We Must Stop Apologizing for Our Light!

If you’ve worked hard to get where you are and are striving to be the best, you better tell people that!

Stretch!No healthy person sets a life goal to be dim. No one aims to be unnoticed and unimportant. Not one person desires to be forgotten or cast away.

So why do we do it?

Why do we shrink ourselves and diminish our contributions?

Why do we shy away from notice, accolades or appreciation?

The truth is this:

Confidence is not the equivalent of bragging.

If you’ve worked hard to get where you are and are striving to be the best, you better tell people that! Be the one bold enough to say it. Be the one proud enough to claim it.

And guess what?

They’ll either respect you for it and walk alongside you or they’ll be intimidated and get moved out of the way.

You aren’t sorta okay.

You’re not kind of …

You are GOOD.

You deserve the best for your life and the fruit of a bright future.

I never met a tree that refused to stretch its branches for fear or offending the sky.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Are You Naked?

 

During this season of adjustment, change and utterly destroyed comfort zones… have you found yourself naked, exposed to the elements of life and shivering? I’ve been there and I’ve found that an all-weather covering is needed to get through times like these. It doesn’t matter if you are wading through of an expected life change or find yourself thrust into the middle of a world-shaking tornado of everything happening all at once, there is an answer!

Don’t go out into the world naked, my dear friend.

Teleology: Your Life, Your Choice, Your Purpose

If I believed everything that I read, I would believe that everyone has a deep hatred for people different than themselves. If I believed that every snide comment and hateful word vocalized the secret feelings of the strangers I come into contact with on a daily basis, I would be ruled by fear.

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There is so much happening in the atmosphere. The year has just begun and I already feel like there is unprecedented potential for renewal and growth, if we allow it. However, I also see that people are hurting, disappointed and stuck reliving past hang ups. In this political and social climate, I have made the choice to believe that people inherently desire to be and do good, even when they fail at it. I feel it’s more important now than ever.

I have a problem.

I read the news online and I inevitably find myself reluctantly reading the commentary, even though I have made repeated promises to myself not to. I know…I definitely shouldn’t. It’s not healthy and most of the time, it’s not productive. In the comments is where the ugly underbelly of humanity is exposed. It’s laid out for all of the world to see, unapologetic and crude. It’s where people have the gall to say things about and to others that they would never say to their face. It’s sad, frustrating and often depressing.

If I believed everything that I read, I would believe that everyone has a deep hatred for people different than themselves. If I believed that every snide comment and hateful word vocalized the secret feelings of the strangers I come into contact with on a daily basis, I would be ruled by fear. If I believed even a fraction of what I see in those despicable comments was prevalent thinking, then I would believe that the world is doomed and I might as well give up.

I have a solution.

I have chosen to believe that I can make a positive impact intentionally by being authentically who I am. I know that I can do it, if I do so with purpose. I will continue to bless strangers in secret when I feel led to do so. I will speak kind words to encourage and uplift those who seem to be struggling with life. I will pray for those who seem to be disconnected, mean and hurting. I will smile at strangers and say “Hello!” even when they don’t smile back. I will hug people with permission and compliment them honestly. I will leave my house determined to make someone’s day better, however I can.

The week before Christmas, I stood in line at a busy deli counter in the grocery store, patiently waiting my turn. The young black gentleman behind the counter was visibly flustered. He had commands coming at him from all angles: his co-workers were asking him questions about what was in the back and customers were asking for deli meat, cheese, a little bit of potato salad (No, that’s not enough!), and so on. It was on my heart to say something kind to him. I was last in line. He took my order and packed my grilled chicken in a deli back, weighed it and handed it to me.

“Thank you.” I said with a smile. “You’re doing a good job.”

He looked at me with disbelief. He shook his head in disagreement as if what I said wasn’t true. He ducked back behind the counter to straighten up the display and close the sliding glass door. Then he turned his back to me to go on to the next task awaiting him. I walked away.

I purpose to acknowledge those I meet and let them know that they matter because I will never know how much they need to hear it.

I won’t argue with foolishness. I won’t let anger and suspicion rule my thoughts. I will stop reading the commentary since it ads not one ounce of light to my life. I will instead, put out positive, encouraging and uplifting words. I choose to be accountable for what I put out into this world, even when others do not.

I am also determined to make my own way, figure it out as I go and take risks even though I may be hurt in the process. I won’t let anyone’s opinion of me, my talents, my abilities or experiences dictate my potential. There will always be someone who feels like I am inferior because I’m a full-time mom, because I am black, because I am a woman…because, because, because. I won’t let them win. You shouldn’t either!

