Today we start a new series titled, “Our past shapes us”. We’ll be diving into a number of different topics that combined are a reflection of the person we’ve morphed into today. I’ll start by sharing some of my own history. Being very careful to protect the privacy of the “innocent.” (winks) I got many requests to touch on this particular subject. So I sense this will touch many people.
As you already know, I’m a product of a complicated family dynamic. Raised by two traditional Dominican parents. This being said, there were many things I experienced in my childhood that stuck with me to this day. Things I say, things I do, how I dress, what I think of myself, what I think of others, my values, my morals, my independence, how I carry myself… and on the other spectrum, my fears, my concerns, my familial influences, my psychological traumas, etc. That sure is a lot to take in. But, you did know that you’re a product of your environment right? We all become that which we were influenced by.
Our relationships are one of the very first things we start to develop in our early years of childhood. From the moment we are in our mother’s womb, our relationships are already building. Hearing the voices of those on the outside (i.e. your mom, dad, sisters, brothers) as well as the emotional influences (yes, even in the womb) of whatever your mother is going through at the time. Many people don’t know that even in utero you can be affected by the emotions of your mother. This is the reason many doctors encourage mothers to reduce their stress, practice healthy emotional activities, and things that will positively influence their offspring.
As a child you are aware of your surroundings. You’re aware of the things that happen in your itty bitty world. You may not be able to express those things to an adult in a concise way, but you are extremely observant. Those very observations help us develop our personalities. This is why you see kids in certain environments mimic the very things they say in their household. If you’re a parent, you’ve been embarrassed by those things your child says in public at the most inopportune moments. The repetition of words, actions, etc. that make you cringe. You either hope no one noticed or heard, or you giggle at the mere thought of how observant your kid is. Nonetheless, it’s something we can’t get away from.
While we’re developing those personalities, we are also becoming our very own person. We examine how the relationships around us either hurt us or help us. We learn to avoid things, people, and places due to emotional trauma or simply because we just don’t like the way it feels. I remember as a kid, my mother and many adults who came around, and how they always compared my “seriousness”, my introverted-ness, and my shy-ness, to my siblings. I never understood the comparison. It’s just who I was. Maybe the things I experienced during those developmental years caused it. Maybe it’s who I was meant to be. All I remember is that living in my own little bubble was safe. I liked it there. I kept my thoughts and my feelings to myself (later we’ll discuss how this was not a good thing). I valued my own space. The times I did try to push outside of that bubble, I was always met with the same results… hurt, discomfort, trauma, and pain. So what do you think I did? Yup, went right back to my little cocoon.
Needless to say, relationships weren’t my strongpoint. I remember very vividly, the relationships I DID have that were exciting, positive, and vibrant experiences. My 6th grade teacher, Mrs. Mullins (it’s who is responsible for my love of reading and writing), my Asian best friend Arranya (who I’ve tried to search for on social media and have had no luck… so Arranya, if you’re out there, hit me up ), and my “sit-on-the-porch steps” buddy who is responsible for my love of music. These are very fond memories I have growing up that taught me a lot about myself and others.
I already expressed how Mrs. Mullins was so valuable to me. I will forever be indebted to her for what she inspired in me. One day I’ll tell you all about her. She was very special. I even built a pen-pal relationship with her well into my Middle School years, until we lost touch. Arranya opened me up to a love and respect of culture. She’d bring Asian treats to class, I’d visit her house and was impressed at how we’d have to take our shoes off before walking in, and at the experiences we had with playing games, and her at home life. Getting to know her outside of school was such a joy. And my “sit-on-the-porch steps bud” showed me how to escape my anxiety with the sound of music. Opened me up to a whole new world of the arts, dance, and a new found love of sound. Had me wanting to dance like Whitney Houston, sing like Taylor Dayne, dress like Cindy Lauper and Kris Kross (yup… I’m not ashamed).
