When was your last breast exam?

By: A Breast Cancer Survivor

It was May 11, 2014, Mother’s Day. I was taking a shower when I remembered what my doctor had always told me when I went for my yearly physical exams. “Cassandra” he would say, “do a breast self-exam in the shower so it will be easier to detect anything out of the norm”. So I did, and what I found I thought would change my life forever. There was a quarter-sized lump on the right side of my breast, just near my armpit. 

At first I did not think too much of it. I know that women naturally have lumpy and bumpy breast tissue. Nevertheless, I went to the doctor the next day because I knew it was what I was supposed to do. My doctor examined me and then had me take a mammogram and ultrasound. Well, it came back positive for stage 2 breast cancer (Triple Negative). At first I felt like I was having an out of body experience. Was she talking about me? Was I really having this conversation with her about breast cancer? 

My first thought was fear of the unknown and I started to pray. Shortly after a male technician who was also a cancer survivor came into my room. He took my hand and looked straight into my eyes. He said, “Cassandra, you are going to live”. I know he was sent from God because such a peace came over me. Peace that only God can give. God’s word says in John 14:27 “I am leaving you with a gift; peace of mind and heart. So don’t be troubled or afraid”. That was exactly what I needed to walk through that process in faith. 

God had already healed me! I was made whole, no matter what the doctors said or X-rays would show. The healing had begun in my mind. Thoughts of life and not death had torn down the strongholds of fear and uncertainty. The Bible says we are to fix our thoughts on what is true and His word is truth. God had already equipped me with the “weapons” necessary to win. All I had to do was receive it.

It has been over two years since my diagnosis but it does not seem like I actually went through a battle. Now I know why the Lord says, “the battle is not mine”. Though I have moments of insecurities, I don’t stay in that place for long. My faith continues to empower me while I endure this path; never giving up and only seeking after the best God has for me. I pray you do the same.
 

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Women’s Health: Do You Know the Signs?

By: Naifa White, RN

The other day my six-year old son excitedly exclaimed, “Look, Mommy! My tooth is wiggly. It’s going to come out at 4o’clock today! “
Me: “How do you know it’s going to come out today?”
Jordan: “Because it sent me signals!”
All I could do was laugh. After all, we all know that teeth don’t send signals…Or do they?

Actually, he wasn’t too far off the mark. Our bodies really do send us clues when some “change” has occurred. Many women experience early pregnancy symptoms even before taking a urine pregnancy test. Some people complain of localized calf pain or sudden shortness of breath when blood clots are present. Others may report difficulty speaking or sudden dizziness, vision changes or weakness on one side of their body when experiencing a stroke. We just have to be attentive to the signs our body sends us so we can respond properly.


So, when a family member casually mentioned that they kept waking up at night to urinate and were frequently thirsty (in additional to being overweight), I was immediately concerned. They had just described the symptoms that are often associated with diabetes. Unfortunately, they were very reluctant to schedule a doctor’s appointment. It wasn’t until months later that they were finally diagnosed with a triple whammy - diabetes, hypertension as well as high cholesterol. Their denial had only postponed their diagnosis, not their disease.


As busy women, moms, wives and nurturers, we frequently put our health on the back burner. We are the last ones to bed, the last to eat a wholesome meal and the last to seek medical attention. However, while it’s admirable to prioritize the needs of others, it’s not always the wisest choice! Like the flight attendants regularly instruct us, “First, secure your own oxygen mask before attempting to assist others”. In other words, before helping others, make sure you’re safe and sound. Then, you can most effectively care for others.


Please, also note that while many disorders do provide “hints” when something is awry, many are practically undetectable without the evaluation of a skilled clinician and/or the use of specialized tests such as a blood pressure machine, blood tests, pap smears, mammograms or bone density tests. This is why routine medical examinations are invaluable. They save thousands of lives each year and increase our chances of having manageable treatment options.

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What does being a father mean to you?

Fatherhood Series

By Joel R

I am the proud father of a beautiful soon-to-be six year old girl, Alora. Her name means “my dream” and she has truly been a blessing in my life. When my daughter first came into this world I was overcome with a joy I simply can’t explain; especially because of the difficulties of her birth…I know you probably want to know more, but I’m saving that for my next tell-all book. 

Alora’s mom and I separated when Alora was about four years old. This was one of the most difficult times for me as a father. It was hard not seeing my daughter everyday like I used to. Fortunately, I was able to realize that this wasn’t a time to be angry, upset or even hurt, but a time to make every minute I had with her count. I used our time to make memories, to bond and to show her that no matter what, daddy was and would always be there. Also, once I was able to study the Bible, I began to enjoy my role as a father even more.

I didn’t have the pleasure of growing up knowing my father, so being a father is not just a title I am blessed to have. I take it very seriously. Maybe a few of you can relate. But regardless of your experience, you must know, that no matter what, your Heavenly Father has and will always be at your side.

 This is what being a father means to me:                                                                                                                                     

F - Is for FAMILY. Being able to lead, protect, worship and play as a family.

A - Is for AUTHORITY. Being able to set rules and discipline in your household.

