Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Endure

“The race is not given to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, but to the one that endureth until the end.” (Amalgamation of Ecclesiastes 9:11 and Matthew 24:13.)

 
Although I can’t remember all the details, one of my favorite parables is about a swimmer who set a personal goal of swimming 10 miles in an hour and a half. A boat would carry her 10 miles out and remain anchored there in case she felt unable to complete the race against the clock. If, for some reason, she couldn’t complete the race, all she would have to do was stop swimming and wave her arms in the air. The captain of the boat would keep a close eye out for the signal.

On the day that her swim was scheduled, the weather was unusually cold and a dense fog settled all around her. She felt quite nervous on the ride out and began to doubt herself and question whether this was a good idea. She’d never had to swim in these conditions. Maybe she should wait until a sunnier day.

Determined, she decided to go for it in spite of the conditions. Ten miles out, she jumped off the boat into the freezing ocean water. She swam, and swam, and swam for what felt like an eternity. Was she even headed in the right direction?  With each stroke she felt further and further from her goal. She was so cold. The fog was so thick. She lost track of time. She started to lose hope. About an hour into the race, she stopped swimming and flailed her arms.

The boat headed towards her. When it arrived, the captain informed her that she had almost made it to shore. She actually only had another 40 yards to go before she reached her goal. She had made excellent time. He inquired about why she had given up.

The swimmer responded, “The water was so cold, and the fog was so thick. I couldn’t see the shore. I felt like there was no way I could make it.”

That’s how it is with us. When our blessings are nearby, the waters can get extremely cold and the fog a little too thick. It is during this time that Satan will do whatever he can to get us to give up before we reach the shoreline.

I had to remind myself of this story today because for the past year I have been working diligently to obtain a certificate in Human Resources Management. I spent tons of money that I didn’t have for the program. I spent countless hours studying, working on projects, attending 4 ½ hour classes, and sacrificing time with my family to make it through the program. None of the effort spent guarantees that a job in HR will be waiting for me when I finish. I don’t see any opportunities on the horizon. I am BEYOND tired! It is taking everything in me to turn in that final assignment or to attend those last few classes. I feel the self doubt trying to creep in. Yet, I am determined to continue on.

The difference between the swimmer who couldn’t see her goal and me is that I can see the shoreline. It will be here December 10th. I must endure. My blessings are there waiting for me to reach them.

“The race is not given to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, but to the one that endureth until the end.”

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Peer Pressure in Marina del Rey

As I was praying for my daughters this morning I thought about peer pressure and the importance of being strong enough to make the RIGHT decisions regardless of what those around you are doing. I was reminded of a time when I chose to go along with the crowd and the events that unfolded because of that choice.

Picture it. Marina del Rey. August 1999. I had just graduated from high school and was so excited to be heading off to college. 8-10 friends and I decided that to celebrate we would go to Marie Callender’s. We had a blast—ordering whatever we wanted, laughing about our high school memories, and making fun of the waiter and other restaurant patrons. When we finished our meals it seemed like most of my table stood up and walked out. A few of us sat dumbfounded trying to figure out what was going on. Had they paid without us seeing them? Did they leave without paying? When had they decided to leave and why hadn’t we been given the memo? If we continued to sit at the table, would we have to pay for their meals in addition to our own? Next thing I knew, I too was out of the restaurant—bill unpaid.

Outside the restaurant I felt an extreme sense of guilt. I couldn’t believe that I had walked out. I had more than enough money to pay my bill. How had this happened? I said to my dear friend, who was also a “goodie two-shoes” like me, “We HAVE to go back and pay. We KNOW better than this.”

We discussed the situation a little while before he agreed to walk back with me so that we could pay. We headed in the direction of the restaurant and then out of nowhere he grabbed me tightly by the arm, turned around, and ran towards the waiting get-away cars. The next thing I knew I was in the car and my friends smashed out.

I couldn’t believe it. Just like that I was a thief…and a fugitive.

For the next few days I beat myself up for the poor decision I had made. I confided in my sister, who is ten years older than I am. I told her what had happened and that as soon as I got my new car a few days later, I was going to go back and pay. I told her how terribly guilty I felt and made her promise that she wouldn’t tell my mother.

Of course my sister told my mother (which I realized years later when I thought about the irony in the way the story unfolded).

My mother chose to protect my sister by telling me that a church member had called her and told her that they saw someone who looked like me on the news running through a parking lot with a group of kids. My heart began to palpitate. I was on the news? The authorities must be looking for me. I was going to jail over a $15 meal that I could have easily paid for. Oh God!!! You know I had every intention of going back to pay as soon as I got my car and could drive there without my mother having to know what had happened. I felt dizzy. I broke down and told her everything. I told her that I was SOOO sorry and I cried and cried.

