a series of tests to really give us the opportunity to CHOOSE forgiveness over and over again.
Forgiveness is an ongoing act. When a person hurts us and breaks our trust, we might feel heartbroken and the weight of that pain can be very difficult to bear. Choosing forgiveness is always the HEALTHIEST decision that we can make.
Choosing to forgive helps to lighten our load, but it does not vindicate the perpetrator of our pain. However, it does set us free from the chains of pain. Our forgiveness will be tested whenever we are reminded or triggered by events that takes us right back to our pain. And each time we choose forgiveness, our wound moves from scab to scar.
There will always be a scar. Whether it is an unfaithful spouse, a painful break up, divorce, abusive parent, or broken friendships, we will always have the scars from the pain, it is a reminder of our story.
Choosing to forgive over and over again stops us from constantly pulling off the scabs and allows the wound to heal and scar. Choosing forgiveness means that over time, triggers will no longer have the power they used to have.
Forgiveness takes time. Time is an essential ingredient on the forgiveness journey. With time and the ongoing choice to forgive, the pain dulls until it is no more.
So the next time you are confronted with a trigger of despair, and feel yourself starting to drown in the sea of sadness from the painful memories of 'the hurt,' remember that you DECIDED to forgive. More importantly, remember to choose forgiveness AGAIN.
Here are some helpful tools that you can use when triggered after you've decided to forgive
1. Remind yourself of your decision and commitment to forgive
2. Remember how far you have come on this forgiveness journey and hold unhealthy lingering thoughts captive. If you allow your thoughts to continue to drive you to that pain and re-live and feed those emotions, you will re-lapse
3. Pray about your feelings, journal and/or read encouraging articles about forgiveness
4. Talk to a trusted friend about your struggle (not a friend that will encourage your unhealthy behavior, but one that will validate your feelings while helping you navigate through this ocean of feelings to the path of forgiveness and remind you of how far you have come)
5. Remember that forgiveness is an ongoing process of choices. Put one step in front of the other and choose forgiveness again and again.
6. Be patient and kind to yourself…Forgiveness takes time and Rome was not built in a day.
7. Remember why you’ve chosen forgiveness. Forgiveness is for you. This is about YOU.
The more you practice these steps, the easier it will get until one day, you reach the scar forgiveness destination where your wounds don’t bleed or hurt anymore. The scar is only a geographical reminder of your pain, rather than a direct experience of the pain.
Forgiveness is not easy, but what is even more difficult and poisonous is unforgiveness. It robs you of your joy and peace and keeps you negatively attached to the event and the person that caused the pain. Unforgiveness has the opposite desired effect. You may desire not to have anything to do with the perpetrator of your pain, but unforgiveness is the umbilical cord that continues to feed that situation and keeps you linked to that person and situation.
If unforgiveness is the chord, forgiveness is the scissors. Cut it off!
1. Write Down your goals
2. Have a Timeline for Your Goals
3. Pray Over Your Goals Often, then execute.
2015 is almost here and I hope you have your goals and plans written down even if it is a rough draft. Having your goals and plans in your head is not enough. You must write them down.
Research suggests that people who have their plans and goals laid out are more successful than those who do not.
Going into the New Year without your goals written down is akin to an architect building a house without a blueprint, plan or drawing of what the building will look like.
When you write down your goals whether it is about working on your relationship with your spouse, improving yourself as a parent, taking your business to the next level, starting a new business, or returning to school, you are living INTENTIONALLY.
Having your goals written down makes you accountable to yourself and your goals and begins the process of creating a physical manifestation of your vision. Writing down your goals is only the first step, the second step is giving those goals timelines.
Having a timeline for your goals/plans is not just an accountability tool, it is also a helpful tool in determining what is viable within that time frame. As the year progresses, you can make adjustments to the goals you set for yourself.
Make sure your plan is somewhere you can see it often. Having it by your bedside is great, put it near your bathroom mirror, in a drawer you use often, Make sure it is in a visible place where you can see it often. Lastly, pray over it, and meditate on it. Soak your plans in prayer. Praying is an anti-anxiety medication. Use it often. Great ideas that have transforming power can also be dropped into your spirit during prayer. Do it often!
Writing down your goals, having a time line, and praying about your goals mean nothing without proper execution. This new year, start working actively on your goals, become intentional about them and each day, make sure you do something towards achieving them. Goals without action is day-dreaming, faith without works is dead.
I wish you a prosperous and happy new year!
The year 2015 is going to be a year of divine resurrection. God will visit and breathe new breath into every dying situation in our lives. Our marriages, our relationships, businesses, ministries, visions, and goals are going to be re-awakened. Everything that we have deemed impossible, untouchable, dead, and that we have given up on is going to be resurrected.