T - Is for TEACHER. Teaching your kids about life and its challenges.

H - Is for HUMILITY. Showing your kids how to be humble when relating with others and themselves.

E - Is for EXPERIENCE. Relating your life’s turmoil, both past and present, to your kids’ experiences.

R - Is for RESPECT. Teaching your kids what it’s like to be respectful of themselves and others. 

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As a working mom, what is your biggest challenge?

Motherhood Series

By Martene P.

As a proud mommy to my three-year-old son (Dominic) and my just-turned two-year-old daughter (Avalynn), I get to experience the joys of motherhood while working a full-time job as a RN and being a wife.  I truly love being a mom! I get to watch these two beautiful blessings as they grow, change, learn, play together, and say the most hilarious things! I love when they ask me to hold them, want to give me kisses or just hold my face. I can't get enough!

My biggest challenge as a mom has always been a lack of time. As a nurse, I work three 12- hour shifts per week on days that vary from week to week. Since my shift ends at 8 PM, I often miss out on those special nighttime moments like reading a bedtime story and having a consistent nighttime ritual. My children miss me on those long work days, and of course I miss them as well.

I believe that one of the most important responsibilities of being a parent is to give your children the gift of a stable, two-parent home, whenever possible. Since this is not always an option, single parents deserve the utmost respect. I can’t imagine being a mom without someone to help me out! Then, there’s also the additional challenge of striving to be a great wife (in order to maintain a happy home) and letting my children see a harmonious unity between my husband and I. 

While my job enables me to help support my family, allows time for adult interaction, and provides me with the opportunity to help others heal, I often feel so exhausted from work that I don't have as much energy as I'd like for my family. I have high goals for my children's future and a huge aspect of accomplishing those goals includes being able to home school them. My husband is an amazing photographer with his own business. Therefore I have very high hopes that his income will be able to support our family and our dreams without my nursing income. I have also started a home-based business with a company called Arbonne, which I hope will enable me to help support our family (while working part-time on my own schedule). 

I feel like God laid it on my heart to home school my children before they were born so I know that He'll make a way for this to happen, if I do my part! I know that I have to pray regarding the success of both my business and my husband's. However, what’s even more important than my personal time or even family time, is spending time with God and building my relationship with Him! Even though this is the most difficult time to carve out of a busy schedule, it's absolutely the most vital. Without relying on God and having a prayer life, I leave myself and my family unprotected; out in the open.

I'm really trying to make reading the word and praying consistently a habit in my life.  Sometimes though, I feel like I just don't have time to do it because either Dominic and Avalynn are crying for me, they need to eat, they need a diaper change, I have to make dinner, get clothes and lunches ready for preschool, get my things ready for work or make calls for my home-based business. While it sometimes feels like I can't afford to take time out of my busy schedule to pray and read the Bible, the truth is that I can't afford not to. My future and the future of my family, depends on it!

As mothers, God has placed unique dreams and desires within each of us that He intends to watch us fulfill with His strength! This is so exciting to me! I really believe that through our faith in Christ, God has designed us to be able to have the gifts He's given us (our children, our marriages) while He enables us to fulfill our goals and have the energy to do it! It doesn't mean we'll never feel tired, overwhelmed or pressed for time. However, if we rely on God to get us through each challenge, I sincerely believe we'll reach amazing heights in our lives, in relationships, in our families, and especially in our walk with God.

I want to encourage all mothers that are feeling pulled in countless directions and feeling like you just can't sort out your life, or you feel like your own dreams and goals are falling by the wayside. Place your prayer life and reading of the Word at the top of your to-do list each and every day, and follow through with it. Matthew 6:33 sums this up: "Seek ye first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added unto you." Do this and you will experience positive change; peace, satisfaction and happiness in your home life. You will have God-given strength to accomplish your dreams and goals. Put your trust and faith in God. He will not disappoint!

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What does it take to love a (step)child?

Motherhood Series

By Angell R.

February 14, 2009; Valentine’s Day, wedding day, and the day I became a mother. He has dark brown hair. I have medium blond. He has dark brown eyes. I have blue-green. He is my (step) son but I say he just had a surrogate mother.

The final confirmation from God that I should marry a man with a six-year-old son was that full sole and physical custody would be granted to us. It was. Just like that, the biological mother returned to South Florida while we stayed in North Georgia.

Being a (step) mom is no walk in the park. I struggle with constant feelings of rejection. I tend to receive all the negative feelings because I am the constant reminder that his mother is not there; not present.

My husband and I have two children together. We have a strong bond that mother and children usually have that just comes naturally. Then there is my (step) son, whom I am always reaching out to. I always have to go out of my way to include him. I have to search for ways he shows me respect. His father is his security. I am not. It has taken several years to figure out that Rome was not built in a day and that is okay. On Mother’s Day in particular, my biological children run to me shouting and giggling while smothering me with kisses and finger paintings. My (step) son sits on the couch, very hesitant to call his biological mother.

