Monday, October 23, 2017

How to get your life unstuck

"Why are you cast down, O my soul? And why are you disquieted within me? Hope in God; for I shall yet praise Him, the help of my countenance and my God" - (Psalm 42:11).

The other day when I was getting dressed I picked up a garment to put it on and noticed the zipper was stuck. Being somewhat in a hurry, I tugged at the zipper trying to force it to move in either direction, but only made it worse. It was frustrating that this little zipper was taking up so much of my time. I stopped to examine the zipper more closely to determine where it was stuck, then proceeded to pull and tug on it, back and forth even harder—still it would not budge. My frustration was beginning to rise to a level of rage. This stuck zipper was holding me back from what I had planned to do. It was ruining my carefully laid out plan for the attire I wanted to wear, and making me late for the engagement I wanted to attend. Not only was the zipper was stuck, but so was I.

Like that zipper, we see people every day who are stuck in life. Stuck because of things they've done to themselves. Stuck because of things others have done to them. Stuck because they can't figure out a way to get unstuck, so they stay stuck. And remain stuck for years and years.

Does that sound like you? There's hope. Nothing will change until you get tired of being stuck, and decide you want to be free. Back to the example of the zipper. After I calmed down and stopped tugging the zipper back and forth, back and forth, it dawned on me that there was only one way to free that zipper, and that was to keep moving it forward. I realized in doing that the zipper would free itself from the point where it was stuck. Moving it backward and forward had only made things worse. The solution was simple—don't go back, move forward.

Like the zipper, you may be stuck in a place or a situation that you need to get out of, or one from which you think you can't escape or change. It may be a job, a family situation, a run-in with the legal system, a medical crisis, a crisis of faith or any number of things holding you back from making forward progress. And perhaps you think there is no way things are going to change or get better. You've  become discouraged and, now the enemy has you right where he wants you. Things are bound to go downhill from here.

The moment you give in to being stuck you will remain stuck, unless—

you start moving forward against the thing or situation that has you bound. Make up your mind that you will no longer remain in the same dry place where you are today. Do whatever is necessary to move forward one step at a time. You may need help doing it. Seek out the help you need. Don't say you can't because you can. As my mother used to tell me, "There's always a way."

There's no shame in being stuck. You may be stuck, but you don't have to stay there. At you just may find the answer you've been searching for.

Thursday, May 11, 2017

Mother's Day grief: Celebrating memories helps ease the pain of loss

Not everyone will be able to celebrate Mother’s Day this Sunday. For those who have lost a mother, it can be a painful day of mourning, especially if this is the first Mother’s Day without Mom or if young children are grieving, too. This may also be a hard day for women who have experienced infertility, pregnancy loss or the loss of a child." —Good Grief Center for Bereavement Support

I remember my first Mother's Day without my mother like it was yesterday. Mom quietly passed away at home on December 26th after a valiant 22 year battle with Multiple Sclerosis. Looking back, one of the best things I did after Mom died was join a grief support group facilitated by a trained grief counselor. One of the most helpful things I learned from the counselor was that everyone experiences grief differently, there is no time limit on grief that it takes as long as it takes.