My mom seemed disappointed, but she wasn’t upset. She told me that she would take me back to pay and lectured me about the importance of surrounding myself with honest people. I called my friends and tried to convince them to pay as well. I told them that someone had seen us on the news and that I was going back. They were a little more street savvy than I was and told me that there was no way anyone had seen us and that they weren’t going back. I knew that my sister had promised not to tell my mom and there was no way that my mom would ever stretch the truth, so someone had to have seen us.

When my mother and I got to Marie Callender’s I confessed everything that had happened to the manager. I told him that I was sooo sorry and had no excuse for behaving so poorly. I gave him the money for the food and he told me that he appreciated me for coming back. He even gave me a free pie.

Lessons learned:

• I must take responsibility for my actions. I have options in every situation I encounter. Making bad choices because I feel like I don’t have any other options is unacceptable because if I relax and think clear headedly about what is going on, I ALWAYS have more than one. I could have paid my portion of the bill (or even the entire bill), allowed my friends to leave me, and asked my mom or dad to come pick me up. At the time I didn’t think about that. As soon as I got home I could have told my mother what had happened and asked her to take me back to the restaurant to pay, but I didn’t mention it because I thought she would be upset with me, and the thought of disappointing my parents has always been torturous for me…but in all honesty it isn’t nearly as bad as the thought of disappointing the Master, which had already been done when I followed the crowd.

• Sometimes our sins put other people in uncomfortable positions and can cause them to fall as well. My sister promised me that she wouldn’t tell…but she did. My mom then chose to come up with a bogus story to protect my sister, who was really just trying to do what was best and look out for me. All of this stemmed from my initial sin.

• The restaurant manager taught me a valuable lesson about forgiveness. He could have responded to the situation a number of ways, but he allowed me to pay, spoke very kindly to me, forgave me, and then blessed me with a sweet treat. He didn’t have to do any of that, but he was compassionate, understanding, and even thankful that I had come back to do the right thing. He recognized that I was TRULY repentant and he forgave me—just as God does.

• I should always make sure that I surround myself with honest people. It may be more tempting for me to do what is wrong than it is for them to do what is right…and that’s a chance that I choose not to take. Regardless of who sees or doesn’t see me, God is always watching, and I want so badly to make Him proud. The guilt associated with the sin just isn’t ever worth it. The punishment that accompanies the sin is NEVER worth it. I tell Amari this all the time. The bible is clear. God is VERY forgiving, but He hates sin…and He punishes sin…and the punishment is NEVER worth the sin.

Interestingly I found myself in a very similar situation a few years later. This time I was with a group of people at a Denny’s in Las Vegas. I was a little older…and a little wiser. This time I made the right decision and paid. It was also in that moment that I fully embraced the fact that my associations matter. I had to choose better friends and acquaintances and I made a conscious effort to do just that.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Feeling Good about Myself, No Matter What! (For My CALI Girls)

When I was in high school, you were considered hot stuff if you wore the most expensive and fashionable brand name clothes and shoes. Top it off with a fresh hairdo, and you were really doing big things. If you were dressed homely, you were made fun of. If your clothes were faded, you were made fun of. If it looked like you had on hand-me-downs, you were made fun of. If you wore something too often, you were made fun of. You had to be on point or else you would be made fun of. I knew many people who would literally steal and risk going to “juvie” just so that they could wear “nice” clothes and fit in. It was ridiculous.

For me, dressing the part was difficult. My mother’s motto was, “As long as you’re clean and smelling good, you look fine.” She refused to spend any money on name brand items. This meant that instead of Ked’s, I got Ted’s. (They looked like Ked’s but they were sold at Target). Instead of a Starter jacket, I got a plain one from the Slauson Swap Meet.

 
If I wanted name brand things my mother didn’t attest to me having them, I would just have to buy them myself. I’ll never forget my first pair of black boots. I had worked hard all summer and saved up enough to buy myself a black Bebe shirt and some dark blue Express jeans. I wore this outfit to school with a pair of black and white Ted’s a few times before my homeboy suggested that I pair the ‘fit with a trendy pair of black boots instead. I was on a budget, so I headed to Payless and bought a pair. When I rocked my new and improved outfit to school, my homeboy (who was also the class clown) immediately noticed my no-name boots. He pointed them out to everyone in the lunch area. Everybody pointed and CRACKED up! I couldn’t believe that something that was supposed to be so right, had gone so terribly wrong. I stood there blushing, embarrassed.