Through all of this, I have learned that I am a stone. God is a river. He smooths the stone’s rough edges with His gentle flow. He has accomplished this through the relationship I have with my (step) son. Every time I am frustrated because I failed to communicate effectively or feel rejection, I spend alone time with my Father God and He takes it all away. I do not have to say a word. Sometimes it is a crying session. Sometimes it is just a breathing session. What keeps me going is giving it all to God. Isaiah 40:11 says, “ He gently leads those with young”. I really do not know what God does or how He does it but the minute I walk out of the room where I experienced intimacy with Him, He changes the atmosphere. Attitudes change. Respect is renewed. I read a quote recently that describes it perfectly: “God does not make us better. He makes us new”.

The only way I can be the mother I strive to be is to fully rely on God in every area of my life. I have a promise in Proverbs 31 that “my children will rise up and call me blessed”. That is not only for my biological children but also for my (step) son.

This relationship continues to create a new person in me. I have learned how important boundaries are and how to destroy unhealthy walls of my own. I have learned to be quick to listen and slow to anger. I have learned what unconditional love means. I have learned not everything has to go my way. God taught me and instills this in me. Best advice is just to keep doing what you are doing while fully submitting to Christ.

In closing, there are so many directions a mother can go in writing about being a mother because there are so many aspects of being a mother. It is hard yet so rewarding. It takes a village! It takes a support system. I am a mom. I have biological children and a (step) son. I put parentheses because you can call him stepson but I call him son. He is a part of me just like the children birthed from my very loins. It is just a unique and special relationship: one that requires going the extra mile. 

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Have you ever felt empty?

Motherhood Series

By Jennifer B.

Remembering back to the time when I was a little girl, I always was playing dolls.  Whether it was packing all my dolls into our family car and going on a pretend adventure or asking my mom to babysit so I could go play outside with friends.  Becoming a mother 17 years ago was a dream come true!  We have three kids and have had many adventures.  One of my favorite things to do is to reminisce with my husband about all the crazy things our kids did and fun times our kids have had.  It is very easy for us to go from one memory to another and soon twenty memories were shared, as well as some belly laughs. Of course, these are completely acted out with motions and voices.  In fact, I don’t think we have ever taken a long road trip without asking our middle daughter, “Can you fly this thing?” This saying came from one of the many Polly Pocket memories our middle daughter had when she was three.  She decided the living room hallway was much too long to drive her car, so one Polly Pocket figure said to the other “Hey, can you fly this thing?”  Jessie rose from the floor and ran to her bedroom and the long drive was over just like that!  Don’t you wish you could do that on long car rides? There are so many treasures that warm a heart and bond a husband and wife.     

            What I was not warned about was the painful character building that motherhood would develop in me.  About ten years ago, I seemed to have it all but was so empty inside.  I was living out my dream with much outward success but inside I felt purposeless.  I remember at some point even trying to pin my emptiness on my husband and on very low days, my kids.  I still remember my rock bottom like it was yesterday.  I was toying with dangerous thoughts of leaving my husband and cried out to God in a sobbing mess.  In fact, it was more like a yelling tantrum that turned into an “are-you-even-real-God" moment.  Little did I know that I started a journey with God that day and He would use my marriage and motherhood as the tools that would shape me into a maturing follower of Christ.

            I started spending countless hours studying the Bible.  I was being healed of so many issues.  Everything that I read and listened to impacted me.  I was starting to get strong and I was getting a true identity through Christ.  At that time, I was a stay-at-home mom so I had LOTS of time with my kids. God would start to show me how my issues were impacting my kids.  I would see how my screaming and temper was hurting my children. I went on a quest to find out why I acted like I did.  I couldn’t control it.  God would lead me on a journey through many different teachers using podcasts and I was being healed!  My prayer time became more and more powerful!  It seemed that when we were done with one thing, God would put a spotlight on another.  God and I looked at my entertainment, how well I was able to love others, and my struggle with pride. The list just goes on from there.  I was growing like a weed and the whole time I was teaching my kids about what I was learning.  They were also getting healed from their jacked up childhood! 

We are still on this journey with God and it is so crazy powerful!  God uses my family relationships all the time to speak to me.  I am still far from a perfect mom, but I am a perfect daughter and my heavenly Father always gives me a safe place to fail.  My kids will all have their character shaping sessions through parenthood and I will be right there cheering them on.  It was so painful to see how ugly I was behind the false safety of our home.  God not only redeemed those years, but He restored my relationship with my kids.  Sometimes feeling empty and out of control is a blessing because you come to the end of yourself.  For me, it was where my journey with God started and just like the boy with the loaves and fish, God used what I had to feed my spirit. He used my relationships with my kids.  I am so thankful for the fun memories, but also the terrible ones.  My kids have been on a journey with me for the last ten years. They know a really powerful God!

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What are the benefits of letting go?

 By: Naifa White

Forgiveness is one of those hot topics! Whether you’re extending forgiveness or in need of it, the issue  of forgiveness often prompts intense debate and varied emotions. After all, is it really possible to forgive and what are the benefits of forgiving (if any)?

Well, you’ve probably heard the old clique, “forgive and forget”. Unfortunately, it’s nearly impossible to “forget” some offenses such as when we’ve been humiliated, rejected, betrayed or abandoned. We can’t just erase our memories and our pain!  So, how do we actually go about forgiving?