It’s your life. How you live it is your choice, but do it with purpose.

 

 

 

A Vision of Peace

The snow has covered all of the ugly. Of course, it’s still there underneath the blanket – the broken down car that’s been parked on the street for way too long, the crooked sidewalk, overgrown hedges, rusted chain link fences and sorry excuse of a lawn aren’t visible anymore.

I’m used to hearing people here in the Midwest say, “I love winter.” Or “I love it when it snows!” I grew up in the South and didn’t share the same sentiment when I first moved here. However, it’s grown on me over the last thirteen years or so. It’s common here to hit the man made ski slopes, go sledding or build snowmen. I love it too, but for a different reason.

Have you ever realized how quiet the Earth seems after a heavy snow? It’s like a large blanket that muffles everything. Cars driving by on the street seem quieter. The animals – birds, squirrels, etc. are quieter. You automatically feel the need to hibernate, stay home and rest, drink a hot beverage and do something low-key or do nothing at all. All of the sudden, the fireplace that doesn’t get used, seems necessary.

Last night, we had about three inches of light fluffy snow. I call this the “good kind of snow” – no ice on the sidewalks or roads. I woke up this morning to bright white light streaming through my curtains and it made me happy. But today, I was able to connect the dots and I know now why this weather makes me feel this way.

I’ve recently been ushered into a place of peace in my life. I’ve experienced loss, reconciliation, self-realization and I have also had to cut out some toxic people. However, I have so much joy and feel completely at ease. The things I have experienced in the last twelve months would have been enough to send me into a spiraling depression ten years ago. Today, I accept all of these things as part of my growth journey.

The snow has covered all of the ugly. Of course, it’s still there underneath the blanket – the broken down car that’s been parked on the street for way too long, the crooked sidewalk, overgrown hedges, rusted chain link fences and sorry excuse of a lawn aren’t visible anymore. All I see is pure white. All I hear is quiet and whispers of blowing wind.

I imagine God covering me with a blanket in my times of sorrow and confusion. The blanket is white, soft as snow, all-encompassing, warm and shielding. It covers my frustration, regrets, doubts and all of my ugliness. It’s how I’ve made it this far. It’s the reason why I look out of my window and smile, despite the cold. This is what I imagine peace looks like.

2017 Encouragement: It’s Not Over!

2017 is a new beginning, a fresh start, a chance to shine brighter than you ever have before by faith!

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Whatever  you have been through in 2016 does not determine your future. You determine what happens from here. Don’t let those disappointments, failures, let downs, bad relationships and naysayers rob you of your joy. This is a new beginning, a fresh start, a chance to shine brighter than you ever have before by faith!

Watch Here to see why I am so excited about 2017 and why you should be too!

Make 2017 marvelous (the type of year you’ll brag about!)

The Art of Letting Go

I’ve gotten better at controlling my thoughts, but it’s an everyday battle to keep my mind from traveling down the rabbit hole of “what if…”

just-let-goI’ve been a master of worry most of my life. Even as a child, I worried. If I saw my parents argue, I stayed up at night and wondered if they would get a divorce and who I would go live with. If I got a message mid-day that I needed to walk home from school, I thought obsessively about the probability of getting hit by a car right up until the last bell. Speaking in front of the class meant that my stomach would be in knots for an entire week leading up to the assignment. I was almost always anxious about something.

By the time I was 16 years old, I had ulcers and acid reflux. By the time I left for college at age 17, I had obsessive compulsive behaviors that I was convinced were normal and necessary. I was particular about some of the smallest details. When I ate, I didn’t want my food to touch. I wore long sleeves when out in crowds because of the fear that my skin would touch someone else’s and I would break out in hives – which would actually happen. At restaurants, I would only sit in a seat that faced the door.

At 18, I met my now husband, who was and still is a sweetheart, but didn’t know how to properly use a vacuum cleaner, wasn’t bothered at all by a day-old sink full of dishes and only did laundry when he felt it was absolutely necessary. When we married, I found it nearly impossible to keep up the high standard I upheld when I was single. One day while I was melting into a blubbering mess over the constant grime my husband was leaving in the shower, I realized I was close to having a breakdown over something I couldn’t control.

Letting go of my obsessive thoughts and behaviors wasn’t an option. I had to do it for my sanity and overall health and survival.