2015 is going to be a year of divine resurrection. Be hopeful, be expectant. Everything that the enemy has stolen from you will be restored!
Happy New Year! See you at the top!
In the last few weeks, I have been on a mission to getting myself back in shape and to a healthy weight. It has been a very difficult process for me as I have to get up early in the morning to work out while most people are still sleeping.
My workout partner aka coach aka trainer is also my husband and no one pushes me like he does. Usually after each work out I am worn out, have no energy or desire to talk and many parts of my body sing choruses of pain.
I was having a conversation with a work friend of mine who is also on the same journey. I shared with her that I did 6o burpies that morning and felt great because I was able to complete my sets without giving up, I also shared with her all the different weight lifting exercises that I have been doing and how sore I was.
During our conversation, I told her that I was getting fit on the inside. I said, I might not look fit on the outside but my insides are getting ripped. We both laughed hysterically at my statement and she looked at me and said, you know, “That is how God transforms us.”
When we focus so much on the end goal or the place of perfection, we sometimes forget the process, which is the work that God is doing in us RIGHT NOW. The idea that our walk with God is not a final destination, but a journey holds true.
Living a disciplined life, and walking our faith-talk with integrity is not an easy thing to do. But, God is our coach; he coaches us on the inside. While people might judge how we look on the outside, we must remember that we are getting ripped internally. You might be judged for getting divorced, failing a class, losing a business, putting on weight, getting pregnant out of wedlock, losing your home, being a single parent, etc. But, you know that this journey is not about anyone, it is about you and God. You’re not running anyone’s race, so focus on you!
We all have things in our lives that we want to change, we might want our marriages to be different, it might be our parenting, or even our attitudes. We must not lose faith or hope. We must keep going back to the SOURCE, our life coach. Draw strength from God, knowing that he is the one that transforms.
Don’t allow what people say make you lose hope; every journey starts with a single step. Whatever you want to change, whether it is losing weight, starting a business venture, returning to school, strengthening your marriage, walking away from unhealthy people and relationships, or becoming a more present parent. Know that it is a journey.
On some days I do not feel like getting up to workout. Some workout days I feel very accomplished and other days, I feel frustrated at how unfit I am. All days are not great and fun days. But I am learning to enjoy and embrace the journey.
There will be days filled with disappointments when I step on the scale and my weight in pounds is not affirming. For you it might be someone saying no, receiving a letter of disappointment, failing an entrance exam, not being able to raise capital as quickly as possible, or even the knowledge and awareness that your relationship isn’t what you hoped and planned it to be.
I encourage you to hang in, hang on. Rome was not built in a day. Keep at it, do not give up, keep pursuing, keep praying, keep hope and faith alive and PUSH yourself. People might not see it now, they might judge your current outward state, but you know that you are getting ripped on the inside!
Your affirmation is that you are getting stronger and stronger with each challenge, with each no, with each disappointment.
I know that in the next 6 months, if I do not give up and I keep working out and eating right, my inner ripped self will show itself on the outside, the scales will reflect my cumulative hard work, and I might not have reached my goal yet, but will be able to confidently declare “I’m not where I need to be, but I am no longer where I used to be!”
“And I am certain that God, who began the good work within you, will continue his work until it is finally finished on the day when Christ Jesus returns” (Philippians 1:6).
On March 23, 2012 I received the best birthday gift ever, I found out that I was pregnant. At my first Ob/Gyn appointment my doctor informed me that I was doing well but expressed some concern about the size of my thyroid. She ordered a blood test which came back normal but she wasn't satisfied, so she ordered a thyroid ultrasound and referred me to a specialist. The ultrasound revealed that I had some weirdly shaped nodules.
The specialist informed me that he wanted me to have a biopsy to rule out thyroid cancer. He explained what thyroid cancer was, it’s prevalence and shared some information about treatment options. He also gave me brochures on thyroid cancer to take home.
The entire time he spoke to me, I felt numb. Could this be real? I am at the happiest place in my life, I finally got pregnant after a few frustrating months of trying to no avail and NOW I might have cancer? The timing could not be worse!
On my drive back to work from the doctor’s visit, I went through all possible outcomes in my mind. I felt deflated, worried and sad. On the outside I appeared calm but my thoughts were far from being calm, I experienced a roller coaster of emotions that were overwhelming, drowning my mind with conflicting possibilities. It was at this juncture that I came to the conclusion that life's trials are never devoid of lessons, one can choose to be a willing student or become a frustrated one repeating the same class over and over again.
Many things in life might momentarily create a phase of happiness, a euphoric sensation that is both fleeting as it is hypnotic and it carries us away until the next wave of issue hits. For me, the momentary happiness was pregnancy which was quickly derailed by the news about having a biopsy to rule out thyroid cancer. For you, it might be learning about a devastating illness, struggling with a lifelong diagnosis, loss of employment, difficult family situation, and the list goes on.