Does it require us to ignore or minimize the offending incident OR does it challenge us to let go and no longer hold a person in our debt; to no longer insist that they somehow make up for their wrong doings? That’s it!  I think that’s an accurate definition of forgiveness; to voluntarily stop blaming someone for an action or inaction that wounded us, yet without condoning it! …Whew, that’s a tall task!!!

Now, that we’ve defined forgiveness, let’s discuss how we benefit from choosing to forgive:

1)      Forgiveness frees us to live more fully! Many times a person may not realize that they’ve even offended us (so they don’t apologize) and other times they may have acted intentionally (so they won’t apologize). But regardless of their motivations and/or their willingness to apologize, our ability to forgive shifts us from being victim to victor. It frees US from going through life maimed regardless of the other person’s actions.

Have you struggled with anger, persistent negative thoughts, the inability to maximize your potential or failure to develop meaningful relationships? Perhaps, it’s because of unforgiveness. Perhaps, you’re unconsciously saying “you owe me” to someone or something. Although anger, hurt, shock and regret are all legitimate responses, it’s what we do with these emotions that make or break us!

Do you allow your strong emotions to dictate how you interact with others and distort how you perceive the world around you? Have you allowed individual events to redefine who you are and what you believe? If so, unforgiveness is controlling you! Do you want to obtain leverage so that the bad things in life no longer determine your course in life? Are you ready to experience joy again instead of distress, fear, guilt and shame? Are you ready to stop living in the past?Then, forgive!

Forgiveness is NOT a sign of weakness. Forgiveness is NOT agreeing with or endorsing wrong doings. However, it IS a tool we can use to empower ourselves! Wounded people typically don’t get very far in life. In fact, they are often stuck in some key areas of their lives. They tend to be very guarded, fearful, aggressive or withdrawn. But regardless of one’s demeanor, it’s important to recognize that when our hands and hearts are full of negative emotions they’re also closed to all the good things that life has to offer. And yes, there is still some “good” left despite what you may have experienced

2)      Forgiveness brings peace!  When we harbor resentment or hurt it causes our pain to be magnified (if you can even fathom that). In fact, we can become so overwhelmed with our mountain of “hurt” our vision for the future is obscured. However, when we can acknowledge that we too have done things that require forgiveness (embracing our own flaws and humanity) it may become somewhat easier to extend forgiveness to others and ourselves.

3)      Lastly, unforgiveness is like poison. It makes us sick! As Nelson Mandela once said, when we choose to dwell on the injustices done to us (hate) “it’s like drinking poison and hoping the other person dies”. Additionally, countless studies by the CDC and Psychology Today demonstrate that unforgiveness often results in physical and emotional illnesses such as ulcers, headaches, depression, hypertension and anxiety. So let’s endeavor to move forward by choosing to forgive (whether it’s deserved or not) so that we can allow our own healing to begin.

Remember, what we choose to dwell on is what we become…So, let’s stop looking back because we’re not going that way anymore! 

 

Walters, Sheryl. (2008)“Lack of forgiveness can affect your health.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.  

Ross, Carolyn C. MD, MPH. (2011) “Forgiveness is Miraculous.” Psychology Today 

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Do you and your spouse make time to have fun together?

Relationship Series

By Charnae Leonce

Marriages can get stuck in a "rut" if you’re not purposeful about setting aside time to enjoy each others company. Research shows that having fun with one another can help hold our marriages together. 

What are some ways the two of you can sprinkle some fun into your relationship? Fun can come if we are curious about what an experience might hold versus placing unrealistic expectations on those moments.

Although February is the month when most couples focus on expressing their love and enjoy spending time together, wouldn't it be great to foster that environment in our marriages monthly, weekly, daily? What things do you and your spouse like doing together? What new discoveries are there to be made? Remember, it is okay to start small. You can build to more as you go along. Then, see if it’s possible to foster some new fun memories together.

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Do you love perfectly?

Relationship Series

By Naifa White

February is often referred to as the month for lovers. So when we think of Valentine’s Day, most of us don’t initially think of our children. We think of our husband, wife, significant other or our lack thereof.  But clearly, love is far more than just romance, whispered sweet nothings and chocolate. Love is multidimensional. Just as a diamond’s cut, size and clarity determine its value, so our love for others should be; ever-growing, unclouded, vibrant and beautiful!

When our precious little ones were first ushered into this world we stood in awe of their beauty. Oh, the wonder that they were finally here! Their little hands, tiny feet and rose bud lips…Precious. But as they grew and developed, their little pitter-patter became stomps of defiance and their coos became roars of annoyance in our busy lives. Their tantrums, demandingness or over-dependence gradually caused us to re-evaluate our capacity to love and to be perfect parents.

Some exceeded our greatest expectations while others clearly challenged us. So, how can we still ascribe favorable attributes to a child that our heart does not understand and embrace them as “perfectly different”? How can we learn to love the unlovable qualities and embrace the characteristics that are so   unfamiliar to us? 

