Danielle Navonne: a Writer, experiencing and sharing the journey of life one Word at a time.

Posts tagged ‘God’

Get A Life!

It’s been longer than usual since my last post. During that time, the sudden and untimely deaths of a few people in my circle have encouraged a lot of conversations and thoughts about death – and more importantly, about life

…About making sure that we are not just living, but that when it’s all said and done, that we have lived a LIFE that leaves the world – our world – a little better than we found it. We go to work, pay our bills, run our errands – all things we need to do to live comfortably. But aside from those necessities, those things we “need” to do, what are we doing to make a life for ourselves?

One of the reasons I’m so transparent with many aspects of my life is because I wholeheartedly believe that I’m not living just for me, but that the life I live is also for others. While I do believe that I am meant to enjoy life, I also believe that it’s a lot bigger than me and my enjoyment. I believe that my life is fueled by my ability and willingness to help someone else.

I’ve always had a strong feeling (even as a child) that God placed me here for others. To help others, to encourage others, and to connect with others. I didn’t know exactly what it would look like, but the helping/service part was clear to me:

  • In elementary and high school, I sent encouraging greeting cards. Hoping that my thoughts and words would inspire the recipient.
  • After undergrad, I went to seminary, thinking that maybe I was supposed to be trained to help from the pulpit.
  • Now, I’m writing this blog, hoping that my written words will help someone else on their life journey.
  • And, I’m sure in a year or two, I will have added another mode of helpfulness to my list.

When Hurricane Katrina happened, I longed to go to New Orleans to help in the relief efforts. Since I spent my undergraduate years there, part of this longing was because of the friends and loved ones I was concerned about there. But the other part of that longing came from that place of helpfulness. That place in me that wanted to add meaning to my life by helping the people of New Orleans.

When the earthquake happened in Haiti, I got the same feeling, only this time, I had a few more resources to make it happen. Although I didn’t have a personal connection to the area like New Orleans, the desire to use my life to positively affect someone else’s remained. So without one connection to Haiti, I found a volunteer group, reached out to my Facebook friends for relief items to take over, and got on an airplane. (At some point, I plan to blog about my experience there.) To this day, I have maintained several of those connections, and feel connected to that part of the world in ways that I hadn’t before.

I wrote a meditation that was published in Devo’zine some years back, and it told the story of my encounter with a young woman while riding public transportation in Chicago. She was homeless and looked a little (OK, a lot) disheveled. She was basically the lady no one wanted to sit near. She ended up in the seat next to me and of course, wanted to spark conversation with me. I reluctantly engaged and it ended up being a great conversation about life, struggles, etc. As she was preparing to get off of the bus, I asked her name. This woman was in tears as she responded. She said that people always look past her and no one has ever cared enough to ask her name. That moment, that one question made a difference in her life, and thus, added meaning to mine. It wasn’t a volunteer trip to another country, but an intentional effort to connect with another person.

The purpose of this is not to tell you all the “good” stuff I’ve done (because believe you me, I can blog all day about the not-so-good things too!). The purpose is to share with you how these moments of connecting, connected my life to a purpose larger than myself.

We can easily get consumed with our own lives. I must often remind myself that life is so much bigger than just me. Bigger than the Grande, non-fat, no whip Mocha that I want; bigger than that last 7 lbs that I’m trying to lose. Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not forgoing my mocha or those 7lbs, Lol. I’m just trying to stay conscious that sometimes, getting a life means not focusing so much on my own.

I encourage you to take a moment today, tomorrow, this week to look past yourself and add meaning to your life by connecting with others. It may be through an organized volunteer group or just some one-on-one time with a young person who needs some guidance.

When you connect your life to something outside of yourself, the impact of your life grows. And so does your feeling of connectedness and purpose in the world.

“If you wait until you can do everything for everybody, instead of doing something for somebody, you’ll end up doing nothing for nobody” (-Anonymous).

*As I was working on this post, the song below stayed in my head…


Lessons from My Mother on Mother’s Day..

(…Well really it’s the day after Mother’s Day, but whatever! Lol.)

My late grandmother and I, 1999

I lost my grandmother in December of 2003. She used to always say that you should “give people their flowers while they’re living.” Here are a dozen “flowers” for my mom. A Dozen Lessons I’ve learned through her example:

1.) Never look like what you’ve been through.