The biggest lesson I learned during this experience was that my happiness was my choice alone to make, it was not based on external circumstances and it certainly did not emanate from being pregnant and it won’t be snatched away by the possibility of having cancer. I realized that I needed to snatch myself from the grips of thoughts and feelings that were threatening to take away my peace.
Fact is that over 90% of what we fear and ruminate over do not actualize, what is even more startling is that over 90% of our worries are also repeated worries. That is, we mostly worry about the same thing we did yesterday, last week, last month, etc. it never stops. Our minds have amazing abilities to fixate on negative thoughts and emotions and remind us often, several times a day, every day, every month and every year. It feeds on itself and grows. The more we worry, the more worried we will become. Yet the worries do not solve problems, in actuality, they make our problems appear bigger.
In order to put a break on my worries, I made a conscious decision to live in ambiguity, to radically accept that worrying would not change the result of that biopsy and at the end of the day, whatever the result may be, I will make it through.
What kept me sane was focusing on the things I was sure of, things that were concrete and true. I have life and as far as I knew it, I had good health. I have a loving son, I have a roof over my head, my daily bread is provided for, I have a sound mind and I have great friends and family of support.
There were two parallel narratives running through my mind. The first and prominent one was scared of the 'C' word and was not particularly interested in reality, it was fear-based. Despite being told by the doctor that thyroid cancer was treatable and that I might not have it, I was incredibly aware of death and what would happen to my husband, son or this baby in my womb if she/he makes it. This narrative was filled with worry, rumination over things that have not happened and conjectures.
The second narrative acknowledged reality as is. The reality was that I did not know what the biopsy result would be and my life was full of so much wonders to be eternally grateful for. When I chose this narrative, I became more grateful, happy and at peace.
The truth is happiness is not found in what happens to you, it's not found in achievements or disappointments, it's not found in compliments or critiques, the home of happiness lies in the depth of gratitude and a forgiving spirit.
When we choose to stop wrestling with life, when we stop attempting to change things that we have no control over, then we open the door for gratitude and in the room of gratitude we will find our happiness.
Happiness is not found in books, blog posts, 7 easy steps, in people or relationships, money, food, drugs or alcohol, happiness is found in you and in your journey. Every day you get to make a conscious or unconscious choice to choose happiness or despair. In your thought patterns, in the choice of words you use to describe yourself or others and in your actions.
You cannot put others down and be happy, you can't be jealous and be happy, and you can't be pretentious and be happy. You can't think badly about yourself, or put yourself down and be happy.
Happiness is a journey and gratitude is the vehicle. Gratitude removes you from the baggage and burdens of your histories, the worries of your future and keeps you focused on the here and now. Your marriage might be falling apart, your health suffering, your finances might be in the gutter, you might be struggling to get pregnant, all these things are real and they are capable of making us all feel hopeless, BUT being thankful, shifts the focus.
If you do not find a space of gratitude in your life, the storms of life will overtake and overwhelm you, if you don't make a choice to be happy, life will make a choice of despair for you.
Your circumstances do not determine your happiness, money will not make you happy; happiness is something you actively choose every day in spite of the circumstances surrounding you. Life is full of experiences that will buttress our thoughts, validate our feelings which will eventually dictate our behaviors.
There are three essential things that I have found helpful in maintaining and choosing happiness.
1. Practicing gratitude daily - In our home, every night with our son, we have a gratitude circle where we share what we are thankful for. You could try gratitude journaling or gratitude video journaling. Just hit record on your cell phone camera or voice recorder.
2. Get rid of toxic waste in your life. Emotionally hoarding toxic people will drain your happiness and peace. Rid your life of emotional vampires, studies show that bad friends are not good for your health or life expectancy.
3. Forgive - yes, this is the one I find to be the most challenging. I Have a hard time accepting and letting go of bad things that have
happened to me. I expend energy wishing and hoping those experiences never occurred. In life, we don't get to undo experiences. Radically accepting what happened is a great start, next step is letting it go. Holding on to resentments only keeps us faithfully married to the hurt. It's time to move on, letting it go doesn't exonerate the person that hurt you, but it frees you from the chains of resentment. Forgive and clear your emotional house while creating space for new and better experiences to occur.
4. Lastly, be gentle on yourself. It's a journey and you will find yourself back in the old patterns of complaining and resenting. Remember that life isn't really about what happens to you because something is guaranteed to happen, it's about what you do in response. So when life happens and the narrative of worry and concern fills your thoughts, remember that you have a choice to choose happiness via gratitude.