In a world where the words ADHD, oppositional defiant, learning disabled, special needs, medically fragile (preemies) and strong-willed are often thrown around like confetti, it is devastating when this reality hits home. Not only must we consider how the world will view our child but often we must grapple with our own feelings. What can we do when the object of our affection doesn’t fit into the cookie-cutter mold?

Love truly has the potential to heal the most damaged soul as well as break us into a million fragile pieces. So surely we must become familiar with this phenomenon. The same is true for our children. Regardless of their strengths and even inadequacies we must choose to love. That is unconditional love; love and acceptance despite their performance, supporting them despite our weariness and seeking their best despite their seeming apathy.

When fighting for a life it requires your full-on commitment. It demands that you draw from a strength that is not your own and that you learn to see each person (including your child) as valuable based on who they are (a child of God) not on what they do (performance), how they look (external beauty) and what others say (external opinions). All of these factors fluctuate and are not a sound foundation to build a love that will last a lifetime.

We all need love that is relentless and persistent. So, when you possess this kind of love for your child, parent or anyone else, your love has been perfected! Your heart is no longer cluttered by the pride, lies and inflexible expectations of selfishness. You’ve learned to love that person fully. Once you can treat others as you’d like to be treated, your love grows deep roots that can withstand the winds, waves and storms of life. Fickleness retreats and an unshakeable love and commitment emerges! Do you have that kind of love? If not, what steps must you take to attain it? Also, consider who will be the object of your love. A select few or everyone you meet?

 Perfected love is a beautiful thing. Receive it and extend it!! 

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  Do you love perfectly?

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What about your Friends?

Relationship Series

By Janelle Simmons

Will they stand their ground? Will they let you down again? What about your friends? Are they gonna be low down? Will they ever be around? Or will they turn their backs on you?

A-line haircuts, big, floppy hats with baggy, colorful jeans and some dance moves that you know if you attempted now, you’ll probably wind up in the waiting room of the closest urgent care clinic! That song was the jam back in the day and honestly, it still makes me want to do “the wop” today! Although it was one of the songs that put the 90’s R&B trio, TLC, on the map, they posed some interesting questions about friendships.

Let’s face it, we all share one common purpose in life. Relationships. If not, then why are there so many people on earth? There’s no way we are meant to operate in everyday life alone. Whether we like it or not, we need friends. Whether you have one close, true friend or if you have 562 of them on Facebook, it’s a must have. Why? Because we need an advocate. We need to have at least one person in our lives who will have our back but still be real enough to snatch off our wigs, shake our shoulders and give us one good smack to talk us down off many of ledges. These are the friends that will stand their ground and help you to stand yours too!

Hold up! Wait a minute! I must say this: Although friends are there to help you out, please, please, PLEASE don’t label them as your hired personal assistants/super heroes! Ugh! Just like you, your friends are human beings too. Guess what that means? THEY MAKE MISTAKES! I’ve seen way too many friendships go to the crapper because someone didn’t come through when and how someone thought they should. There’s this nasty little word that can make or break a friendship or any relationship for that matter. That word is “expectations”. Do yourself and your friends a favor and make a list of all the expectations you have of them. Go outside. Get a shovel. Dig a hole 6 feet deep (Preferably on your own property: This blog post is not responsible for trespassing and property damage charges pressed against you). Invite your friends. Toss your list of expectations in hole and conduct a funeral service for them. Kiss them goodbye. Don’t look back! You’ll find that your friendships will be so much sweeter and freer when you don’t judge them based off of how the other person performs.

Now, with that said, TLC posed another question: Are they gonna be low down? This question leads us to another word. No, it’s not a nasty one like “expectations”. This word is going to be your bestest friend! Let’s hear it for “boundaries”! When you take away expectations, you gotta implement boundaries. These are especially for the needy friends that tend to suck you dry like a sponge but you love ‘em so much that you just can’t permanently throw up the peace sign and roll out. Whether they make 99.999% of your conversations entirely about their problems or if they keep borrowing your favorite accessories but never can seem to find them when you need them back, boundaries will be an answer to your loudest cries for help. From making yourself and your favorite accessories less available to introducing them to other self-sufficient people, boundaries are there to protect you. Once healthy ones are established, your friendships, depending on how your friends interpret these new boundaries, can be pretty sweet!

So, what about your friends? I challenge you to evaluate your friendships. Any of them have some expectations that need to be laid to rest? What about boundaries that need to be brought to life? Take some time to chew on it and put them in place. You’ll be oh so glad that you did!

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How can you maximize your growth?

By Naifa White

Preparation is often considered a dirty word. It conjures up ideas of hard work, discomfort and delayed gratification. However, as we embrace the new year with its new opportunities, new relationships and much-sought -after answers, we must not fail to realize that there are processes in life and common life principles that we all must honor. Despite our level of intelligence, self-determination, beauty or charisma these life principles are truly the common denominators we all must come to terms with.

Just like the principle of gravity, you can deny its existence but sooner or later you’ll learn that it’s true nevertheless.  Life constantly involves give and take; cause and effect. If you want something, first you’ll have to give something. If you want to create a new life there’s going to be an element of death first... Bury the seed in the ground, water it and then you’ll see new life sprouting up.