Some Grief experts will tell you that we grieve in stages designed to move us from denial to acceptance of the death. Others say that grief is different for everybody, that there's no set pattern to follow. There's probably some truth in both points of view, depending on the one doing the grieving. One thing is certain, it helps to have a coping strategy in place for those difficult times, like birthdays and holidays. The Good Grief Center for Bereavement Support says that coping with grief on Mother's Day can be especially hard on women, men and children. The Good Grief Center offers these tips for getting through this highly celebrated day:
  • Do something positive in memory of your mother. Choose an activity that will connect you to her.
  • Ask a trusted friend or coworker what helped them when their mother died.
  • For children, Explain that this is a good day for good memories of Mom. Break out the photo album and reminisce with them.
  • If you’re a woman who never held your baby due to a pregnancy loss, celebrate your baby by lighting a candle or planting a flower that blooms every year.
Those for whom the pain of grief at losing a mother still lingers, it may be helpful on Mother's Day to celebrate your memories of your mother. Recall stories of good times, her favorite sayings or special occasions. Share your memories with family or a good friend. And if tears come, let them come. Tears are God's way of cleansing our soul. Don't shrink from this day or let it control you. Rather, meet it head on as your mother would want you to. Whatever way you choose to celebrate, make yours a Happy Mother's Day!
Since my Mom's passing, I have not missed celebrating her on Mother's Day. Usually, I mail her Mother's Day card to me. On that special day, I read the card aloud, and wish her a "Happy Mother's Day in heaven." Afterwards, I may have dinner with a friend or cook one of Mom's favorite dishes. It brings me such joy and helps me to get through this day. Following is my tribute in memory of my dear Mom. Please use it as a model to write your own if you'd like.
I Remember Madre (Mother)
I remember her hugs, her smile, her laughter, her hazel eyes that changed color when she scolded me. I remember her coconut lemon pound cakes, her Hungarian goulash, apple cobblers, pigs feet and potato salad dinners that raised money for our church.
I remember her voice, her advice, her unconditional love and encouraging words as I went off to college. I remember how smart she was, how forgiving, how funny and how simple things brought her so much joy.
I remember her kindness, her courage, her faith, her final words, "Don't forget, I love you...up to the sky and back." I haven't forgot, Madre, I never will. I will always love you—up to the sky. —by Carolyn K. Erwin

Sunday, May 7, 2017

A Mother's Day tribute to family caregivers who care for aging parents

Sixteen years ago, Carolyn Johnson gave up her job and her home to take care of her mother Florence. At 81, the frailties of Florence’s age are compounded by Multiple Sclerosis. She can’t bathe or clothe herself and needs someone with her all the time. "They [doctors] wanted to put her in a nursing home initially, but I resisted that. And the trade-off has been, she's lived [a lot] longer," Carolyn shared as she combed her mother’s hair. Many Americans agree with Carolyn’s decision. Today, one in four US households must find care for an elderly relative, and the majority of them are choosing to take care of their relative at home. ---Thalia Assuras, CBS News

That was me back in 2000. I was my mother's caregiver for 18 years until she passed away at the age of 83, two years after that article appeared. As a family caregiver, I was blessed to be in a special league with many other dedicated daughters and sons, daughters-in-law and sons-in-law who were also taking care of their mothers. All of us made personal, financial and professional sacrifices to care for our aging or disabled parents. Although it wasn't always easy, knowing that we were giving unselfishly of ourselves to help our parents in their time of need made it all worth it. For my generation, taking care of our parents was expected of us, and still promises a special reward.

Without a doubt, family caregivers are the linchpin that holds America's long term care system together. Without them, the whole system would collapse (and everybody knows that). It's family caregivers who bear the bulk of the responsibility of caring for this nation's aging and disabled population. Currently, there are an estimated 66 million family caregivers in the United States (see statistical breakdown).