My absolute worst shoe day had to be the day that I wore my brand new Red Cross’s to school. (I’m sure you’ve never heard of those. Neither had I. But they were cheap, they were new, and my mom had actually been willing to buy them for me.) I was trying to be low-key the day I wore them, but they were so white that they caught EVERYONE’S attention. The laughter roared AGAIN! Thankfully, I had a great sense of humor, so I was able to crack jokes about myself and play off my humiliation, but people clowned me about that for the next few years.

Flash forward a few years. College. I was determined that no one would ever make fun of my attire again. My mission was to rock the best clothes and shoes no matter what the cost. If I wanted a Louis Vuitton bag, I would work hard and buy one. If I wanted a pair of Tommy shoes or a Baby Phat outfit, I bought them without a second thought. I spent a great deal of my free time shopping. I tried to make myself feel gorgeous by buying the most expensive clothes and shoes that I could find. I worked hard and then spent my entire checks on junk—hoping to find happiness and acceptance in the things that I wore. Just knowing how much I had spent on my outfits made me feel confident. You couldn’t tell me anything.


One day it hit me. If I only felt good about myself when I rocked a pair of Chanel glasses and had a fresh hairdo, my self-esteem must be really messed up. I had friends who could put together some classy outfits without spending nearly as much as I did and their clothes actually looked better than mine. I felt foolish for wasting so much money on things that wouldn’t last. I was determined to do something to correct my “stinking thinking.” I started buying clothes that I considered quality instead of buying clothes simply because there was a brand name attached to them. I programmed my mind not to focus as much on the label as it did on the fact that I was clean, beautiful (inside and out), and presentable—just as my mother had taught me. In time, I came to know that no matter what I’m wearing, no matter how much it cost, no matter whether my hair is pulled back or down, I am gorgeous!

Here are some tips to help you if you find yourself judging your worth by superficial measures (as I once did). Hopefully these tips will help you to focus on that which is most important so that you can feel great about yourself no matter what.

1. One of Satan’s tricks (that he loves to use on young women) is to make us think that our self-worth and approval are tied up in the way we look. If we don’t measure up to the world’s standards of beauty, often our self-esteem takes a hit. When we are feeling down about ourselves it can potentially hinder our praise. Satan knows this. His goal is to take our focus off of God and then destroy us. Remember that you were made in God’s image as a reflection of His beauty (Gen. 1: 26-27), so you can’t help but to be stunning.

2. Challenge yourself to see yourself through God’s eyes. He’s not concerned with what’s on the outside. What’s on the inside is what matters most. Make sure that the inner you is the best you that it can be and that will definitely make you look even more attractive on the outside as well.

 
3. Smile at yourself every time you look in the mirror each day. I can’t say enough just how beautiful and unique you are. There’s no harm in acknowledging that and giving yourself a stamp of approval each day.

 
4. You can make a shirt from Target, Rave, or your local thrift shop look stunning if you choose. Constantly remind yourself that you make your clothes look great. It doesn’t matter how much they cost, where you bought them, or what name is on them. Without you in them, they are lifeless.

5. If anyone ever makes fun of what you are wearing, don’t let it get you down. Say a quick prayer for them and remind yourself that you are royalty. God takes great pleasure and delight in you and His opinion is the one that matters most.

I’m not at all suggesting that you never wear name brand clothes again. As a matter of fact, that would be hypocritical because I still do. The difference between me then and now, however, is that I love myself and feel good about myself regardless of where I buy my clothes and regardless of how much they cost—and so should you!

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

My Love Re-Connection

Last year, Dahn Elle Dior, began a movement, “It’s You, But New,” to help women revitalize, refocus, and renew their minds, bodies, and spirits. Her workshops concentrate on relaxation techniques, fashion makeovers, healthy living, and other things to help women discover, uncover, and become their best selves.

I attended an “IYBN” workshop a few months ago and while there, Dahn Elle suggested that the attendees tap into our childhood memories and identify things we enjoyed when we were younger that, for whatever reason, we no longer do as adults. She encouraged us to make time to actually do those things because they would help us to experience a little of the happiness, excitement, energy, and pleasure now that we did back then. It didn’t take me long to come up with one of the things I absolutely loved to do as a child—COLOR!

I headed to Dollar Tree and bought myself a coloring book. I also found a pack of crayons on sale for 40 cent at Target. I told my children that this was my special coloring book and although I share everything else, I would not be sharing this. (I felt like the Grinch at first and was tempted to let them color one page, but I stuck to my guns.) I put my crayons to the paper, and next thing you know, colorful masterpieces graced the formerly bland pages of my Winnie the Pooh coloring book.

Thank God! For less than $2, I have re-connected with a former love…and I enjoy it as much today as I did 20 years ago…




For more information about “It’s You, But New,” check out the following link:

http://www.itsyoubutnew.com/

Monday, August 8, 2011

I'm So Excited About C.A.L.I. GIRL Newsletter!