Growing up, I occassionally watched my mom have bad days and then go out into the world like nothing was wrong. I never understood why she would act so chipper on days when things weren’t going right. I now realize that she was making a choice not to let her pain dictate who she is. Just because you’ve had a bad day, doesn’t mean you have to look like a bad day.

2.) Never stop learning.

Since she’s been retired, my mother has taken guitar lessons, horseback riding lessons, and has taken up doll-making (among other things). No matter how old you are, how long you’ve been on the job or in the marriage – things don’t get mundane because of how long you’ve been there; they get mundane because you’ve exhausted the learning and the possibilities.

3.) Life is not always as complicated as we make it.

I have a very regimented routine for my face:

  • Step 1: cleanser (applied with cotton pad);
  • Step 2: toner (applied with cotton ball);
  • Step 3: moisturizer (which must contain SPF).
  • *Alternate weekly between facemasks and facial scrubs.
  • *Add in occasional steaming.

My mom’s routine?

  • A bar of soap and water. Period.

And her skin is more flawless than mine has ever been! While her simple soap and water routine never seems to do justice to my skin (of course I’ve tried it! Lol), it taught me sometimes simple can be better. Everything is not as complicated as we make it.

4.) Treat others the way you want to be treated.

Whether you own the building or you’re mopping the building floor, my mother consistently treats and speaks to people the way she wants to be treated and spoken to. Seeing this growing up taught me a valuable lesson in valuing people.

5.) You can enjoy and experience life on a budget.

As I got older and realized we weren’t the “ballers” I thought we were, lol, I wondered how my mom managed to create so many memories of zoo/museum outings, piano lessons, fun restaurants, family trips, etc. It’s because she took advantage of museum/zoo “free days.” It’s because she knew how to make large group trips with other close families seem like fun extended family getaways, instead of the more-people-to-chip-in-so-this-can-be-cheaper trips that they sometimes were. Despite financial limitations, my mom was resourceful and made sure that we experienced culture and life.

6.) Have a relationship with God.

My relationship with God gives me life, hope, and love. Although my relationship with God is my own, and may look quite different than my mom’s, that life-giving relationship exists because of her example.

7.) Sing like no one’s listening.

Randomly, throughout the week, my mother will sing. Not to me, not to my siblings, she will just sing – to herself, but loud enough to be heard. When I was younger, I thought it was weird, lol. As I get older (and find myself randomly singing around the house as well), I realize that this practice is kind of therapeutic. There is something healthy and spirit-lifting about having a song in your heart.

(Here’s one of the songs I remember my mom singing all the time. And it’s one of the ones I find myself singing now…)

8.) Never go out without lipstick, or whatever gives you that extra boost.

I’m not a big makeup person (although I’m slowly getting better thanks to Courtney ;-)), so for me it’s earrings. You will never catch me outside of my house without earrings! Lol. Whatever that thing is that makes you feel a little bit more confident/more beautiful, don’t leave home without it. You’ll feel better and walk taller.

9.) Never let anyone run you out of your home.

When I was nine years old, I was attacked by a man while walking to a neighbor’s house. By the grace of God his plans to rape me were interrupted just in time. But of course after that incident, I was afraid beyond consolation. Because of my fear, I begged my mother to let me live with my grandparents; she wouldn’t let me. In her eyes, home – with my parents – was where I belonged. Now whether or not she should have acquiesced is a matter of opinion. What I do know is that from that experience, I learned never to allow anyone (or any fear) to run you out of the place you are meant to be.

10.) You don’t have to spend a lot of money to show people you love them.

When I was away at school, my mom mailed me a post-it note, paper clipped to a few heart-shaped stickers. These stickers were nothing fancy, and looked like the kind that you get free in the mail when organizations solicit you for donations. If she paid for them, I’m pretty sure it wasn’t more than $1. Her note read: “9-6-2000. Hi- These may bring a smile to your beautiful face. Love you, Mom.” 12 years later, these cheap stickers and post-it note are still on my desk. Never under estimate the “little things.”

11.) Do what you think is right.

As much as I love my mom, I’m quite clear on the fact that she’s not perfect (sorry mom! 😉 ). I’ll even admit that I don’t agree with every decision she’s ever made. But my respect for her lies largely in the fact that I wholeheartedly believe that even in the times when I didn’t agree with her, she did what she believed was the right thing to do at the time.

12.) Teach by example.

Of these lessons from my mother that I just shared, not one of them was ever spoken to me. Most of what I learned from my mother, I learned from watching her. Remember: People pay way more attention to what you do than to what you say.

