You Actually Have Control Over This

Photo by Jordan Wozniak on Unsplash

“I got latitude / I got gratitude / And if you look up to the moon, you’ll see my attitude” – Real in My Veins, Young Thug

. . .

A few years back, there was a lot of hype/research/talk around the idea that gratitude was an antidote to fear. I bought into it, wrote about it, and practiced it.

Sometimes it worked for me, sometimes the anxiety won. 

If I felt a panic coming on, I’d close my eyes, breathe deeply, and think through a few things I was thankful for.

I wouldn’t just list them and be like: “I’m thankful for food, water, and shelter.”

I’d dig into each thought: 

“I’m thankful for healthy food because I know what it’s like to grow up with unhealthy habits. Eating better will help me live longer and be there for my family.” 

“I’m thankful for a roof over my head. I know what it’s like to not have stable housing. There are a lot of people waking up on sidewalks every day.” 

This practice grounded me and still does. These days I do it before I’m feeling anxious. I start my day with prayer.

I thank God each morning for waking me up another day, and I thank God for His protection and provision before I go to bed. I even thank Him when my bank account is empty and when depression has crept up again.

I find great comfort in 1 Chronicles 16:34.

Some people have filled journals with things they’re thankful for. Some just scribble a few words on a post-note and stick it on the bathroom mirror so they’re reminded.

The Shine app prompts you with a daily check in that’s pretty neat because you can track what you’ve written.

You can go on Pinterest right now and fill your board with quotes galore. Whatever floats your boat is cool with me because we need a whole lot of thankfulness these days. 

It seems like things get worse by the minute. Lock downs, shutdowns, layoffs, lack of benefits, and the birthdays and funerals we can’t attend are regular conversation. The National Guard rolled in a few days ago here in Baltimore and things are getting realer and realer.

There’s so much we can’t control.

It makes sense if hopelessness is an unwanted visitor camped in the backyard of your heart. But, I’m here today to tell you that gratitude still counts. It’s not a buzzword, it’s a word to hold onto. Let it fill you up a little while you wade through an ever growing to-do list. 

Maybe gratitude won’t help with your anxiety or fear, do it anyways. It certainly won’t vanquish illness or suffering, but still, do it anyways.

Find things to be thankful for, if nothing but the air in your lungs and the ability to read this text right now. 

I have readers all around the world, so I know your situation looks different depending on your latitude and longitude. I know you might be grieving, holding onto your last few pennies while waiting for a check to clear, or feeling trapped because you can’t even go outside and isolation has gotten the best of you.

But, I still invite you to take a moment each day this week to focus on something that came into your life that you didn’t deserve.

Think about a person who helped you when no one else would.

Reflect on the last time you had a hiccup of happiness.

And sit with it as long as the memory will last because we get to hold onto our joy – even when it’s just an echo.

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Everything Ain’t For Everyone: A Word on Protecting Your Dreams

Photo by Allee Ilyse Photography

“Real Gs move in silence like lasagna.” – Lil Wayne

I’ve made the mistake of telling others about my dreams more than once. I don’t know, I guess I’ve always had this insatiable need for validation.

I’ve wanted people to respond by saying, “Yeah, totally do that thing you really care about. I’m here for it.” 

And then when that doesn’t happen, I curl up like a cinnamon roll and my dream – my precious dream – becomes this impossible, irrational thing. 

But let me slow down for a sec to just say that not all dreams are possible or rational or even attainable as is. Sometimes they need to be edited, altered, scaled down.

Still, there’s nothing assuring or loving about someone telling you that what you want for your future is dumb.

There are a variety of ways respond to someone telling you their life’s passion, and yet, so many of us have experienced the laughs or scoffs or sighs of disappointment that come from people who never deserved to bear witness to our vision in the first place. 

Lemme say that again for the people in the back: everything ain’t for everyone.

Some people don’t deserve to be in the writer’s room of your life.

This goes for family, the girls in the group chat, the workout buddies, the pastor, and sometimes even your therapist. We need to be careful about seeking feedback and guidance from people who haven’t been where we want to go.

It’s a natural tendency to unintentionally deter someone from their dreams because we: a) are unknowingly jealous/envious or b) think we’re doing the right thing by saying, “Pick another dream. That one doesn’t suit you.” 