Here are some additional principles that should help drive this concept home:

1)      Are you ready for an upgrade or promotion?  Do you want a new job or to take your relationship or dream to the next level? Well, first consider if you’ve excelled at your current level and if you’re really ready to handle the additional pressures, new way others will perceive you and how you’ll have to reprioritize your life.

 If you seek a leadership role, ask yourself if you’ve honored those that are currently in authority over you (boss, parents, leaders) or do you constantly challenge the higher- ups?  Or, if you want more wisdom and direction concerning an area in your life, have you already heeded sound advice or have you dismissed it? Often new opportunities and relationships don’t present themselves because we haven’t fully matured in certain areas and/or because we’ve failed to lay the proper foundation to support it. Take time to evaluate yourself and your current situation.

2)      Learn to embrace the good and bad. Although trials and difficulties are never pleasant they cause us to examine ourselves and reveal our strengths, weaknesses and motives. Hardships, disappointments and even rejection make us more relatable to others and are invaluable in steering us into even better opportunities. Both failure and success prime us to be teachable leaders because once you’ve encountered certain pitfalls you can easily direct others to safety. Additionally, you’ll be more aware that no one can do it alone and wise enough to seek out others more successful than yourself for guidance. (Accountability).

3)      Preparation almost always involves our willingness to be vulnerable. This helpless state causes us to be more cooperative than usual and allows us to develop compassion for others as well. So, don’t rush the process of preparation because each step you climb positions you for your destiny.

Additionally, if you attempt to sprint up the stairs, taking them two at a time, you could circumvent this necessary process and then be ill-prepared to handle your “dream”. So no matter how steep the climb or how lengthy the process, endeavor to enjoy the journey because it’s where the real growth occurs! Like a pregnancy, courtship  or extensive schooling, if you loathe this portion of your life you may finish quickly only to later realize you missed a special season of life that you can never recapture again.

So go ahead, smell the roses of life and may their fragrance forever comfort you as you enjoy the journey to becoming you!

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What do you do while waiting?

By Naifa White

Whether you’re waiting on a new relationship, a better job opportunity or good health, we all experience seasons of expectation. Life is loaded with cycles of growth and change. Hence, how do we obtain relief and contentment while living in a state of emptiness and longing?

With the start of the New Year have you experienced increased restlessness as your “lack” becomes more painfully apparent?  Do you feel like your hopes for fulfillment, joy and success continue to elude you?  Well, here are a few principles that will aid you in your journey. They’re not full of empty platitudes and well-meaning pats on the back, but hopefully real substance that will help you navigate the waters of expectation, disappointment, anxiety and restlessness.

1)      Don’t fixate on the “answer”; looking around every corner for your “Mr. Right”, that offer letter, phone call or great windfall. Instead, flourish in the tasks at hand. Do what you already know to do but with greater excellence. Volunteer, give back (all year long), nurture friendships or a latent talent. Work on being the best possible you. People and circumstances aren’t attracted to nothingness! Be functional; be a contributor instead of just a taker and embrace contentment. Live fully in the present instead of pining for “tomorrow” and be grateful for the countless blessing you already possess. Surely, someone else would take the same resources, freedom, talent and personality that you have come to loathe and would thrive. But, since it’s yours... Work it!!

2)      Prepare for the “answer”. In nature, bird specialists and even medical doctors use the term ”nesting” to describe the stage where a mother prepares the nest for her new additions. She cleans out clutter, gathers, stores and builds a fortified shelter to protect her investment. The same should be true for our lives! Get things in order and make room for your new addition. Re-evaluate relationships (some can hold you back), reorganize the shelves (prioritize), clear out the junk and clutter (unnecessary stuff distracts) and get your life in order. Get healthy; yes physically, emotionally, spiritually and even financially. In other words, dress the part! Be the part!  By repositioning yourself it’s more likely that you’ll be able to handle your new blessing (once it arrives) and bear the load of the unexpected baggage that comes along with it.

3)      Lastly, consider what you’re really asking for and why. Abuse is the improper use of a person or thing that alters what it was originally designed for. So, when you haven’t properly prepared yourself, harbor selfish motives or are short-sighted you’re more likely to abuse people and situations and hence, risk losing them. So take time to study the object of your desire and then examine yourself. If you fall short, don’t be discouraged and throw up your hands. Just, get to work!! Seek out wise counsel too. You may be overlooking the key to your success. Likely, it’s right in front of you... Just look in the mirror!

Remember, there is always a process before the promise and labor before the delivery!

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How diverse is your team?

By Juwana Jackson

By now, most of us have begun to plan our resolutions, goals and visions for the new year. Before you plan any further, I urge you to build a team of supporters. Whether you hope to lose weight or begin a new business, a good team can help you endure the journey ahead. Consider this, when you get weary, who will remind you of your "why"? Who will encourage you all the way to the finish line? Who will challenge you? Who will tell you the truth even when it hurts? Who believes in your dream? Once you can answer these questions, you’re on your way to forming your team.