Let’s fast forward to today. The person I now am is a direct reflection of that little girl who grew up in Providence, Rhode Island. Forever indebted to those people and to the very experiences of living an immigrant life. My initial response to things that triggered emotional trauma was to revert back to my cocoon. With time I learned that some things need to be faced head on, but other things I’ve been quite content with cocooning over. It’s my SAFE place. Now, I also pray about it. I ask for direction. I get back to a healthy place by meditating, reading, focusing on the positive. And I know if it’s meant to be addressed, I am nudged in that direction at just the right time.
I’ll end with this ON POINT quote by Diane Ackerman, “All relationships change the brain-but most important are the intimate bonds that foster or fail us, altering the delicate circuits that shape memories, emotions, and the ultimate souvenir, the SELF.” In laments terms, all relationships affect us, but the intimate bonds that change us either negatively or positively also alter our way of thinking and shape the very things that connect us to our true selves.
Did you find similarities in your upbringing? How has that affected your relationship with others? Are relationships a struggle for you?
Do as I say, Not as I do.
Proverb; model yourself after my instructions, not my actions. The phrase implies that the speaker is imperfect and makes mistakes, so one should follow their advice but not imitate them.
That’s a mouthful. But doesn’t that exemplify parenting in just those two short phrases? How many of us actually say this to our kids? Or have said this before? Talk about reality.
I became a mother at the tender age of 20. I was entering my junior year in college. I wasn’t ready AT ALL. I panicked at the mere thought of having to be responsible for this little being. For the very reason that is implied in that above statement… I was IMPERFECT. But I wanted to be perfect. The need to be perfect came from the way I grew up, the things that were important to me, the fact that I would never NOT take this major responsibility seriously. Just as I took my education seriously, my being a daughter seriously, my being a sister seriously, I took this on like I was about to go into war. I was gearing up for the fiercest battle of my life. And I WAS READY! Or so I thought.
You can make up all these amazing plans in your head as to what kind of parent you want to be. The kind of parent you’re going to become. The life you want to provide for your offspring. But, boy oh boy… are we in for the shock of our lives. All those things that shaped us in our relationships with people. The very things we talked about in my previous blog. Those things that both influenced us and affected us, become one in the same in raising our kids. Sometimes it becomes a disadvantage to parenting, and other times (when recognized appropriately), it becomes a great advantage.
The biggest obstacle for me in being a parent has been letting go. We carry this little being inside of us for 9 months as women (actually longer, but we won’t get into how these doctors have lied to us). We hold them in our arms and literally hold their hands for up to 7 years after. In the 8th year we have to start to let go. They don’t want to hold hands any longer. They want to become more independent. They start to need you less. Then, they start school. They start coming into their own. They starting to develop their own personalities, their own interests. Middle school comes and you MAY have somewhat of a handle… and then BAM! It’s over… they start to transform. Not always negatively, but now you are forced to see just how much this little being has learned and listened, or not. In High School these things get challenged some more. They start to build peer relationships you may or may not agree with. You learn that, you can’t control EVERYTHING. And this is where you release. You breathe, you pray, you breathe, you pray, and breathe and pray some more.
It’s an interesting journey to say the least. Whether you’ve planned it or not, either way you’ll be surprised. Your kids start to teach YOU things at some point, things you didn’t know about yourselves. Things you didn’t know you were capable of doing. The key is to enjoy the bumpy ride. It’s like riding a four-wheeler in the mountains of Costa Rica. Mud on your face, dust in your eyes, but you’re shouting for joy. Exhilarated at the climbs and the bumps in the road. Parenting doesn’t come with a handbook. Remember, our parents did the best they could with what they had. You’re doing the same. Sometimes our kid’s vision isn’t the same as ours, but you’ve got to let them do their thing. In the end, you’ll be lucky if the results turn out as glamorous as the picture perfect photos you take in the process. They’ll complain, they’ll frustrate you, you’ll have moments of despair, and you’ll also have moments of joy. It’s all a part of the bigger picture. Let’s be great, we’re in this together.