Starting in high school, I had begun experiencing intense bouts of nausea and vomiting, which resulted in numerous emergency room visits over a span of seven years. I spent dozens of nights on the bathroom floor and I developed food aversions as a way to try and control my symptoms. In 2009, after a visit to the emergency room revealed internal bleeding, I was finally diagnosed with Crohn’s Disease. It was a relief because the monster I had been fighting finally had a name. Although not much was known about why I had it or how it developed, I was convinced that I had brought some of it on myself.

About nine years later, I can confidently report that I have let go. I no longer have the expectation that my closets will look like a photo in a home magazine. (My husband’s corduroys hanging next to a pair of cargo shorts is not my vision of order). My house is never messy, but it’s definitely not my ideal version of clean. If I need a break, I take a nap…sink full of dishes or pile of laundry be damned! I have faith that it will still be there when I wake up. I play with my eighteen month old daughter every day. We make messes together and it’s glorious.

I’ve gotten better at controlling my thoughts, but it’s an everyday battle to keep my mind from traveling down the rabbit hole of “what if…” I question every decision I make at least twice. I imagine the worst before I believe for the best. I am overly cautious. I like rules and boundaries. Freedom and spontaneity are scary to me. I like things that fit nicely into boxes and don’t overlap. Black and white is nice, but never grey.

I protect myself when I can from threats to my health, balance and peace. I don’t diet because I can’t. It’s not wise for me to do something that requires a level of control that could lead to an unhealthy habit. I’ve cut ties with people who are toxic and only took from me and never added value. I don’t tolerate drama, gossip, negativity or people who refuse to be accountable for their actions. I don’t smoke. I don’t drink. I see a counselor regularly. I don’t watch movies or television programs that make me anxious, depressed, angry or that I find disturbing. I have found freedom in surrounding myself with positive people. I read positive books, articles and The Word in as many forms as I can digest. I do whatever I can to add to my life and then I put that positively back out into the world when I can.

It’s amazing how trivial things used to demand so much of my mental energy when I allowed them to…a messy closet, spilled milk on the couch, a scratch on the car door, a parking ticket, dog urine on the carpet, walking into a meeting late, the anticipation of a conflict, etc.

We have to be good stewards and take care of our bodies, minds and spirits. We don’t get to do it over again. We don’t get to go back in time and spend more time on the things that matter to us. We get one chance to mess it up and then course correct.

I’ve learned that bitterness and strife eat away. Anger stifles and suffocates potential. Doubt leaves trails of apprehension and the attempt to control is insanity in the making. With the time you have left, be free. Let go!

 

 

Don’t Consider Yourself Small

I didn’t believe that behind my small stature and little voice there was a purpose. I didn’t believe anyone would want to hear what I had to say. I didn’t believe that what I had to say was of value. I was wrong!

I’ve always been small in the literal sense. I’m five feet tall exactly and it’s been that way since middle school. Because of that, adults and peers alike would assume that I was insignificant and I allowed it in a lot of ways. I mastered the art of being invisible. I would be in a classroom full of kids and my teachers would forget that I was there. I was quiet. I kept to myself. I didn’t want to be seen. I didn’t want to bring attention to myself. As far back as I can recall, it’s been that way.

In middle school, I remember going through the lunch line on a particular day, as I did every day. At the register, the lunch lady asked me, “Who are you here to visit today?”

I looked around, confused. “I go here,” I told her, trying to straighten my shoulders a bit to look taller.

Her eyes widened and she laughed a hearty laugh, slapping her thigh. “Oh, I thought you were visiting your big brother or sister! You’re so cute.”

In high school, I felt wearing colors would make people notice me in the hallways, so I avoided them. I wore long sleeves most days, even in the summer I wore jackets or sweatshirts all day. I sat in the back of my classes and didn’t speak unless I was spoken to.

It wasn’t until I started to pack for college that I realized how sad of an existence I had made for myself. I opened an empty box and took several pairs of pants out of the closet and off of their hangers – five pairs of khaki pants in various shades, three pairs of jeans and six pairs of black pants. I didn’t have any shorts because I didn’t want people to look at my scrawny legs. For the same reason, I didn’t wear dresses or skirts. My wardrobe was a reflection of my attitude about life; there was no color and there was no excitement.

In college, I walked into a popular intimate apparel shop in the mall near my parent’s house. I was on break from school, bored and looking to kill some time on a free afternoon. I browsed for a few minutes before I was approached by a saleswoman.

“Where are your parents?” She asked, without offering an appropriate customer service greeting.

I didn’t understand the significance of her question at first. “They’re at home…?”

“They let you come to the mall all by yourself?”

“I’m older than I look,” I told her as she starred at me in disbelief. “I’m in college.”