But let’s not stop there. We need to make sure our team is as varied as the obstacles we might face. Answer these 5 questions to help establish a diverse team.

1. Does your team consist of someone from the opposite sex? One obvious way to diversify a team is to add someone of the opposite sex. Research shows that males are more left-hemisphere controlled (logical) and females are more right-hemisphere controlled (intuitive, emotional). When we regard both viewpoints, it provides a more accurate and complete picture of situations than a one gender perspective. 

2. Who on your team has a different personality than yours? I tend to be an assertive, optimistic person. When I share my thoughts with people that are more passive than I, they help me understand how to work well with people with passive personalities. When I seek advice from people who are less optimistic than I, they help me clearly see the current state of the matter not just the potential state.

3. Does your team include someone from a different culture? One of my African team members told me that coming to the United States gave her a voice that she did not have in her country. In the place where she was born, women are considered subpar citizens. Not only did her statement help me appreciate my freedom of speech, but it gave me a greater awareness that some cultures still practice the oppression of women. Consequently, many women have voices that are never heard. After wrestling with this reality, I decided that F2F will always be a place where their voices are welcomed. 

4. Are you tapping into the resources of other generations? Although seldom consulted, youths can offer a fresh perspective on many situations. Their inexperience often contributes to a bold faith that adults occasionally lack. On the other hand, seniors hold a wealth of experience. For me, I’m usually aware of what I know and what I need to learn. But sometimes I don't realize what I don't know, and this is where the seniors on my team are critical. They are able to draw from their experiences and warn me of possible minefields ahead. 

5. Do your team’s talents compliment your talents? Sports teams consist of players and coaches. Players' talents are demonstrated on the field, court or rink. Coaches' talents are demonstrated in the strategy used in preparation and managing the game. Each has his or her respective place. In order to win, the talents of both players and coaches are essential. None of us can operate effectively in all roles. So, we need to seek out team members that are talented in the areas where we are lacking and trust their expertise.

We cannot accomplish our goals or reach our dreams without a team to aid us and cheer us along. As Ken Blanchard observed, "None of us is as smart as all of us.”  And a diverse team can make a big difference!

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How diverse is your team? 

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Are you prepared to succeed...or fail?

By Juwana Jackson

To prepare is to make something ready for use or consideration. Each day we prepare for something. Benjamin Franklin admonished, “By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail.” Where and how preparation takes place is unique to the person and his or her circumstances. For an expectant mother, preparation might take place at a lamaze class. For an athlete it could take place on a practice field. And for a student, maybe it takes place in a classroom. But one thing is common among all of us; our past has prepared us for today. It has prepared us to fail or succeed, which one depends on us!

Think of your past as part of your training ground. Now, consider what you have learned while in training.

1.       What important lessons have you learned about yourself? Often overlooked, introspection is the most important act a person can perform. It involves taking an honest look at oneself. Introspection is not intended to make you feel guilty nor to cause you to blame others. It is a self examination process intended to help identify your tendencies and the background explanations for them. During the process, you might ask yourself, what is my view on relationships, finances, child-rearing and self-worth and how have my past experiences shaped my view. Once you answer these questions, you can decide if it is time to adjust your views.

2.     How has your past prepared you for this period in your life? The way you interpret your past determines your perspective. In other words, the way you define your experiences defines your mindset. I am not suggesting you deny that you had a difficult past, if you did. But I am suggesting that you do not allow a difficult past to define your present. Recognize every lesson your past has taught you and commit to grow from it. We are happiest when we maintain a positive outlook despite the trials. Reflect on how you most often define your childhood? Adolescence? Adulthood? Truthfully considering your responses, how prepared are you to receive what you are praying for?

3.     What is it time for you to finally accept? During the preparation process, we are positioned to purge our lives of revealed and hidden lies. One of the biggest lies we have to address is the belief that we cannot be forgiven of our past mistakes. Who among us has never had poor judgment? Although you should acknowledge it, you should not allow it to haunt you. The second lie frequently believed is the idea that we can change another person. The truth is we do not have the authority to change anyone other than ourselves. Thus, attempting to change another person is futile and frustrating. Such pressure can quickly destroy our relationships. Decide today to accept the things (and people) you cannot change.

As you continue through your unique preparation process, occasionally look back to your past for clarity, but do not stay there. You’re future needs you!

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Are you prepared to succeed...or fail? 

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Are you using what you already have?

By Juwana Jackson

Have you ever had the desire to positively impact a person, your community or the world but then second-guessed yourself? Did you get discouraged after considering your meager salary, limited skills or lack of support? Well, in 2006, I found myself in that very place. I had frequently made donations and volunteered at local charities, yet I still had a strong desire to do more. I wanted to make a lasting impact in someone’s life.

Unfortunately, after I considered my limitations, I became discouraged. Who was I kidding? I did not have a large bank account, access to significant resources or relationships with influential people. I prayed for more resources but my circumstances did not change. Instead, my longing to do more intensified. Then, I had my Aha moment! I was a single woman living in a four-bedroom house. I did not need more resources; I needed to use what I already had.  A few months later, after serious contemplation and wise counsel, I invited a homeless woman and her children to move in with me.  They gladly accepted. The experience was life-affirming for all of us. So, although you may not have extra space in your home, it’s likely that you do have something to contribute that could make a huge difference in your life or the life of someone you know.