Traditionally, federal and state governments have counted on the willingness of families to care for their own. The economic value of the unpaid assistance that family caregivers provide to aging and disabled relatives is estimated at 450 billion a year. That's money the government has yet to pay out to family caregivers for the vital work they do.
Many family caregivers perform personal, intimate activities like bathing or dressing. Other common tasks include paying bills and managing finances; scheduling and accompanying a loved one to doctor appointments; managing multiple medications; operating medical equipment; and performing wound care. Family caregivers also coordinate care and help their loved ones navigate health care services and community supports that might be available. ---Lynn Friss Feinberg, AARP blogger
Selfless is a word that describes family caregiversThey are often on-call 24 hours a day responding to someone else's care needs. Family Caregivers may forfeit days off, report for duty even when they're sick and pass up holidays because the needs of their loved one comes first. In the beginning, you don't always realize the extent of the demands caregiving places on you but you learn, and most important, you adjust. You have to in order to survive; or risk caregiver burnout. If you are a family caregiver know the signs of caregiver burnout.
As all-consuming as it is, becoming someone's caregiver is truly an act of love.
You have many reasons for providing home care. The most frequent reason is love for your friend or family member and a desire to provide care in familiar surroundings. It could be that home care is your only option, because outside care, even if it’s available, is often too expensive. You might also be motivated by a sense of obligation, or concern that no one else can provide the same quality care. ---James R. Sherman,Creative Caregiving
Family caregivers have not always had the recognition and support that they have now. It took family caregivers and their advocates joining forces to lobby Congress to pass legislation supporting family caregivers. A momentum shift occurred in 2000 when Congress amended the Older Americans Act to create the National Family Caregiver Support Program (NFCSP). This groundbreaking program not only legitimized the importance of family caregivers but also entitled them to basic services, not the least of which is respite care to enable them to take a break from caregiving. For the first time in a long time, family caregivers could see light at the end of a long, lonely tunnel.

But that was 14 years ago. The torch has been passed to a new generation of family caregivers. Elected officials and public policymakers will need constant reminders of why it's important to fully support family caregivers as Congress considers new programs and funding levels. Administrations come and go but the role of the family caregiver remains just as indispensable today as it has always been. Providing care to aging and disabled loved ones who can't care for themselves is a noble calling. If you know of a family member, friend, neighbor or co-worker who's a family caregiver, why not give'em a hug or bake a casserole to let them know how much you appreciate them. It's a good word that will go a long way.

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Forever Friends: A friendship for the ages

Saturday, February 4, 2017

Hollywood's shuffle

If you remember Robert Townsend's 1987 satirical movie, Hollywood Shuffle, you'll understand why just about every black actor in Hollywood leaped for joy when Viola Davis won the 2015 "Best Actress in a TV Drama Series" Emmy award for How to Get Away with Murder.

Davis' history making Emmy win (first black actor to win), only served to confirm how limited the opportunities are for actors of color in Hollywood. Like a broken record, lack of opportunity has been a constant theme playing in the background of every black actor's Hollywood hopes and dreams.
Davis' win elevated the status of just about every black actor in Hollywood, at least temporarily. In her acceptance speech, as other black award winners have done, Davis bemoaned the lack of meaningful starring roles for black actors to give them a shot at even being considered for acting's top prizes.

Hollywood has never been a welcoming place for black actors. Look at the history. During Hollywood's darkest days (no pun intended), blacks weren't even allowed to play themselves on screen. White filmmakers used white actors in blackface to play black characters. When blacks weren't being left off the silver screen entirely, they were paraded in front of the cameras as objects of derision and ridicule thus perpetuating negative images and reinforcing racist attitudes toward blacks.

Who can forget the infamous 1915 film, The Birth of a Nation, with its blatantly racist images and black stereotypes. It's no surprise that Hollywood has never pulled this controversial film out of circulation despite black protests and calls for its censorship. At one time, it was the highest grossing film in Hollywood. The Birth of a Nation is still available today. It's been reformatted for DVD on Netflix.