I don’t remember her response after that, but I was so embarrassed that I left. I couldn’t even buy a pair of panties without judgment! It would be another three years before I mustered the courage to enter one of the stores again.

In my mid-twenties, I went to a pharmacy to pick up over-the-counter cold medicine. Due to the local law, it required a signature at purchase. The older male pharmacist looked past me and over my head at my husband who was standing off to the side and asked, “Are you the father?”

He laughed and shook his head, “No, this is my wife!”

The pharmacist looked at me for the first time and offered a weak apology, but no smile. He begrudgingly rung up the medicine as if he didn’t believe me.

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This has gone on for long enough. I accepted it at first because I considered myself small. I saw myself as a grain of sand in the world with little to contribute and nothing much to offer. I didn’t believe that behind my small stature and little voice there was a purpose. I didn’t believe anyone would want to hear what I had to say. I didn’t believe that what I had to say was of value. I was wrong!

Not only do I contribute to the world, but I have a beautiful family who love and depend on me. When I speak, people actually listen. I’ve had the responsibility and privilege to sow into the lives of so many people that I can’t count them all. I am a woman of faith, a teacher, motivator, an encourager, mentor and leader.

I am a person who matters in the world and so are you.

Don’t consider yourself small. Don’t allow the issues of life to knodont-consider-yourself-smallck you down and then just resolve to stay seated until it all blows over. The power of change is in your hands. You deserve to live a peaceful, happy and fulfilled life, but that requires your participation. My desire is to see you emerge from the shadows and corners of life and find the seat at the table that was made just for you.

It won’t happen all at once. It won’t happen overnight, but if you work at it, it will happen. And when it does, you’ll look back at the disappointing times in your life and laugh at how much has changed. I look back now at the little girl with puffy hair, wearing hand-me-down clothes two sizes too big, lugging around 10 pounds of books, concerned about being teased in the hallways and I wish I could share with her what I know now. I would tell her that it gets better and she shouldn’t take life so seriously at such a young age. I would tell her that she will impact the lives of millions. I would tell her to believe and not to lose faith in the goodness of life and the kindness in people, because it still exists.

I would tell her, like I am telling you – you are worth it! You matter. You have purpose and your life has meaning.

Stay encouraged. Don’t give up. Get to know the sleeping giant inside of you. You aren’t small. You are just beginning.

 

 

The Demise of the Comfort Zone

Seeking a life with purpose will make you uncomfortable, vulnerable, at times miserable, but it’s necessary. Your growth is waiting for you on the other side of your comfort zone. In complete comfort we aren’t challenged. The comfort zone is where our dreams stagnate and eventually die. We all have t do it at some point. Push through!

Galatians 5:13

13 You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the sinful nature; rather, serve one another humbly in love. 

There is safety in the Comfort Zone. This is the place where we know we know that our beautiful, steady boat stays exactly the way it is. Whether we are satisfied or not with this place is one thing; but we definitely know that this is where we have security, with no surprises or shocks. Our hearts are protected in this space. We may have been resting in this area with no one to challenge us out of it. We could also have been driven into the safe Comfort Zone by heart break, conflicting circumstances, gain and loss of love or trust, or fear of the unknown.

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It’s a difficult day when we realize that we cannot stay in…

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Daring To Be Me: How I Cultivated Authentic Leadership

I didn’t want to do what I saw everyone else doing. I definitely didn’t want to repeat their failures. I was growing out of the people-pleasing phase of my life and wasn’t interested into conforming to someone else’s idea of leadership.

My hope for you is that you find your own voice and your own leadership style that allows you to connect with people.

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“If you have to tell people that you are the boss, then you are not the boss!”

The statement was simple, but I will never forget it. The day I heard it, I was sitting in a Bible class. The topic of the evening was leadership. I laughed out loud because of how simple and true the statement was. But as the week went on, I found myself replaying it in my mind over and over. It prompted me to make a decision. I didn’t want to be that person – the one so out of touch and insecure that I needed to throw my weight around and remind everyone constantly of how in charge I was.

I would say, looking back on it now, that statement resonating with me was the beginning of my purpose journey. I wasn’t even in a supervisory role at the time, but I knew that I didn’t want to do what I saw everyone else doing. I definitely didn’t want to repeat their failures. I was growing out of the people-pleasing phase of my life and wasn’t interested into conforming to someone else’s idea of leadership.

Was it possible to be someone’s boss, supervise their work, delegate to them, provide them with guidance and criticism when needed and also love and care for who they were as a person? I believed it was true and found that juggling all of those demands and expectations was my niche. I never had to dangle a carrot to get someone to run faster or work harder. I never threatened or belittled. I didn’t lie or keep secrets. I was just Stephanie all day, every day. I worked hard to ensure that I upheld my values personally and professionally so they were never at odds.