Let’s look at a few reasons why you might be overlooking the resources you already have:

1.     We overlook what we already have because we try to control the circumstances and outcomes. (Perfectionism). If you have been waiting for everything to line up according to how you think they should be, it is time for self-examination. Before I had my Aha moment, I had decided that I needed more resources. When my prayers were unanswered, I claimed that I was waiting on God. The truth was that God was waiting on me to relinquish control and stop making excuses.

2.     We overlook what we already have because we dislike the thought of being uncomfortable. (Self-centeredness). I do not know anyone who enjoys discomfort and inconvenience. Sometimes using what we already have requires us to make adjustments. In my situation, I needed to learn to live with roommates. Your situation might require you to do your own manicures or cutback on Starbucks so you can free up money to save for that business venture you’ve been dreaming of.

3.     We overlook what we already have because we make comparisons. (Envy). Few things can cause us to feel inadequate faster than comparing ourselves and our circumstances to someone else’s. In 2006 when I thought about the people I knew who were excelling in their life’s mission, I felt like a failure. I felt like a disappointment to God. I had to finally realize that what I already had (to begin with) was intentionally different.

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Are you using what you already have?

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Where are you stuck?

By Juwana Jackson

                                                  Photo and caption by iswani Jam Ani

                                                  Photo and caption by iswani Jam Ani

It’s terrifying to step into unfamiliar territory and pursue something that’s too big for you to accomplish alone. First, unfamiliar territory implies unfamiliar dangers. Second, when we pursue something, there is always the potential for failure. And third, if it can’t be accomplished alone, you’ll be required to relinquish some control (maybe all). With that said, many of us opt out, choose to play it safe and bury our dreams.

Today, I challenge you to revive your old dreams. Over the next five weeks, we will explore 5 tips to help start the process of living the Big Dream. You bring the courage and I’ll bring the tips. Let’s begin!  

   1.      Use what you already have. Ditch the “If I had_______ then I would __________” OR “When I get__________ then I will _________” statements. If you are not willing to pursue your dreams right now, with what you already have, there is a real chance you will never pursue your dreams. What you have now is enough to begin with!

2.      Be willing to go through the preparation process. Too often we give up on ideas, dreams, and desires because the preparation process is challenging. But if you receive what you’ve been praying for before you are properly prepared you will destroy it or it will destroy you. Go through the process!

3.      Build a diverse team of supporters. Most of us prefer to be around like-minded people. And while that is great when deciding what to have for dinner, it can be stifling when pursuing a dream. Check your close circle and make sure it includes people who are similar to you as well as people who are different from you. Diversity can make a big difference!

4.      Wait it out. Some things come quickly. Dreams do not. The very definition of a dream tells us that it is a goal; an aspiration; something we aim for. It begins as a concept; a thought. As it develops it becomes a desire and then finally, you have a dream. But even after you’ve done the work, there may still be a waiting period before it actualizes. Don’t quit. Wait it out!

5.      Make failure work to your advantage. I cannot begin to count the number of times I have failed. And I’m talking about epic failures. Still, it was not the end. After the tears dried up and the embarrassment faded, I’d always ask myself, “What lesson can I take away from this?” The answer to that very question can help build courage to try again. Learn from every lesson. Failure teaches!  

In the upcoming weeks, we will look more closely at each of these 5 tips. But for now, we want to hear from you.

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Where are you stuck?

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What is your Big Dream?

By Juwana Jackson

As we prepare for our “Dream Big Experience” on January 23, 2016, I thought it would be an excellent time to share my Big Dream!

About 8 years ago, I walked into the YMCA and picked up a flyer for a women’s book study. I found the title of the book, Boundaries, interesting.  So, I signed up.   A few days later, I received a call from the organizer.  It turned out that I was the only person that had signed up. Ambitious as she was, she asked if I would be okay moving forward with the study.  It didn’t matter to me if there were 2 or 20 people.  So, I agreed to meet; just the two of us.

As the story would go, we never read that book.  Instead, we got to know each other.  She struggled with depression and low self-esteem and I was in a good place so I could be a shoulder to lean on.  She began to find refuge in our friendship.  She would regularly visit with me for counsel and support.  We laughed together but mostly we cried.  I made the decision that no matter what it took, I wanted to see my new friend free from depression.  It was a long and painful process for both of us.  But after several months she was FREE and I knew that I had discovered the purpose for my life…to help women break free from fear, oppression, low self-worth, unforgiveness, negativity and all that tears at the soul. I wanted to help women be Free to Flourish.

From that time, F2F has been my Big Dream.  As I launch F2F, I think back on the times I felt that I was the wrong person for the task. Surely, there was someone more experienced than me. I recall the times I feared that I would fail. Sometimes, I even feared success.  Honestly, sometimes I still wonder if I can do this. But through all of the doubt, this Big Dream has continued to live inside of me and I have continued to live out my Big Dream.

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What is your Big Dream?

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