Hug Break

“If you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any fellowship with the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and purpose.”

– Philippians 2:1-2 NIV

Encouragement, comfort, fellowship, tenderness and compassion. In the second chapter of the book of Philippians, the Apostle Paul infers to the reader that there should be the evidence of what is mentioned in the list opening this post to validate the authenticity of one’s relationship with Christ. The words Paul uses are action words that suggest that a sincere believer should have an interactive relationship with God-the -Father, through faith in Christ, that results in consistent, constant intermittent hug breaks between God and each of His followers.

In the same way, Paul infers that what we receive in our faith walk with Christ should then influence us to be like-minded, like Christ, in how we make use of our hug breaks with God with others. It’s the same principle of love Christ taught His disciples when He challenged them to love one another as He loved them in John’s gospel. It is also the same principle of love God commands us to follow from the 2nd commandment to love our neighbor as ourselves. As I’ve shared with other parents, regardless of the transition, we should simply seek to parent our children.

It has been often stated that there is no ‘book’ that teaches us how to parent our children. As often as I have heard this, as I’ve grown in my faith walk with Christ, I reflect upon how God feels about those who say that, but more importantly believe it as truth. The bible teaches in 2 Peter 1 that everything we need for life and godliness comes through our knowledge of God. Our knowledge of God is best obtained through our time spent reading the scripture and receiving clarity from God as we invest time reflecting upon and meditating on His word. Even more so today, there are countless authors that, through the inspiration of His Spirit, write in a way that illuminates His word to teach, us, guide us and empower us in being effective Christian parents.

The story of the prodigal son is an eternal reminder to us as parents that, even in our best efforts and intentions as sincere parents and followers of Christ, our children can still go astray as we do with God as our Father. All this understood, how much better the quality of the lives of our children and our families would be if we implemented the ritual of a ‘hug break.’ As the transition began and my children would come to see me during the week after school, especially on the weekends they were with me, there would be moments where I would say, ‘Hug break!’ No matter what was happening, at that moment, we stopped and gave each other affectionate hugs.

Love can be expressed as a term of endearment, but the bible’s description of love is not expressed in words with the tongue, but in actions and in truth (see I Corinthians 13 and I John 3:16-18). How much the world around me will be a better place if I made it my mission to give hugs to those around me as a means to spread love. In the African-american community, while I was in college, there was a mantra printed on t-shirts that read, ‘Each one Teach one.’ How about, ‘Each one, Hug one.?’ I know it sounds corny, maybe even sappy, but to this day, my children will come to me at random moments and offer me a hug. A revolution? Maybe, maybe not, but anything is possible right?

May God bless you and help you to share His encouragement, comfort, fellowship, tenderness and compassion with your children as you transition towards resiliency.

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‘Excuse me. Are You Listening?’

“Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry.”

– James 1:19 NIV

Early in my transition, now 6 years running, an important shift began to occur when I started dialogue at work with a professional colleague who was a mother of 3 children around the same age as mine. We also shared a mutual faith in Jesus Christ. I mention her, because it was a critical point in my faith walk and in how I would progress forward as a parent during the course of the transition with my children that has led to where I am now as a parent with my children and with Christ. The significance of communicating with my colleague, at that time, was how it helped me to see where I was currently in how I was interacting with my children. She became a mirror for me to see what I was doing and not doing that motivated me to improve in my efforts of being a parent and, as a Christian parent, how I model and share the person of Jesus Christ and the principles of the Christian lifestyle illuminated through scripture.

The reality of the transition I was facing caused me to become overwhelmed with the reality of what I was facing day-to-day with debt, depression, disappointments, anxiety and stress and create mental/emotional distance between my children and I. Conversations with my colleague would keep my mind engaged with keeping them in the forefront, instead of the reality of everything I was facing. I was not in denial about the brevity of what I was facing, but I could begin to be in denial about the reality of my relationship with my children, as they progress in age, and how they’re coping with the transition if I chose not to stay connected through deliberate communication.

The conversations we had periodically throughout the course of that particular school year, back in 2007, heightened my sensitivity and awareness to the presence of my children on a daily basis and the shrinking window of opportunity to make positive connections and invest in them before they become older adolescents and develop lives and schedules of their own where I have to fit into theirs. Then I remember the day the thought came to me that my daughter was 7, soon to become a teenager (lol), and I needed to snap out of it. That is what those conversations with my colleague did for me. It was an invaluable experience during the transition that set the course for the way I interact with my children today. It also prepared me for what was about to take place from the perspective of communication.