How has your parenting journey been? Have you had struggles? Have you been hard on yourself about those struggles? How has your history affected the way you parent? And, if you’re not a parent… what kind of parent do you think you’ll be? Let’s talk. COMMENT BELOW.
Courage is my Middle Name
Being a young mother required a lot of courage. Being a young single mother, even more so. The moment I found out I was carrying a little blessing, my focus shifted. I remember that day like it was yesterday. I walked boldly into the Doctor’s office looking for answers. Once I got the answer I was not at all expecting, I drove home in a daze. It was like my car was being carried by a cloud. My biggest concern was that I would be a disappointment to my mother. She quickly relieved me of this guilt as soon as I shared the news. My second concern was school. How was I going to finish school with a new baby? And as if a switch was flicked in my mind… I was suddenly charged with a dose of determination. I was oddly resolute. I vividly recall saying to myself, “Now, I MUST, get my degree.” See, what you didn’t know was that during that time I was having a hard time finding the motivation to finish school. I was questioning my career path, my focus, and my future. Well! Suddenly I found all of that wrapped into a little bundle of joy. I was filled with an unexplainable amount of courage and determination.
The song, Zion, by Lauryn Hill is a direct reflection of exactly what my turmoil was at the time (beautiful song, you should listen to it if you haven’t already… and if you have, listen to it again). This verse in particular depicts a very conversation I had with one of my closest friends in that moment, “look at your career they said. Lauryn baby use your head. But instead I chose to use my heart.” Courage! The same courage I had growing up as a kid having experienced trauma. Courage! The same courage I had when I moved away from my home seeking a better life for my child. Courage! The very courage I had when I decided to work with at risk youth. Courage! The very courage I saw in my mother and all the things I witnessed her go through as a kid. Picking up, girls in tow, moving to a foreign land and all the struggles she experienced in the process. Courage!
All of which did not come without their share of obstacles. Certainly you can imagine that there were a lot of struggles as a single mother. I was 4 months removed from my ex-boyfriend at the time. The relationship, long over. You’ve heard the stories time and time again. You might have even lived them yourself. I juggled a Full Time job. Worked 9 to 5 and attended school Part Time in the evenings. Driving from the city of Miami to Fort Lauderdale for school after work, then back to Miami to pick up my son, and back up to Broward County to lay our heads. Only to get back up the next day and do it all over again. I was exhausted. I was drained. But I was determined. I developed plenty scars during that time. Both figuratively speaking and physically. Always in a rush to get to the next thing on the to-do list, and now with a precious baby boy in my arms. Yet, I made it. Had it not been for the PUSH, I can’t say exactly where I’d be today. Maybe I would have made it to the same destination but with a different set of hurdles to jump over.
Over the years, speed bumps have always presented themselves. Things that were meant to break my spirit. Things that were meant to make me crumble. But I developed the mindset even in my childhood to refuse to have a “victim mentality”. Strength, courage, and determination were built in those early years. Today I say to you, REFUSE to let obstacles take away your shine. Even in the midst of adversity we can learn to see the good in each moment. There is always a silver lining. Behind the clouds, the sun is still shining. Be encouraged.
In the words of Ernest Hemingway, “Courage is grace under pressure.” Oh, but Grace! Here’s a book recommendation for you: The Art of Grace by Sarah L. Kaufman. Of the many notes I made while reading this book, here are a few that made a lasting impression on me-
*Gracefulness, a core value; serenity in cheerfulness, airy stillness, and the ability to make the best of things.
“Very little grows on jagged rock. Be ground. Be crumbled, so wildflowers will come up where you are.”- Rumi
*Falling can lead to flying, it’s all a matter of rhythm.
*Grace swoops in when you least expect it. It’s where highs and lows collide.
*It helps us flourish through life, and do more than we think we can.
So, how have you developed courage over the years? What things have you experienced that you didn’t think you’d be able to make it past?
Failure, the new 4 letter word.
