As we welcomed sweet November last week, we were reminded of how blessed we are to see another month, holiday season and our 5th year of public service as Maximizing Character in the coming year. We decided to celebrate gratitude throughout the month. Gratitude, from the Latin gratus, meaning pleasing or thankful, is a feeling of appreciation. It is often shown through kindness, gifts, help, favors, or other types of generosity.
During the first six days of our Gratitude celebration we were grateful for life, family, opportunities to achieve our goals, our supporters, good teachers and the ability to help others. Imagine life without these things.
As we move forward through the month of November we hope that you will check back and join us as we reflect upon the many wonderful blessings we have to be grateful for. Obviously gratitude is not just a once a month or time of year observation. It is a daily habit that, if exercised, has the potential to bring so much joy into one’s life. So, until we blog again, here’s to Maximizing Character and Gratitude!
Mental illness is real. If the recent events in the media haven’t caught your attention over the past 5 to 10 years, please recognize that there are an estimated 54 million Americans who are affected by mental illness. We must address its effects on our families, communities and nation. Those affected are mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers, sons, daughters, neighbors and friends. It is imperative that society engages in the conversation about mental illness and how it affects those who experience disturbances in their thoughts or behaviors. It is important that families talk about the reality of mental illness, no longer sweeping it under the rug for fear of the stigma, leaving our loved ones to suffer in silence or pretend that the mood swings and the voices in their head aren’t real.
For those who are experiencing mental illness, there is help. There are mental health professionals and agencies in just about every community across the country. There are family members, clergy and support groups to help individuals cope with mental illness. There is hope that more resources will become available as society becomes more knowledgeable and accepting of mental illness. There is also hope that our nations’ leaders will implement a plan to provide support and care to those in need. We need every member of our nation to recognize the warning signs of mental illness, know how to access the appropriate resources and how to cope. Let’s do our part to support and care for those affected by mental illness.
Yesterday my co-worker shared a video (see the link above) with me that caused me to truly re-assess the way I spend my time and life energy. At first glance, it just looks like a typical day with people doing typical things, and in fact, it is typical…for this day and age. In each scene of the video there are cell phones actively being used. The video captures the essence of what has happened in our technological world. We are so busy using our phones that we neglect to truly engage in life’s moments.
I’ve heard many people use the term “live in the NOW” and I began to embrace this philosophy when I realized that television, computers and social media were beginning to take over my life. However, I have to consistently remind myself of this mantra because it is so easy to pick up the gadgets or turn on the T.V. to “engage” in the events of the day. The video demonstrates the sad reality that many of us have become disengaged with humanity. Not only have we allowed our phones and cameras to dictate our way of life, but we are missing out on the beauty and joy of engaging in memorable life events.
Remember that couple that got engaged on the beach in the video? At the very moment that his bride-to-be said yes, embraced and attempted to kiss him, the young man was engaged in taking the, oh, so popular “Selfie” pic. The scene with the children at the playground…one little girl was engrossed in some type of activity on her phone while she swung back and forth on the swings. And those two groups of people who were celebrating a birthday and having dinner…most of those folks had their heads down, interacting with their phones or were busy snapping pics and probably uploading them to some social media page. It was appalling to see, but it was so true.
After watching the short video I was ashamed at how many times I had been guilty of some of the same things. In my response to my coworker, I said that it should be everyone’s New Year resolution to put the phone down sometimes, especially during life’s most precious and memorable moments. We must exercise balance when it comes to technology otherwise it will deprive us of a wonderful, full life. Remember to live in the Now and Engage in Life with Humanity. During this New Year, accept the gift of the Present and Live!
The holidays are chock full of activities and events from decorating and shopping to celebrating the season with parties and parades. Some of the most memorable holiday activities, however, are during the times spent with family and friends. Swapping old, embarrassing stories, listening to holiday music, joking around with family members and sharing holiday dinners are some of my favorite things to do with my family. However, for some people the holidays are not necessarily the best times of the year. For some individuals, the holidays may evoke a time of sadness, loneliness, indifference or bitterness due to the loss of a loved one, old family disputes, or growing up without a family to share the holidays with. Holidays may even evoke feelings of anxiety at the thought of dealing with difficult family members, co-workers or acquaintances. Despite these feelings there are some positive ways to handle such circumstances that allow one to enjoy the season and interact with others with an attitude of “peace, good will toward all men.”
There will always be some outspoken, unpredictable member of the family or a colleague who just has to compare the children, make unrestrained comments about someone or some sensitive subject or overindulge on the holiday beverages and pick a fight with someone. And yes, there’s Cousin “so and so” and Uncle “you know who” who just irritates everyone. Don’t shy away from the holiday festivities because of a few unique individuals in your circle. Instead, treat yourself to some good company, food, laughter and great memories. After all, laughter is good medicine and each of us deserves the opportunity to eat, drink and be merry!
There are some positive ways to enjoy oneself during this and all seasons without allowing the past or certain individuals to hinder your joy. The first thing one can do is to take a deep breath and decide that nothing or no one will stop you from experiencing the goodness of life. It is always a person’s choice to not participate in holidays or certain traditions. However if there is a desire to participate but one of the aforementioned reasons has been a hindrance, choose to move past those reasons and enjoy this time making new memories while continuing to cherish the former (good) ones. Prayer, meditation, exercise, listening to music, reciting a special scripture or affirmation or browsing and reminiscing through old pictures of loved ones who have gone on before us are ways to cope with the holiday season. Whatever seems to give you comfort and joy, tap into those resources and celebrate well.