During Hollywood's Golden Age, in the late 20's to early 60's when movie-making was at its peak, black actors were cast as slaves, mammys, cooks, coons, and lazy, slow-witted, jive-talkin' niggas, which was consistent at the time with white society's view of blacks, Hattie McDaniel was the first black actor to win an Oscar in 1940 from the Motion Picture Academy for playing [a] Mammy in the movie, Gone With the Wind. McDaniel, and another black actor, Stepin Fetchit (not his real name), faced much criticism from black leaders for portraying dim-witted or subservient black characters. Even today, calling a black person a stepin fetchit, is still viewed as a racial slur.
Walter White, executive secretary of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People from 1931 to 1955, pleaded with African-American actors to stop accepting such stereotypical parts, as he believed they degraded their community. White urged movie studios to start creating roles that portrayed blacks as capable of achieving far more than cooking and cleaning for white people.— the Hattie McDaniel story
Even now, Hollywood continues to attract criticism for how it portrays black life in movies and on television. Far from putting its darkie past behind it, Hollywood has merely rewritten and updated the script for a 21st century audience. The stereotyping and typecasting of roles for black actors has not stopped. The slaves, mammys, coons, jiggaboos and jive talkin' niggas have simply been recast as bitches, whores, drug addicts, dope dealers, thugs, gangstas, and criminals for a new generation of black and white audiences whose understanding of their society is shaped largely by these Hollywood stereotypes.
Stereotypical roles in society have been excessively exaggerated by television programs, keeping racism alive and breathing in America. The careful selections of ethnicities in role casting have had an exceptionally large impact on American society. Young television viewers are learning at an early age about race and discrimination and are witnessing the ugly impacts of these issues.—Racism in Television
If anybody thinks Hollywood has changed its ways, think again. Money is what drives the equation in Hollywood. As long as the movie studios continue to make a profit from movies that depict white racial superiority, reinforce white values, while maintaining the status quo as it relates to blacks, Hollywood has little reason to change its ways. Furthermore, unless Hollywood is convinced that it can still make money by embracing diversity in all its facets, and that audiences will pay to see this level of diversity on film, there's no reason for the motion picture industry to change the formula that's worked for it some 100 years or more.

Also, the fact that a few black actors and producers have recently made breakthroughs with such popular shows as ScandalEmpire and How to Get Away with Murder should not be seen as progress. Neither Cookie nor the Lyon clan, Olivia Pope nor Annalise Keating are the kind of character role models anyone should want the next generation of little black kids to aspire to be like. Real progress will come when black characters are routinely included as part of the human landscape of every show on television and in every movie made. Until then, the Tyler Perrys, Shonda Rhimes and Lee Daniels in Hollywood should take their cue from black filmmakers like the late Oscar Micheaux and tell our stories in their entirety the way they should be told. I'm believing that there are enough talent resources and collective wealth within the black community to get it done.
 For the love of money is the root of all kinds of evil. And some people, craving money, have wandered from the true faith and pierced themselves with many sorrows.—1 Timothy 6:9-10

Friday, January 13, 2017

Martin Luther King: The torch is in our hands (Reprise)

March on Washington, 1963
Following is a speech presented at the 25th Annual Upper Merion Martin Luther King Jr National Holiday Celebration on January 9th in King of Prussia, Pa.

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It’s an honor for me to be with you this evening to commemorate and remember the life and work of Dr Martin Luther King Jr. Thank you to the planning committee for inviting me and to all of you for coming tonight. Can you believe it’s been 50 years since Dr King gave his famous “I Have a Dream” speech at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, DC?

President Kennedy, Dr King and civil rights leaders
I listened to Dr. King’s speech on YouTube recently. His speech is just as contemporary and relevant today as when it was first presented in 1963. I remember the year well, I was just 15 years old at the time. And I remember that my mother wouldn't let me go to the March on Washington because she thought there might be trouble. So I was limited to watching it on television from the safety of our living-room.

Two years before Dr King's speech, I wrote a poem that embodied some of the same themes contained in Dr King's speech. I was 13 years old at the time, and at the urging of my eighth grade English teacher, I entered the poem in the National Anthology of High School Poetry contest. Not only did they publish my poem, but they also gave it special recognition for its depth and maturity. The poem is entitled Man and I'd like to recite it for you now:
Shall we judge a man by his race or creed; or shall we judge him by word and deed? By the good he's done for mankind; or by the memory he's left behind? What makes this man is not his skin. Instead, it's what he has within.
So deep within him it doesn't show; but by his words and deeds you'll know that this is a man of dignity. And by his side you're proud to be. For his memory will leave an imprint in the sand; an impression of greatness that will stand the test of time and eternity; as a beacon of hope for all humanity.
When I wrote Man, I’d never heard of Dr King. But like him, I was influenced by the times in which I grew up; and by the injustices I saw happening around me. Man, the poem, echoes the sentiments of the man we celebrate today.