Thanks for being a great example, Ma! 🙂

Do It Afraid

Exhibit A: Years ago, I placed an “intruder” call to 9-1-1, after hearing a loud thump in my house. The noisemaker ended up being a sack of potatoes that had fallen from the counter to the floor. (True story, lol.)

Exhibit B: More recently, I called my mother because I needed help getting rid of a huge bug on my closet floor. After 45 minutes of strategizing a plan for getting rid of the critter, I realized that it was merely a piece of a plastic. (Embarrassingly, also a true story, lol.)

If you know me personally, you know that I can be a scaredy cat. If you don’t know me personally, I present to you Exhibits A & B: I can be a scaredy cat. Lol. Now that we’re all equally informed, let’s fast forward to my decision to jump out of a plane 13,500 feet in the air…

I had recently turned 30 and had decided that I needed to do something big. I had also been trying to overcome a few fears, and being the extremist that I am, I decided that the only way to conquer fear was to do the scariest thing out there: skydive. (I know there are a lot of other things between total fear and jumping out of an airplane, but I have a hard time with gray areas, lol).

The weeks and days leading up to the skydiving date, I still hadn’t fully decided whether or not I would do it. On the actual day of the jump, I told my skydiving group to leave without me. I wasn’t feeling well, nor was I sure that I was ready to do it. But after they got on the road, I remembered all the conversations I’d been having with myself about fear, and something told me to just do it afraid.

So I called the group, told them I was 30 minutes behind them (it was about a 90-minute drive), and I hopped in my car. It wasn’t so much about the skydiving at this point, but about what it represented for me. See, every time I’m afraid of something, I usually just don’t do it. I walk the other way and never face it. So to not even go to the skydiving site was repeating the same behavior I‘d been trying to conquer.

Once at the site (and after a 90-minute talk with Jesus in my car, lol), I’d resolved not to think about it anymore, but to just go forward with it. To do it afraid. But once that plane started going up and I realized my only way out was to jump, I froze.

When the doors opened, I heard my skydiving instructor, Bill, give the cue that we’d gone over in the pre-jump safety course: “One, two, three.” I didn’t move, nor did I plan to. After his 2nd count, I decided to move. Not to jump, but to grab the overhead bars inside the plane. That way I’d be sure that my body did not exit the plane. I told Bill (very seriously) that I’d prefer to just ride back down with the pilot. Luckily (and maybe unluckily), before we went up, I told Bill that I wanted to overcome the fear, so he politely ignored my suggestion.

I kept hearing, “do it afraid.”

And I realized in that moment that not only was I holding up my own progress, but there were 4 ladies behind me, waiting their turn. A lot of times our fear not only paralyzes us, it causes us to paralyze others.

So I decided to let go of the pole. I have to admit that I wasn’t brave enough to actually jump; I was only brave enough to let go of the pole. My letting go was my indication to Bill that if he nudged me, I’d go.

Sometimes that’s all it takes: letting go. Once you let go of the fear, you may find that God and the universe will gently nudge you into the next steps.

When people see my skydiving pictures, they call me brave and courageous. I’ve never considered myself the brave type. I cover my eyes during scary movies, and I sleep with a nightlight if I hear one too many noises in my building. But I’m starting to realize that I am indeed brave and courageous. Not because I’m any less scared, but because I’m slowly stepping out and doing the things that freak me out.

“Courage is not the absence of fear. That idea is the biggest BS in the world. Fear is impossible to eradicate. If you were completely fearless, you’d be dead. People who are courageous are scared to the core—they just make themselves go forward anyway; they make themselves take some kind of action. Taking action, even though you’re afraid, is how you become courageous—because courage, like fear, is a habit. The more you do it, the more you do it, and this habit—of stepping up, of taking action—more than anything else, will move you in a different direction.” (Tony Robbins)

Many children are afraid on their first day of school, but their parents don’t let them stay home. They make them go. Only once the child faces the fear, and goes to school afraid does s/he see that it’s not so scary.

When new parents are afraid of becoming new parents, they don’t get to leave the baby in until they’re ready. After 9 months, ready or not, new parents are forced to do it afraid. It’s not until they’re in it that they realize that it’s not so scary. (Or maybe it is, I don’t know, I don’t have children, but you get my point. Lol.)

So whether it’s learning to swim, or starting a business, please stop waiting for the fear to leave you. That may never happen. Oftentimes you have to simply do it afraid.