So remember how I expressed that perfection was what I’ve always strived for? Yeah, well… failure is the figurative four-letter-word I’ve avoided all my life. I’ve been a straight A student as long as I was ever a student. Average has never been my thing. I wanted nothing more than to bring a smile to my mother’s face when she saw my report card. Grant it, half the time she didn’t know what she was looking at, what she was reading, or what the grades meant… but I was the eager kid who brought the report card home and explained it to her (English to Spanish elementary translation).
I did my best at everything I attempted. When I took on reading, I wanted to be the best reader. When I took on writing, I wanted to be the best writer. When I took on basketball, I wanted to be the only girl on the court that could stand a chance against the boys. And yes, I can ball! I loved the challenge. I loved pushing myself outside the limits. I wanted to be the exception to the rule, always. I loved the thrill of accomplishing something new and crushing it. So, needless to say, when I gave it my all, last place, was not what I was shooting for.
But failure, is the very thing that held me back from taking risks into adulthood. All of a sudden that impulse desire to be the greatest at all costs actually had a cost. The irony! Becoming an adult brings with it its own perspective. Suddenly, “failing” at something doesn’t only affect you; it also affects those who depend on you, those who have a vested interest in your every move.
In life I’ve evidently failed at a number of things. I’ve “failed” at being perfect, I’ve “failed” in business, I’ve “failed” as a dreamer; there was a point I thought I was failing as a parent (any parent of a teenager has been there before- I know I’m not alone here). The thought of not knowing what was on the other end of that risk was scary. It took me marrying a risk taker to be pushed well outside that comfort zone. He showed me how to challenge myself as an adult in ways I didn’t think possible. But it took a while. We’re both alpha personalities, yet we both have a different approach to success. His was-excuse the term, balls to the wall, go hard or go home. My strategy? I need a Plan A, a Plan B, a plan C, and a D just in case things go awry.
My very first attempt at release of that control was investing our life savings in a business that ultimately reaped no real rewards. At the end of that experience I was crushed, as you can imagine. It was the very thing I was trying to avoid. But I was reminded of one of the things I kept hearing time and time again before we took that investment plunge. It was the voice of Steve Harvey that echoed in my ears; “The most successful people in this world recognize that taking chances to get what they want is much more productive than sitting around being too scared to take a shot.” Every successful person has a story of defeat. If they’re lucky, two, or three, or more. With more defeats, come more experience and learning lessons that lead to success.
Though that was difficult to come to terms with at first. Everything I dealt with after that major shift was leading me to the same understanding. I dove right into my comfort zone. The word, and my love of reading. In Jen Sincero’s book, You’re a Badass, there were so many gems. One of which was inspiring to me was, “everything you do on your journey contributes to where you’re going.” Believing in the not yet seen, I leaped into manifesting a new life for myself. Finding peace of mind and gratitude even in the supposed, “failures.” Loving myself enough to stand in my truth, and in turn, “attract the things, people, and opportunities” that are in alignment with who I truly am. The same can be said for you.
Jen Sincero goes on to say, “however easy or rough the growth process towards success- you must be willing to fall down, get up, look stupid, cry, laugh, make a mess, clean it up, and not stop until you get there.” I FELT THAT!
In the end, we must learn to release those things we hold on to so tightly. We need to create space for all the blessings that have yet to come. Those things being karmically delivered in ways and through people we never even expected. Open yourself up to the possibilities beyond the so called, “failures.” The best is yet to come!
Have you had any moments of failure you’ve been ashamed of? Embarrassed about? Did you let that hold you back from your true destiny? Or did you use that as fuel to catapult you into your next big life journey?
Sorry, Not Sorry?
Truthfully, in all honesty… I had to pray for guidance on this one. The topic- FORGIVENESS. This is a rough one. I have struggled much with this. And just when I think I have life under control, here comes another test by way of dealings with people. I’m sure I’m not alone. So many of us believe that forgiveness means accepting someone’s apology and moving past the hurt only to let people back in your life. NOPE! Big N-O! Forgiveness often looks like, I forgive you because I don’t want to carry that heavy burden, but I don’t necessarily need you in my space.