Now, there’s nothing wrong with advising someone to be realistic or to slow down and rework their plan. But this needs to be done with great grace and care. Our words hold power and our dreams can be fragile from being bruised over the years.

Be mindful of who your share your first and second drafts with because you will absolutely be judged and graded on them. 

Be selective with the people you add to your personal board of directors. Our mentors should have lived the experiences we seek to have.

Resist the urge of just linking up with the first person who will give you the time of day and listen to your story, because you actualizing your dream might mean lives being saved or changed.

Your dreams coming true might mean chains and burdens being broken for someone else. Your vision might bring more beauty to this world and Lord knows we need that.

This is a call to move in silence, because sometimes that’s required to position you for a blessing. A call to be extra intentional with how you move.

It’s a nudge to go back into that cobwebbed closet and dust off that dream you retired because someone dismissed it and invalidated it.

In fact, here’s all the permission and validation you’ll ever need. You’ve been put on this earth for many many reasons and in your heart was planted a great dream – maybe several dreams. It may very well be something you have a natural affinity for, or it might be something far off that you’ll spend a lifetime working for, or some combination of it all.

Never mind all that.

Just get started now because this dream is yours and you are absolutely the right person for the job.

Use your resourcefulness and just get to the next step on the journey of making this thing come true. Keep at it.

Get smart people around you, and make sure your basic needs are taken care of so you’re not suffering while trying to make awesome happen. And remember that relationships matter. Don’t neglect the people that care about you. Take them with you and encourage them to go after their dreams too. 

And no matter what happens, stick with it. If you have to put it on the shelf at times that’s okay. Life happens. We’re keeping it real here, but always come back to what you care about. The way you come back to anything you really love. 

Your dreams matter. Protect them. Chase them. Be mindful of how you talk about them. And never ever stop dreaming. 

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Why Compassion is an Antidote to Loneliness

Photo by Sebastián León Prado on Unsplash

Two years ago, I experienced a major life crisis. I wasn’t myself, but my self was doing terrible things. Regrettable things. 

Eventually, I returned to reality and watched as wind displaced ashes of my past life. The stench of death impossible to remove. Death of friendships. Death of security. Death of faith. 

A new beginning lay before me, but it was the restart I never requested. No requiem nor relief. 

One of the most challenging aspects of my restart was the isolation. 

In fact, I was inspired to write this post because I’ve recently had several people – friends and colleagues I’ve deeply cared for, for quite some time – tell me: “I wish I would have reached out sooner, but I didn’t know what to say.” 

And, let me be clear when I say I don’t blame them. I don’t. 

One of the most heartbreaking things about a heartbreaking disease like bipolar disorder is that it creates a chasm between persons living with the illness and the ones they love (and even the ones they just see on a regular basis like the professor, or the coach, or the neighbor, or even the pastor.)

While coping with a new diagnosis or continuing to battle a recurring nightmare, people living with bipolar disorder often feel alone in plain sight. Bearing great pain and living with the awareness that some of the people they used to break bread with aren’t in a place to say anything. No happy birthday. No Merry Christmas. No “it’ll get better.”

This is often the deepest wound: grieving people who are still living. 

Bipolar disorder was – and has been – a disruption of everything. When you’ve gone full blown Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde like I did, it’s hard for others to know how to relate to you, be near you, work with you, or approach you.

I, too, would be hesitant to reach out to a person who – for a time – unknowingly succumbed to madness and horror. Whose brain couldn’t be trusted and whose actions brought forth havoc. The hesitation is human and the reservations are valid. 

All this to say that someone in your life will inevitably experience a great disruption. Things may eventually calm, and they may begin their own intentional journey of healing.

At this point, you might feel compelled to reach out because the compassion you have for them outweighs the judgement in your heart. You might feel anger, resentment, and fear, but you know you want to connect.

I invite you to go ahead and reach out to them.

Take your feelings with you. You don’t have to put them on the shelf. Take your questions with you. Take your truth with you. Gather it all, pick up the phone, and let that person know you’re thinking of them.

Promise yourself that you’ll try to listen, and remind yourself that you get to be heard as well. 

I received several “I’m thinking of you” texts last year. They lifted me during some of my most shame filled moments. They cut through darkness and briefly shook me out of isolation.  