Decisions, Decisions

I was forced to make a pretty tough decision this week.

One hour I was 100% convinced that Option A was the right decision. The next hour I was equally convinced that Option B was the way to go. I went back and forth weighing the pros and cons of both options, trying to predict what the future would look like with each choice.

After that didn’t yield the clear answer I was hoping for, I spent the next few days doing the following:

  • I called my sister. I trust her decision-making, so I wanted her to decide for me. (Of course, since she’s such a good decision-maker, she decided not to make my decision for me. A good practice on her part, but sucked for me! Lol).
  • I called a girlfriend; she took the same approach as my sister.
  • I turned to my faithful friend, Google. I figured I’d find a discussion board or article about the topic, and let that guide my decision.
  • I prayed for God to show me the right decision.
  • I consulted my bookshelf, looking for a book that may provide some insight on the topic. No luck.

As hours – and then days – passed, I was having the same seesaw scene in my head. I realized that the fear of making the wrong decision had stopped me from moving forward with a decision at all. I was stuck.

In my frustration that all of the above efforts didn’t bring me any closer to a decision, I remembered a powerful statement about decision-making. I don’t remember it verbatim, but the gist was: the key to making a decision is making a decision. It sounds simple, but as my example above shows, we often get so stuck in the choosing process – the fork in the road – that we never actually choose and move forward.

Of course I get the importance of making the right life decisions (my back and forth process above shows that, lol), but I also understand 2 things:

  1. living life is about learning (from successes and failures), and
  2. living life is about living – about moving forward.

The above two philosophies support the theory that at some point in the decision-making process, deciding is key.

According to Wikipedia’s “Decision Making” page, to help us get to the point of decision, we often use some of the following techniques:

  • Pros and Cons: Listing the advantages and disadvantages of each option
  • Satisficing: Examining alternatives only until an acceptable one is found
  • Acquiescing to a person in authority/just following orders
  • Flipism: Flipping a coin (or some other random/coincidence method)
  • Prayer, tarot cards, astrology, meditation, or other forms of divination
  • Seeking advice from others
  • Opportunity cost: calculating the opportunity cost of each option

There are a lot of theories and schools of thought on the decision-making process. And in doing some very basic research on the topic, every single theory I found always included an action step. They all suggested that no matter the method, at some point, we must get to the point of making the decision.

There are a lot of things that keep us from actually deciding. For me, it’s perfectionism. I’d rather not do anything than to do something imperfectly. For others it may be fear, outside opinions, lack of confidence, not enough information, too much information, etc. Regardless of the barricade, at some point, a decision must be made (if we want to move forward).

I am a praying person, and while I recognize that this is not everyone’s practice, I’m often praying for God’s direction. Sometimes, I hear it loud and clear. But since I believe that God has given me free will, I have come to understand that He is not in the business of living my life for me. While I’m waiting for Him to tell me exactly what to do, He’s waiting for me to use the wisdom and resources that He’s given me to do something. And, it is His promise, to be there to walk with me as (and after) I choose. Simply put, while I’m waiting on Him to move, He’s often waiting on me to move.

While I don’t advise that we act in haste, I do advise that we act. We will never know every single “right” thing to do in life. Life is composed of the decisions we make, and the corresponding results. And if we make the “wrong” decision, we trust that there is a lesson, a chance to alter our decision, and/or the option to make a better decision next time.

Yes, you must count the cost, use wisdom, weigh the odds, be objective, know your options, have clear expectations, and be prepared for consequences. But sometimes you’ll never know the right decision until you decide. And often times, there is no right or wrong decision at all, there is simply a decision that is best (or not best) for us.

They say that hindsight is always 20/20; “hindsight” literally means looking back. We can’t look back on something that we’re still sitting in. So make a decision and move forward. We don’t know what will happen in life until we live it.

Remember: “even if you are on the right track, you will get run over if you just sit there.” (-Will Rogers)

I’ll leave you with this song, from one of my all-time favorite artists. It came to mind this week and was very helpful as I was trying to decide which road to choose:

This Woman I’d Been Seeing…

For eight months, I was regularly seeing a woman and virtually no one knew about her. I changed my schedule for her. She took precedence over phone calls. I laughed with her. Cried with her. Shared dreams with her. Confessed struggles to her. This woman started me on a path toward a healthier, more fulfilling life. She was my therapist. My secret therapist.