Like many of you, I am a product of the 60’s also known as the decade that shaped a generation. Who here remembers Motown and the Beatles, Star Trek and the first moon landing, the first televised Super Bowl between the Green Bay Packers and Kansas City Chiefs, Hippies and the summer of Love, Jimmie Hendricks and Woodstock or that fateful day in Dallas?

And likewise, who can forget the Birmingham church bombing that killed 4 innocent, young black girls, the brutal murder of 14 year old Emmett Till, the murders of Civil Rights workers Schwerner, Goodman, and Chaney or Medgar Evers, segregated schools, Jim Crow laws, whites and colored only signs, Klu Klux Klan lynchings, Rosa Parks and the Montgomery Bus Boycott, lunch counter sit-ins, countless marches and demonstrations or that horrible day in Memphis?

Like now, the decade of the 60's was a difficult, if not transformative time in America's history. Dr King galvanized a generation of blacks and whites, Protestants and Catholics, Jews and Gentiles into a moral alliance for the cause of freedom, justice and equality. This moral alliance succeeded in unraveling and dismantling racially discriminatory laws and practices that had enslaved black Americans for some 300 years.

This moral alliance succeeded in achieving passage of federal legislation that outlawed racial discrimination in public accommodations and employment; that restored and protected the voting rights of black Americans, and that banned discrimination in the sale and rental of housing.

At the time of Dr King’s death in 1968, I was a 19 year old sophomore at Washington College in Chestertown, Md. I was the only black student at the College, which at that time had an enrollment of 635 students. After learning Dr King had been killed, I left the College intent on never going back because it had been a less than welcoming environment for me.
I arrived home to Baltimore, only to find the streets filled with National Guardsmen in anticipation of rioting. Somehow, I found out that one of the local churches had chartered a bus to Atlanta for Dr King's funeral, so I got on the bus with them. There was no stopping me this time.

Once in Atlanta, I left the group and made my way to Ebenezer Baptist Church where the funeral was being held. I was determined to get inside the church In spite of not having an invitation or the proper credentials. I accomplished my mission and took a seat in the balcony. When the service ended, I was exiting the balcony just as Dr King’s casket was passing by. I quickly joined the procession of mourners for the long procession to the cemetery. Glancing across my row of mourners, there was Sammy Davis Jr, Harry Belafonte, Diana Ross with the Supremes, and singer Leslie Uggams, who later offered to give me a lift back to my bus. Mrs [Coretta Scott] King, Rev Jesse Jackson, and Dr Ralph Abernathy were in the row of mourners just ahead of us. It was an incredible day.

When I returned home to Baltimore, my mother told me that someone from the College had called asking if I had planned on coming back to school. I guess someone noticed I was missing. That call was what I needed to motivate me to return to school, but now with the determination to make a difference. I decided to confront Washington College's long held practice of selectively admitting one black student every three years, a policy that needed to change. It would not be easy.

By the time I graduated in 1970, there were eight black underclassmen enrolled at the College—the largest number of black students ever admitted at one time (Class of 1973). I also initiated the first black student union at the College. I tell you this is to prove that everyone has the power within to make a difference, to impact the culture for good if he or she chooses.

If Dr King were alive today, he would say that the struggle for justice and equality is not over, that the Dream has not yet been fulfilled, that there is still work to be done before we reach the promised land of true equality, justice and brotherhood.