If you find that the relationship is worth it and you deeply care for the person, I invite you to commit this act of bravery: write a few genuine words to the aid the unseen in feeling seen and hit send. It could very well save a life. 

It saved mine. 

With a stable mind and a positive prognosis, I’m grateful to know that death didn’t claim every relationship. That my faith wasn’t killed, just strengthened.  And that, my security has been renewed. It’s now firmly planted in God. 

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An Open Letter to First Time Black Fathers Anywhere

Dear Brothers,

I won’t begin to assume what you’re going through, for there’s a spectrum of Blackness and man-ness and person-hood that exist, but I just had to write this as I sit in the delivery room hours before the arrival of our firstborn child.

I’m mostly writing to connect, reach out, and encourage.

To let you know that you’re not alone, and to remind myself that I’m not alone.

See, there’s this perception that a lot of black men aren’t there for their children. That a lot of us are either dying, killing, being killed, imprisoned. But, we know the truth: we’re not a monolith and a lot of us are here for our children, our families, our communities, our world.

Some of us are graduating from college. Some of us are owning businesses. Some of us are the best gamers, chefs, delivery men this world has ever seen. And some of us are struggling to get out of bed because of ancestral pain and trauma.

We come in so many shapes, sizes, belief systems, and lived experiences, but there are some things that connect us:

  • Many of us will have the talk with our child, especially our sons. We’ll let them know how different they are and what to do when they’re pulled over and how they’ll feel the need to be two steps ahead of their peers.
  • Many of us have experienced some type of othering in our lifetime. Personally, I was called too white and not black enough as a child. That’s part of what led to the self-hate I’ve been working to unlearn in my 30s.
  • Many of us had fathers or father figures who were really really tough on us. Who hit us, or swore at us, or made us feel like we were worthless in order to help us survive a cold world. They inherited much of that from their fathers and so on. If this is your story, you may often find ourselves at the crossroads of restoration and resentment.

And many of us are trying to figure out what type of dads we’ll be, and we’re doing everything we can to break generational patters and curses, and do better.

I know I am.


For we are enough and we’re exactly where we need to be: in the life of someone who we mean the world to, before we even utter a word.

Sinclair P. Ceasar III, First Time Black Father

I feel the pressure to do well with this baby that will come any hour now. With this black baby that will live in a world that often weaponizes, sexualizes, brutalizes their body (see Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates).

A world that doesn’t understand what it means to “always be thinking about race” or to “often be wondering if we’re code switching or actually saying the right thing for the moment”.

I will make an assumption now.

I assume that some of you are reading this and going, “Oh, no. This author clearly isn’t in touch with his true self and his roots. He needs to read up on his history and learn.” And you’d be correct. I have a lot to learn and ways to go, and also, I’m right where I should be — that’s a big takeaway I hope most new dads have from this letter.

photo x allee illyse photography

We are exactly where we need to be.

We are ready as we are to be stewards of this new life form that is before us.

Who can say what a whole, sound, and perfect black man looks like? I’m sure someone can, but what matters most to me is being a father — a parent — who shows up every single day to his child.

As someone was raised by resilient and loving grandparents with middle school educations, one of the best things they did for me was be present.

Present to invite me to sleep on their bedroom floor when thunderstorms rolled through. Present for the tears I cried after bullies had their way. Present for the times my hands couldn’t stop shaking after my own father stopped by to berate and abuse.

Presence.

That’s what’s required, dear brothers. And if you can, some grace, love, and patience.

Grace is the space we hold for someone to be imperfect and unfinished. Love is the acceptance and validation we fill that space with. And patience is what we give ourselves to do better at the former at the latter.

My heart both panics and smiles as I think of holding my newborn child.

What will become of them, what will they dream of, will I be enough for them, will we succeed in keeping them safe?

What will they accomplish?

How will I ruin them?

How will I help them thrive?

And so, I find myself overwhelmed with favorable and unfavorable outcomes, and it’s imperative for me to give myself the same grace, love, and patience my child will require. The same you require. The same we all are so desperately needing as we parent, teach, lead, and guide.

For we are enough and we’re exactly where we need to be: in the life of someone who we mean the world to, before we even utter a word.

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