Side Note: It’s so much easier to be one person all of the time and not have to maintain separate versions of oneself.

I was transparent, firm, optimistic, kind and caring. I was the opposite of what many would expect a person in a high-stress leadership position to be. I was determined not to take out my stresses and shortcomings on my staff. I took a servant’s approach. They were there to serve the company and me as their supervisor, but I was also there to serve them. If their fundamental needs weren’t being met, then I looked at it as a failure on my part. What resulted was a powerful dynamic of trust and openness that I didn’t see anywhere else in the company. People would comment that my team was “different” and my team members “actually liked each other,” but what they didn’t know was how intentional it was.

While being purposeful in my pursuit of balanced and authentic leadership, I uncovered a purpose that was so intricately woven into the fabric of me, but it was at odds at times with the goals of my employer. I cared more about the individual than I did the often suffocating metrics that hung over my head daily. If someone wanted to quit, I encouraged them to go find the type of work that they were passionate about, even if it made me one person short during the busy season. If someone had a calendar full of appointments, but came to work devastated by the wreckage in their personal life, I sent them home and took on the burden, delegating what I could. When someone needed to cry, vent frustrations, get angry, cuss or ask for personal advice, I offered my office as a safe space.

I took a risk and it was worth it. I had challenges just like any boss does with hiring and firing staff, having tough conversations, dolling out the constructive criticism and not-so-favorable evaluations at times. I would question whether I was doing the right thing. With examples of the opposite before me, I started to feel like maybe I was too soft and cared too much. But I approached each person and each situation with a purpose and for that reason, I have no regrets. I’ve been able to build and maintain wonderful relationships over the years by doing things differently and choosing to connect rather than dictate.

When I had to call someone into the HR office first thing in the morning to tell them they were being let go, discuss severance, request their key and walk them out of the back door, I felt like a failure. But then, the unusual happened – I got a hug from them and a sincere “thank you,” followed by a genuine request to keep in touch. To me, it was triumph amidst the disappointment.

Today, I’m still not the type of person who can work a room full of strangers or walk into a crowd and demand attention. I’ve never had an iron fist. I’m a quiet observer. I have a fantastic photographic memory and an uncanny ability to learn and recall random facts about history, people and places. I come alive when I can talk about purpose and what I’m passionate about. I thrive when I can teach someone something new. I find confidence when I can authentically share my life experience and make someone else’s life better in the process.

My hope for you is that you find your own voice and your own leadership style that allows you to connect with people. It doesn’t matter if you are naturally loud and out front or a behind the scenes supporter. Everyone has a leader in them. The type of leader you desire to be may not be popular, but from my experience, that’s when magic happens.

Allow the leader you are to be an intimate part of you, not just a representative. Be real and be accountable to who you are and upfront about your expectations. Share with people and they will share with you. Learn about the people who look up to and rely on you. If you don’t know who they are, what drives them, their strengths, their limitations or worries you will never truly understand how to lead them effectively.

No, it won’t be easy.

But yes, I can say from experience that it’s worth it.

Insulate Your Life So You Can Grow

When you are in a season of development and growth, it’s important that you take steps to protect yourself. Whether you are making preparations for family growth, a job transition, career change or relationship shift, it’s necessary to protect the investment you are making in yourself. Insulation is just for a time period – long enough to allow positive change to take place without interruption.

Think about a green house. In the winter, the plants are insulated and protected from the harsh winter cold and nighttime frost. Without the green house, the leaves, stems, fruit and vegetables would get frost bitten and eventually wither. However, once the weather turns warm again, the plants can be moved out into the open air where the atmosphere will encourage their growth.

Here are three areas to be purposeful about during your season of insulation:

Insulate Your Dreams and Plans: Unfortunately, everyone is not going to be able to listen to the great ideas you have and be supportive. There will be negative people and those who simply don’t get it. While you are bringing your vision to life, you may need to stay tight-lipped.

Insulate Your Relationships: Surround yourself with people who will be positive, but honest with you. These should be individuals who are like-minded in what they want out of life, with similar values and life priorities. They are the ones who can lift you up when you feel down and can also give you a push when you need to be held accountable.

Insulate Your Learning: Be careful about the type of information you ingest whether it be through reading, listening or watching. Information does not automatically equal wisdom. Surround yourself with credible information that feeds your purpose and gives life to the vision you are nurturing.