Sometimes spending time with family and friends, even the most difficult ones, is better than isolating oneself and feeling miserable. The shared time with others is great encouragement. If you did not have a family unit to celebrate with while growing up or at some point in your life, consider celebrating the holidays with close, trusted friends or co-workers or if you are old enough and have started your own family, create your own special memories that will be handed down and cherished for generations. And for the family member or co-worker that “plucks your nerves” as some of the older folks would say when I was growing up, greet them with a short salutation, a smile and move on if you can. Avoid getting riled up and jumping to your defenses too quickly…sometimes that’s just what the other person is looking for…some type of response to keep things going. Obviously one must stand up for oneself if, for some reason, something is said or done that clearly is unacceptable and has to be addressed. Remember to guard the Golden Rule and refuse to focus your energy on “foolishness”. If they happen to spark up a conversation with you, listen to what they have to say rather than tune them out but keep your guard up, you don’t want to get caught up in negative talk. Change the conversation or politely move on. When it is all said and done, let Love guide your relationships!
Today I shared a special occasion with one of my niece’s. Today she signed her National Letter of Intent to receive an athletic scholarship! I was a proud aunt and family member. The informal ceremony brought me to tears. This was my “baby” sister’s daughter and it was such a blessing to see my sister reap the rewards of her good parenting, mentoring and support. As I engaged with the family, taking pictures, videos, sharing hugs and congratulations, I realized that this occasion did not happen by chance. It took a lot of years of preparation and dedication to get to this day and this is just the beginning.
My sister and her family have spent many years playing sports, mainly basketball and football. There were other sports in the past…soccer, t-ball and baseball, but my niece, who stands at 5’10 ½ according to my sister, was drawn to the game of basketball. My sister played the sport during middle school and continued throughout her college days at the shipyard apprentice school. I guess you could say that my niece decided to follow in her mother’s footsteps. She was awkward for many years on the court, learning the rules of the game and how to maneuver her body at the same time. She played each season faithfully while keeping her grades up…at least until mid-high school when, one day she woke up and her friends, boys and “all things teenager” finally sparked her attention. Despite a few setbacks, my niece got her grades back up and continued to play the game and pursue her goal of playing college ball.
Just like many parents whose day is encompassed with school activities and sports, dance lessons, music lessons and other extra-curricular activities, my sister, her husband and their children successfully managed to participate in sports and other activities while maintaining good grades and still find time for family and friends. Sometimes I wonder how they do it, but over the years I watched my sister and her husband effectively and lovingly communicate and organize their schedules so that their children could get to and from practices, get dinner, homework, attend church and other daily events and keep their sanity.
One of the other things I noticed about my sister and her husband is that they are not overly obsessed with winning or their children’s performance. Don’t get me wrong, they definitely encouraged competiveness and they keep note of their children’s stats, but there is a balance of good sportsmanship and personal drive in their children. As parents they never yell at the referees, coaches or their children. I’ve watched them display patience with my niece, in particular, when others around them suggested that she be more aggressive on the court. My sister continued to encourage her to play her best and to be herself. I watched my niece play her favorite sport with passion, without the aggressiveness that sort of comes with the territory. My mother deemed my niece the “Gentle Giant” as a result of her laid-back attitude on the court.
This family, my family has truly demonstrated dedication, discipline, sportsmanship, patience, encouragement and support and faith. This day didn’t just happen because of talent and being in the right place at the right time, it is a culmination of years of hard work, sacrifice, practices and games, meetings, crazy schedules, fundraisers, volunteer work and travel. My sister and her husband have invested and sacrificed much time and money to enjoy the benefits of this blessing. I was honored to share it with them.
Today I remember my Grandma, aka, Nana, Mama, Aunt Shug and Mrs. Inez Reeves. She would have been 84 years old today. When I asked her why people called her “Shug” (pronounced shoog), she told me that it’s because she’s so sweet. Grandma was a woman of faith, an exceptional cook, a Sunday school teacher and superintendent and an avid fisher. Before she retired she had managed restaurants and created recipes used by those establishments all over our region. Grandma taught me so much about how to live by faith, be dependable, how to act like a lady and to be a blessing to others. Her motto was “Lord, bless me so that I may be a blessing to others.” She lived a humble life, giving of her time, talents and treasures to her family, our beloved church and to our community.
My Grandma helped my single mother, and so many others in our “village”, to raise me and my two sisters. We were blessed to have this angel in our lives. When times were hard for us she always stepped in to ensure that we had everything that we needed and more. When I was a young adult, raising my first son as a single parent for five years, my Grandma was by my side to help care for him while I took college courses and began working. She offered wisdom, tough love and much grace as I meandered through my young adult years. Her optimism, faith and wisdom caused me to spend hours at her house, sitting at her feet, listening, and learning, soaking up all the love and life lessons in order to find my way. When I started my career as a behavioral health professional, married and had my second son, Grandma was by my side. It was second nature for me to call or stop by to just talk, visit, and get a recipe or when I needed an inspirational boost. Grandma continued to be source of strength and encouragement for me.
I am the woman I am today as a result of her love, time shared with me and her wisdom. While Grandma shared numerous milestones with me and my children, she never got to see me fulfill some of my greatest dreams and look forward to the possibilities ahead. Grandma died in 2008, one year before I obtained my bachelor’s degree and two years before I obtained my master’s and my son, her first great-grandchild, graduated from high school. Grandma had watched me toil for years to get a college education. She never got to see me start a business, helping others to maximize their character as she had always taught me to do. Nevertheless, I’m always encouraged by her life. My Grandma continues to live through the lives of her children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren and through all of the lives that she touched while she was with us. I’m convinced that when a person lives their life as My Shug did, their legacy will go on forever.