When I finally got the result of the biopsy, my doctor informed me that I did not have thyroid cancer. He also informed me that I'd have to complete bi-annual ultrasounds to check on the status of those nodules. I have had 3 ultrasounds so far and there have been no changes, I'm clear! I also gave birth to my daughter and she just turned 1.
This blog was written by me for my friend Rebecca Black as a guest blog for her website www.rebeccarefined.com
The biggest trials that I ever faced that produced the deepest pain have given me the biggest gains. I have had more thrusting forward movements, grown emotionally, spiritually and gained the most out of the most difficult and painful experiences. I strongly believe that our spiritual and emotional growth and victories are directly proportional to the intensity of the painful experiences.
Just like the challenges of pregnancies, childbirth, returning to school, getting a degree, starting a new business, starting a new life in a new place, all of the these experiences can engender tensions, struggles and challenges, but these challenges are not wasted. Eventually, there is a sweet harvest after the difficult period of sowing, shedding, refining, and growing. The rewards might be the sense of accomplishments in graduation, the safe delivery of a baby at the end of a pregnancy or the comfortable resettlement in a new place.
Life was never meant to be easy but no one wants to be on the receiving end of life’s challenges and curve balls. I have found myself many times on the difficult, lowly and lonely road where it feels like everything failed me. I have been in dark places where I felt God failed me; scripture failed me and all my life philosophies, and the comfort blankets seemed to be useless. Nothing worked to dull the pain; no one could climb the seemingly insurmountable mountain for me. I felt all alone in the misery; I loathed life, God and myself in those days.
What I found true of those experiences is that the more I fought the pain, denied it, and tried to avoid it, the more painful it became. No dulling, no clichés, no hiding, no pretending worked. But, the problems did not change. I had to change.
I had to decide to walk and break through those stumbling blocks, go over them, go around them or die under them. So when I was able to finally garner up the energy to DO SOMETHING, that is when I started seeing forward movements.
When I stopped wasting all my emotional energy despising, hating, criticizing, judging and being angry, and started using those same stumbling blocks as stepping stones, that’s when I began to get it. One second at a time, one minute at a time, one day at a time, slowly but surely, I moved toward the pain and then slowly started walking and sometimes barely crawling past it until I was able to say, alas! I did not die under the pressure, I made it!
The ability to surmount the insurmountable mountains taught me that I was strong yet vulnerable, I am not as easy to crush and decimate as I thought. The confidence I got from knowing that I could rise up again and again and again was truly energizing and as such has been more of a driving force in how I approach life, challenges, goals and visions.
No experience is wasted, even bad experiences. Scripture (Romans 8:28) says that “And we know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them…” For me the working out for good did not mean that the problems did not occur, that I did not experience heart ache, and that there was a time machine that erased the painful memories.
The work together for good for me meant that I had a change in perspective, learned something, grew, and had the courage to press on. There were no real changes in my circumstance but there were significant improvement in my attitude and response to them. I admitted that my situation SUCKED and I pressed forward.
The work together for good for me meant that I was able to use those experiences to connect to others, generate empathy, it helped me to be less judgmental and more accepting and it humbled me greatly. There’s nothing as filling as when life hands you a humble pie. The working out for good did not just end with me, it became a ripple effect.
So in the end those experiences were not wasted, they’ve been used time and time again to open great doors for me, to connect me with amazing people, to create platforms that I could never have had if not for those experiences. The same painful and difficult experiences have brought validation to some, healing to others, hope to some, affirmation to others, sign to some, and inspiration for others. Never wasted, never wasted.
So whatever you might be going through, no matter how difficult, painful, indescribable, unbelievable, unfathomable, unforgivable, I want to venture as to say that those experiences are not empty. Even if you are not consoled by those words right now, there will come a day when those problems will slowly move further and further from your rear-view mirror. A day will come when those experiences do not consume you and trigger as much pain as they used to, there will come a day when you will smile again. And beyond that, there will come a day when you will take what you need from those life experiences to thrust you forward in life. That is when the scab experiences have turned to scar experiences. The scar says there has been some trauma here but it has healed. It is a geographical reminder of a specific experience, time and place. It does not bleed when touched, it can’t be peeled off, it is just what it is, a scar.
Pain is real, fear is real, anxiety is real, depression is real, uncertainty is real, betrayal is real, heartbreak is real, and so is COURAGE; courage to press on, courage to walk, courage to crawl, courage to take wings and fly. You will make it, I know you will and those experiences will not be wasted. You will make it, you have to make it, someone is counting on you to make it, and someone needs you to make it.
I am reminded of a phrase in my son’s favorite animated movie (NEMO) when he was 3yrs old, “just keep swimming, just keep swimming, just keep swimming...” You will feel overwhelmed, you will feel every wave hit you, take over you, toss you around like a lifeless fish but keep swimming, dry land is on the horizon.