One day my son inquired, ‘Daddy. Where do babies come from?’ At the time my son was 6 and my daughter 7. The question came while we sat around the table eating dinner, which was an evening ritual for us during the transition. After a long pause and an internal, ‘Uh-oh! What do I say?’ I let my children know I would explain it to them, but I will need time. At the moment, relief, but I wanted to make sure I told the truth to them age appropriately. To make a long story short, 2 weeks went by, and I eventually sat down with them and decided today was the day we would talk about sex. So I started with, ‘Tell me what you know about sex.’ I’m thinking they would start by saying to me, ‘Well, mommy said.’ My daughter said to me, speaking first, ‘My friend said it is what her daddy does with another woman when he’s upset with mommy.’

My daughter’s response has become folklore to the parents I have shared this with during the parent seminars at the National Family Resiliency Center sessions I do, but it helped me to see my daughter, at age 7, was already introduced to the conversation about sex by her friend, who was also 7 at the time. How grateful I am to have opened the door of deliberate communication with my children, through the indirect encouragement of conversations with a colleague, that helped me to listen to God about communicating with my children during the transition.

May God bless you and help you to grow with your children through deliberate communication that deepens your connection and contributes to the quality of life you share as they grow.

Faith & Communication during a Transition

“These commandments that I give to you today are to be upon your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up.”

– Deuteronomy 6:6-7 NIV

The children of Israel were being led by God through the wilderness, out of slavery from Egypt, into the promised land of Canaan God had spoken to Abraham many centuries earlier. During their transition, God used Moses to communicate with them what He expected of them while they walked with Him and what He required of them to maintain their relationship with Him during the journey. God expressed His love, devotion and compassion for them and held the Israelites accountable to display their love, devotion and reverence for Him in return. God demonstrated His love, displayed His power and distributed His grace to the children of Abraham while they transitioned through the wilderness.

With words and actions God expressed His unconditional love and compassion for His people. In the same manner, God held the parents of the Israelite community accountable to the duty and responsibility of communicating with their children as He communicated with His. During the transition from captivity to liberty, God provided messages of assurance, affirmation, affection, attention, appreciation, acceptance and correction that provided stability, strength and inspired hope for the community of Israel.

The past 2 weekends I have recently shared with my children, I reminded them I was proud of them, I loved them and they make me happy. I reminded them that God loves them always and we will never do anything that will keep God from loving us. We revisited how Moses’ life is similar to ours, with my daughter reiterating today that they, like Moses, experienced being reunited with their parents. Today, they both recited in synchronized harmony the passage from 1 Corinthians 11:1, ‘Follow my example as I follow the example of Christ,’ which I have asked them to commit to memory with regard to the subject of leadership. I also reiterated to them that being proud of them is not just because of their current performance and productivity in what they do in school and elsewhere, but also because they are my children. I reminded them that if I am only proud of them because of what they do, then being proud of them will diminish when they fall short of my expectations.

Today, I also expressed to them how important it is to me they talk openly about what they are thinking and feeling, not fearing the need to talk when it is important to express themselves. So I explained to them to give me a signal when it appeared I was not listening, or appeared to be distracted and it was important for me to listen. ‘Excuse me. Are you listening?’ This is the new cue we agreed to, that they expressed to me would be used to get my attention when the moment for communication is important to them. Healthy, positive communication creates a strong connection that opens doors and affirms the parties engaged of their significance and self-worth. We ended today’s talk time with a long hug break (new ritual implemented at beginning of transition) that ended with tickling and laughing. Our years with them as children are few, but the memories last forever.

May God bless you and help you to develop healthy positive ways to communicate and create innovative rituals that will strengthen your family as you transition towards resiliency.

Meet Calamity Face to Face with Hope

“Though an army besiege me, my heart will not fear; though war break out against me, even then I will be confident.”

– Psalm 27:3 NIV

God’s response to King Jehoshaphat’s prayer reinforces the necessity of acceptance. “Do not be afraid or discouraged because of this vast army. For the battle is not yours, but God’s. Tomorrow march down against them. You will not have to fight this battle. Take up your positions; stand firm and see the deliverance the LORD will give you, O Judah and Jerusalem. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged. Go out to face them tomorrow, and the LORD will be with you.” – 2 Chronicles 20:15b-16a, 17 There are some circumstances the LORD will spare me from having to encounter and deliver me from it (Mercy). Then there are situations where my deliverance will come through facing it, and the LORD taking me through it, but He will fight for me, with me and defend me in what I face (Grace)!

Along with my decision to go through my season of grief willingly, I also decided I would rely on God and learn to look to Him to help me, guide me and lead me through what I faced towards the better day and brighter tomorrow, which I used to write in my journal. When a friend of mine had asked me how I was dealing with the intense emotions of anger during my transition, I told him I challenged myself to see myself in a better place and was resolute I would get there. Wrestling with the emotions from my childhood while grappling with what I was facing currently was not easy to manage. A colleague of mine, who works with the National Family Resiliency Center counseling families through the transition, called that complicated grief.