Some people (OK, one person 😉 ) close to me knew of her, but by and large, she was simply “my appointment downtown.” My “meeting after work.” The “friend” I was “meeting at her office.” Granted, some of this ambiguity was merely because I’m a keep-to-myself kind of girl. But there was another factor, one I couldn’t really articulate. It had to do with the taboo associated with psychological therapy. I feared that a number of people in my community had certain stigmas attached to people who saw a therapist. I guess I didn’t want to be one of “those people” to them. So, for a while, my dealings with this woman remained a very covert operation.

As an African American Christian, my cultural experience taught me to “hold my peace and let the Lord fight my battles.” To simply pray about things and trust that God would fix them. Somewhere along the way, I learned that in order to be successful, I needed to simply overlook many of the stresses that accompanied being black in America. Many of us are taught never to ask for (or admit that we need) help; it’s sign of weakness, and we are a strong people. Don’t get me wrong, I value these lessons and think their premise is needed in order for African Americans to see beyond the societal labels placed on them. But do these lessons – ingrained in many African Americans from childhood – potentially inhibit us from seeking emotional/mental help? In her book, “Black Pain: It Just Looks Like We’re Not Hurting,” Terrie M. Williams suggests that our “black power” has caused us to (unhealthily) mask our black pain. Is this true?

I’ve come across a few cultural beliefs that may fuel the stigma of psychological therapy in the black community:

  • Don’t air dirty laundry
  • Not comfortable discussing personal problems with a professional and/or authority figures
  • Some things are better left untouched/Don’t rock the boat
  • Do whatever you have to do to keep peace in the family (even if it involves bottling your pain)
  • All you need is God; according to Isaiah 9:6, He is your “Counselor” (Especially true for those of us who grew up in church.)
  • Only “crazy” people go to therapy
  • It’s not a financial priority
  • Seeing a therapist is an outward admission of your (or your family’s) failure to handle problems internally
  • There is fear of misdiagnosis or extreme diagnosis

When our children need educational help, we find a tutor. When we need spiritual help/guidance, we pray, meditate, go to church (or a myriad of other things depending on your faith identity). When we need physical help getting in shape, we go to the gym. And if we can afford it, we may even get a personal trainer. Oftentimes, we brag about how much we are able to lift with our trainer – how many miles we were able to run. Why not be just as proud and intentional in reclaiming our mental health when needed? Is that somehow less important than the others?

In her Psychology Today blog, “Culturally Speaking,” Dr. Monnica T. Williams (a black psychologist) talks about her frustration in not seeing African Americans take advantage of the help available to them. She cites a qualitative study that found that among Blacks who were already mental health consumers, over a third felt that mild depression or anxiety would be considered “crazy” in their social circles. And so, they don’t talk about it. And as long as we’re not talking about it, the stigma will remain.

In other reading, it seems that many African Americans agree that schizophrenia, severe depression, and suicidal thoughts warranted psychological intervention, but that if it’s not “serious” like those, you should be able to deal with it on your own. But who decides what’s “serious?”

People who grew up witnessing abuse, or a parent leaving the home – not “serious” enough? Those who grew up hearing gun shots, fearing for their lives while walking to school – is that “serious?”  What about those who are confused about who they are because they’ve been told they’re going to hell for “acting gay.” Or the lawyer who’s totally unhappy and is only a lawyer because her parents expected it. What about the lady who keeps finding herself in abusive relationships? Or the friend who is constantly gaining weight because she eats her pain? Are those “serious?”

Some may not have labeled my reasons for seeing a therapist as “serious,” but I knew this woman had been trained to help me rethink and deprogram a lot of things that were inhibiting me from experiencing my “best life.” And so I went. And it was one of the best decisions I’ve made. Now I’m not suggesting that we all go running to the nearest therapist, but I am suggesting that we make room for these conversations at our dinner tables and sorority meetings.

I am always seeking to be better than I am, and I long to see people be better than they are. When I find something that contributes to my fulfillment, I’m compelled to share it to possibly help others on their path toward a more fulfilling life. So, I wanted to engage this dialogue. Maybe it’s for the simple act of engagement. Or maybe it will encourage someone who’s considering therapy, to look beyond their preconceived notions and take the step that may change their life. I’m no therapist (only an advocate), but if you have questions about my process, please reach out to me. I’m happy to share my experience. After all, if you’re reading this post, my secret therapist is no longer a “secret!”

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