I sought counsel in the best advocate I know with this topic. I read deep into the word of God. For who knows best about forgiveness then He who died for our sins and still chooses to stand tall for us each day. The only way I am able to “forgive” and move on from those that have hurt me, is by entrusting my soul to the only one who sees fit to see me through it. I even pulled out a devotional for this one guys. For seven days, I sat in the understanding of forgiveness. I let Him impart on me the wisdom and knowledge that is necessary to process forgiving someone for the hurt they’ve caused. There are so many areas of my life I have needed to forgive others for wrongs done to me. I’ve also had to ask for forgiveness. The Gospel artist Jonathan McReynolds so eloquently expresses it in his song, “People”:
“Hating, lying people
Disrespectful, people… forgive me when I’m one of those
I’ve sat in silence. I’ve processed. I’ve meditated. I’ve listened. What I’ve learned is that, FORGIVENESS-
- Lets people off the hook.
- Refusing to forgive keeps you tied to that person, and who wants that?
- They have nothing with which to repay their debt, so release them.
- Work through it, name it, express your feelings about it, then, let it go.
- Resistance wants us to stay in the past. The past is no place for us.
- A life of judgement and un-forgiveness is a prison. Release yourselves from that prison.
- We find ourselves focused on another person’s failures rather than on the good we have in life.
- Focus on your spiritual lives and joyful relationships. You’ll find so much pleasure in this.
- Failure to forgive brings resentment and emptiness. This is a horrible emotion to carry around.
- Let it go and increase your quality of life.
Genesis 50:20 reads, “You intended to harm me, but God intended it all for good. He brought me to this position so I could save the lives of many people.” What an empowering scripture! Now this, breathes new life in a moment of brokenness doesn’t it?
Our natural tendency is to treat others the way they treat us. What if we did like Moses? Asked God for compassion on the hurts of those who hadn’t treated him well. This way of thinking will lead you to a life of love, grace, freedom, and forgiveness. And as if to continue with our running theme, yes, forgiveness takes COURAGE. May your unending prayer be that God remove from you all bitterness and hatred and replace it with His perfect love. As long as you refuse to forgive, you continue to give that person who did you wrong power. Take that power back and gain a life in the process. Let Him be the judge. 1 King 8:39 says, “Give your people what their actions deserve for you alone know their human heart.” Hurt people, hurt people. And this statement alone is an understanding that… we are not qualified to cast judgement on others when we don’t know what internal struggle they face. We also aren’t mighty enough to hold this ability.
Live from a place of growth instead of brokenness. The word says, we should no longer think of anyone as impure or unclean (Acts of Apostles 10:28).
There’s a recurring theme of memes I’ve seen on social media. They read a little something like this-
“I don’t think people understand that you can forgive a person and not allow them back into your life. That is possible, very possible.”
“I’m mature enough to forgive you, but I’m not dumb enough to trust you again.”
All valid emotions. What I’ve learned, having had to do my own forgiving in life is that true forgiveness isn’t so much because the other person deserves it. But, because you deserve peace. You learn that holding on to the grudge, the anger, the resentment, takes so much energy. That same energy can be used toward good. Holding on to these negative emotions can lead to sickness. The stress that comes from it, though you claim to be “unbothered,” starts to take a toll on you both emotionally and physically. Before you know it, your attitude begins to change. The way you treat others begins to change and is reflected in the way you carry yourself. It’s like a nagging pain in your side. A heavy weight on your shoulders. It never goes away. The only way to release such a burden is to genuinely forgive and set boundaries. In whatever way that looks like for you.
I’ll leave you with this scripture, “Instead, be kind to each other, tenderhearted, forgiving one another just as God through Christ has forgiven you.” Ephesians 4:32. For what better way can we come to terms with forgiveness than through the word of God. I don’t know about you, but this alone brings me peace and comfort.
Has there ever been a time when you did something that required you to be forgiven? Have you had difficulty forgiving someone else? Where do you draw the line?