Complicated grief is the reality of experiencing more than one mental/emotional/circumstantial trauma at one time that makes grief complicated and difficult to cope with. Looking back, I know on my own I would not have made it through all that I went through. But by the grace of God, the support of family, professional colleagues, sharing my experiences with others through workshops, watching inspirational movies, listening to inspirational music and sermons/speeches by the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., I made it through!

In fact, there were two movies in particular my children and I watched within the last year that made the reality of the transition easier to cope with and progress through. Imagine That starring Eddie Murphy and Mrs. Doubtfire starring Robin Williams are 2 excellent movies to help families discuss the reality of the transition and enjoy a great laugh and the warmth that humor can bring to an otherwise difficult situation to encounter let alone talk about.

I’ve discovered that I am not coping with my grief until I can talk about it. Learning to be transparent, vulnerable and reach out for the hands of compassionate people in your inner circle whom you trust and value will be a tremendous source of strength and empowerment to hold you up and keep you going, progressing and moving forward. Even in the times when you feel like you seem to be going backwards, learning to accept that grief is a process that produces moments of ebb and flow, ups and downs, progress and stagnation.

Acceptance will allow me to be okay with waking up feeling disgruntled, infuriated, or depressed, but understanding this is not where I desire to remain I will take action to make sure I progress from one stage of grief to another until I reach acceptance. Resiliency is the process by which I overcome. It’s not so much a state of being as much as it is a state of mind. My resiliency is fashioned through my resolve to stand face to face with my calamity, embracing the grief, understanding my circumstances will give way before I do, because my God will be with me in my trouble and He will fight for me until I see my deliverance!

May God bless you and help you face the calamity associated with your transition and strengthen you with courage, hope and confidence until He delivers you and grants you victory in what you face currently.

Relief in Grief through Acceptance

“If calamity comes upon us, whether the sword of judgment, or plague or famine, we will stand in your presence before this temple that bears your Name and will cry out to you in our distress, and you will hear us and save us.”

– 2 Chronicles 20:9 NIV

It would have been nice that while I was in the midst of my transition I would have only had to deal with one challenge at a time, not encountering anything else while going through something else until it was resolved. Life, unfortunately, is not that way. Like the waters that run in waves along the beach shoreline, or the ripples created from a stone tossed into still water, grief can come in waves of one or more conflicting emotions. Much like a roller coaster, grief can take us through intense turns, toss us upside down, spin us around, drop us and make us feel as if we are being thrown every which way all at once. My transition led me back in time to my childhood, brought up some intense emotions, dropped me low in feeling some deep pain and twisted me through many ranges of emotions from anger to disappointment to depression; all while experiencing what I was facing in the present at the time. There was a period where it was difficult to pray, because I felt overwhelmed and all I could muster was a plea to God for help, an expressed need for Him, or just long moments of silence.

What I like about today’s scripture reference is King Jehoshaphat’s willingness to accept the condition of his current circumstances acknowledging God as the source of his relief in the face of his calamity. I love reflecting upon 2 Chronicles 20:9, because it reinforces to me that no matter what I am facing or the reason for why I am facing it, God is attentive to listen to me and willing to answer my prayer and bring me relief. In fact, during my prayer time, sometimes, I would ask God to relieve me of my distress, duress and anxiety as I release it to Him.

Acceptance doesn’t mean I like what’s happening, or I agree with what’s happening, but it is what it is. I accept what’s happening without trying to fight against it in a way that will only make my grief more difficult to work through. I accept the fact that it is happening and I will look to God and wait patiently for Him to help me and bless me to transition through this towards resiliency. Is it possible that some of the grief I may be encountering currently is due to my unwillingness to accept that what is happening is happening, as if it shouldn’t be happening? I may not want it to be happening, but it is, so now what? Conflicts I may be encountering with others in my transition, is it possible my expectations of them and how I think they should be or what they should be doing; is it possible my expectations more so than the person I’m encountering conflict with is what’s causing my grief?

If I am truly accepting of my circumstances, then I am also accepting of who I am having to deal with in my circumstances the way they are and not how I think they should be. As I learn to accept and surrender to the reality of what I am facing, who I am facing in my circumstances, I can regain my spiritual equilibrium to best operate in a way that will allow me to make progress through my grief and transition towards resiliency.

“In times of disaster they will not wither; in days of famine they will enjoy plenty.” – Psalm 37:19 NIV

May God bless you and help you to encounter relief during your times of transition to grant you favor, strength and relief as you progress towards resiliency.

Coping with and Overcoming Grief

“We do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about the hardships we suffered in the province of Asia. We were under great pressure, far beyond our ability to endure, so that we despaired even of life. Indeed, in our hearts we felt the sentence of death. But this happened that we might not rely on ourselves but on God, who raises the dead. He has delivered us from such a deadly peril, and he will deliver us. On him we have set our hope that he will continue to deliver us, as you help us by your prayers.”