I have some concerns about state of our country. I am concerned about a generation of our youth that we are losing to drugs, alcohol, crime and gun violence. I am concerned about the fact that more black males enter prison than enroll in college. I am concerned about the high dropout rates in our public schools that exceed graduation rates. I am concerned that in this economy, the job market is shrinking, along with wages.

I am concerned about a growing underclass of poor people who lack the skills and the opportunity to compete in a global economy. I am concerned that our elected officials have failed us by not making our lives better. I am concerned that, as a nation, America has become too complacent and too comfortable with things the way they have always been.

But we must not lose hope. The torch has been passed and is now in the hands of a new generation.  As torchbearers, we must show the way by investing our individual as well as collective time, talent and resources into fostering meaningful relationships with under-served and disadvantaged communities. As torchbearers, we must continue to promote the ideals of Dr King’s Dream in our daily lives. It’s time to go beyond the Dream and make it our reality.

(Photo credits: Getty Photos)

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

A New Year's resolution for a happier new you

Every year on December 31st at exactly 12:00 o'clock midnight fireworks light up the night sky, champagne corks pop, horns and whistles blow, hugs and kisses are exchanged and well wishes for a Happy New Year greet people all over the world. Most people view this annual end of the year ritual as a chance to start the New Year with a clean slate.

Habitually, some people make New Year's resolutions every year. But I wonder how many of these New Year's resolutions are actually holdovers from previous failed attempts? We seem to regurgitate the same resolutions from year to year (i.e."This year I will lose the weight.") hoping for a different result. According to Clinical Psychologist and researcher John Norcross:
Approximately 50 percent of the population makes resolutions each New Year. Among the top resolutions are weight loss, exercise, stopping smoking, better money management and debt reduction.
Sound like you? Well, you are not alone. Millions of people are stuck in this perennial revolving door of making New Year's resolutions, only to break them a few weeks or months down the road, reverting to the same old way of doing things or to the same habits they promised to change. Let's face it, our human efforts at self-improvement are at best superficial, external, and destined to fail every time. Psychology professor Timothy Pychyl says that resolutions are often a form of cultural procrastination :
[In] an effort to reinvent oneself, people make resolutions as a way of motivating themselves. People [really] aren't ready to change their habits, particularly bad habits, and that accounts for the high failure rate.
Then, there are those who believe that all it takes is willpower to succeed in keeping resolutions (And how's that been working for you?). If willpower alone is all that's needed, you would have succeeded with that first diet or the first time you tried to stop smoking, drinking, using drugs or whatever else you tried to will yourself to stop or start doing. New Year's Resolutions by themselves have no power, says author S. Michael Houdmann:
Resolving to start or stop doing a certain activity has no value unless you have the proper motivation for stopping or starting that activity.
For resolutions to succeed, it takes more than proper motivation. Once you decide you want to make a change, you need a specific plan, organization, time management, peer or professional support to make it work. In "10 Worst New Year’s Resolutions (And How to Make Them Work)," writer Ann Pietrangelo lays out a partial recipe for success. However, Pietrangelo's formula leaves out one key ingredient --- spiritual resolve.
True, we are creatures of habit. Spiritual resolve acknowledges that we are also creatures created by a loving God for a purpose. As such, we are ultimately accountable to our Creator. Spiritual resolve must undergird any desire we have for a changed life. Without spiritual resolve and God's help, our human efforts are nothing more than a house built on sand. The Bible explains it this way:
When someone becomes a Christian, he becomes a brand new person inside. He is not the same anymore. A new life has begun! 2 Corinthians 5:17 TLB
It takes spiritual resolve to surrender your old life in exchange for a new life in Christ. When resolutions fail, God alone has the power to change you. You don't have to go it alone anymore trying to make life work, you have a helper to guide you. Likewise, you don't have to wait until next December 31 at 12 o'clock midnight to take advantage of the offer. You can begin this new year with your sins forgiven and a chance to start your life over. Believe me, it doesn't get any better than that. Happy New Year, happier new you!