– 2 Corinthians 1:8-11a

I witnessed a situation where someone respected as a minister of the gospel of Jesus Christ stated that someone who was coping with grief and struggling with contemplating suicide was ‘too old for that.’ I was amazed mainly because I couldn’t understand why such a response when it is obvious through scripture that people of faith had the same struggle. I have a friend who is a minister too, and when he had heard from me, I was struggling with being depressed, it caught him off guard initially, but eventually he preached about it through his own personal encounter that had led to him attempting suicide. I also have another friend who was not as fortunate and lost his bought with depression by attempting and successfully committing suicide a few years back due to marital conflicts he was having the same time I was going through mine that ended with separation and divorce.

I have since discovered, my choice to go through the process of grief willingly upon the initial phase of my transition, God met me right where I was and through life’s faith walk with Him I encountered people around me and in scripture who were faced with grief. It is only because of God’s grace I am where I am today sharing His grace with others, through His word, as He has revealed it to me.

The Apostle Paul mentions in today’s scripture reference a time in his faith walk where he encountered grief in the face of overwhelming circumstances that brought him face to face with the reality of death. He mentions despair, hardships, suffering, great pressure, feeling overwhelmed and feeling the sentence of death in their hearts, which sounds like they wanted to die, or thought they would. I am grateful of the journey of faith God took me through with grief so I could see from the perspective of scripture I am not too old to feel what I feel, neither should I be ashamed or influenced to think I am sinning because of how I feel, because feelings are a part of being human. In fact, being fully human, Jesus declared His soul was full of sorrow to the point of death in the garden of Gethsemane before His death on the cross. Even when I shared this verse with older adolescent students, they said it sounded like Jesus was depressed, wanted to die or commit suicide.

I have learned to embrace the reality of being human so I can grow to embrace my need for the divine! The Apostle Paul has taught me from 2 Corinthians 1 the value of expressing my thoughts and feelings. Journaling is teaching me how to identify them quicker and understand why. Jesus’ expressed emotions in the garden help me to accept my feelings as valid and because of what my Savior suffered I know He understands me in how I feel, even if no one else does. This has taught me how to talk to God about how I feel and encounter the full intimate relationship I share with Him when He leads me to verses of scripture that reinforce He knows, understands me and sees me where I am currently that refreshes me and holds me up until my breakthrough comes! Regardless of how I feel or where I am, I am convinced God cares for me, He is concerned about me and He will save me!

May God bless you and help you to find effective ways to cope with life’s challenges as you transition towards resiliency and grant you favor to be a source of encouragement and inspiration for others too!

Faith & Grief

“You have taken my companions and loved ones from me; the darkness is my closest friend.”

– Psalm 88:18 NIV

A significant moment during my transition was when my oldest brother shared his perspective of how he saw me from the outside looking in. He described me as one who had a bowl filled with my most meaningful possessions and one by one they were being taken from me. Recently he mentioned to me watching me through what I had endured within the last few months reminded him of the biblical character Job from the book of Job in the bible. When we had that talk and he shared the metaphor of the bowl, for the first time, I felt as if someone understood me fully in what I was facing. It actually made what I was facing a little easier to bear with, because the illumination of my circumstances through the use of the metaphor made me feel better being understood in how I was feeling.

From 2002-2010 I had the privilege of working with students outside the classroom, sometimes providing a listening ear allowing their voice to be heard with regard to the challenges and circumstances they faced that created moments of grief for them. I would say to them that you only feel what you feel because of your circumstances. If you did not have the circumstances you were facing, you would not be feeling the way you are feeling. Sometimes people need to be, feel, validated that how they’re feeling is okay. Feelings are as real as the reality of my circumstances. Feelings are so real, they can influence me to live in a world that does not exist when my feelings, or perceptions, are influencing me to believe something is happening when it really isn’t.

The loss articulated in Psalm 88 is associated with the loss of companionship, family and friendship relationships and joy. After all was lost, darkness became the writer’s closest friend. Isaiah 53 cites Jesus as a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief. Hebrews 5 depicts Him as one who spent the days of His life with loud cries and tears before the Father. Matthew 26 illustrates Him as being overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death, sweating drops of blood from the intense feelings wrestling within Him to gain a foothold over Him. When I hear the association of darkness in this context, I think of depression. During the reality of my transition, I express great gratitude to God for the many ways He validated my feelings in conversation with Him, through His word, and others that became a great source of comfort, encouragement and inspiration to reaffirm me in my faith walk with Him that He understood me, He was concerned about me in my circumstances and He cared for me. While I was in darkness He was my Light and my Salvation.

May God help you and bless you in your times of grief, misfortune and loss during your season of transition and provide you His light to keep you company and lead you out into a state of resiliency.