Many years ago, the Lord placed a desire in the hearts of a few of my dearest friends and I to share some of the difficult situations and the valuable lessons that we learned as a result of them with other young ladies who might be experiencing similar things. We also wanted to talk with young ladies about the fun and exciting aspects of walking with the Lord and living for Him as well. At the time, we didn’t make our desires a priority. We continued to live and learn, but the need to speak out and share our stories continued to burn inside of us.

We noticed that the magazines on newsstands targeting young women had catchy articles, but the content in them typically didn’t align with the will of God. The enemy was using the printed news media to attack the minds of our young ladies. At a time when young women are so impressionable, we have a responsibility to make sure that we are equipping them with the weapons, information, and confidence to fight the spiritual battle that is raging. (Ephesians 6:11 – 18.)

Earlier this year, my friends and I realized that we could no longer be silent. Sabrina Pierce, Vicki (Pierce) Childress, Eboni (Hemphill) Marmolejos and I joined together to launch Christian and Loving It (C.A.L.I.), Girl Newsletter—an inspirational Christian newsletter for young ladies between the ages of 13 and 24. Our mission is to provide Christian guidance and support to young women by presenting them with positive and truthful information about fashion, self-esteem, hygiene, talents and gifting, relationships, etiquette, Christian living, and other things the concern young ladies in this age range.

We created a blog version of our newsletter.  Feel free to check it out, and PLEASE let me know what you think.  Feel free to pass it on to anyone you think it may encourage.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Fabulous, No Matter What!

Some people can’t stand it, but they surely can’t deny it. Others recognize it in me, and wish they had it too. Still others acknowledge it in me, and embrace it about themselves as well. What is it? It’s one of the many things that make me so special…

No matter what I do, no matter what I say, no matter how I’m dressed, no matter how my hair is styled, no matter what time of day, I can’t help but to be fabulous! I couldn’t shake it if I wanted to. It’s in my DNA. I’m a child of the King. I’m a direct reflection of Him.

God took His time when He made me…He wanted to make sure that I was JUST RIGHT. And when the Potter finished His molding, a true work of art remained—me! He looked me over and said, “It is good.” And since He doesn’t make any mistakes, I know that His assessment was accurate.

I’m not at all conceited, but I am confident of who I am, what I am, and Whose I am. God made me: Beautiful. Royal. Stunning. Captivating. Breathtaking. One of a Kind. Fabulous—no matter what!

Monday, June 20, 2011

My Gift to My Father

Father,

How can I say thank you for the amazing life that you have given me? How can I say thank you for choosing me and loving me in spite of all my many flaws?

What can I do to show my gratitude for your forgiveness, mercy, and unmerited favor? What can I do to show my gratitude for your guidance and provision?

The fact that you would take time to speak to me every single day overwhelms me. The fact that my thoughts and feelings actually matter to someone as GREAT as you makes me feel important.

This Father’s Day, I asked myself what gift I could give to a Man who has is all? Nothing seemed adequate. I hung my head in despair until you lifted it and softly whispered that my dedication to you would suffice.

So Father, I humbly come before you and present my body as a living sacrifice. I give my all to you. I give my time, my talents, and my gifts. I give you my heart, my soul, and my life.

Lord, I am honored to be your child. I ask that you will use me as you see fit and I thank you for my adequacy.

With Love,

Your Daughter,

Lou

Monday, June 13, 2011

Overbooked...

Have you ever been to church and heard that message that was JUST FOR YOU? This literally happens to me all the time. Yesterday’s message was exactly what I needed to hear. Lately I’ve been putting far too many things on my schedule. I hate open time. I feel like I’m wasting time if I am sitting still. Every minute of every day is packed with activity—some important and others not so important. Over the course of the past few weeks, my being in a rush to accomplish everything on my lengthy “to-do list” has caused me to make some mistakes. Thankfully God was able to get my attention this past weekend, and I am determined to do better. I HAVE to.

On Saturday, for example, I was sitting in one of my HR classes when I happened to glance at my oldest daughter’s dance recital schedule. After staring at it for a few moments I realized that she was scheduled to dance in Malibu at 1:30pm. It was 12p. I was in Northridge and she was in L.A. I hoped that I was reading the paper incorrectly. I called her and asked her to confirm the start time of the show. After days of my saying that her show started at 7p, she too was convinced that it started at 7p and was confused by my frenzied call.

I phoned the dance school next. Of course there was no answer. I didn’t know her teacher’s cell phone number nor did I have any parents’ numbers.

My class started at 9a and ended at 1:30p. I decided that I would have to leave an hour and a half early because it would be better to get her to Pepperdine at 1:30p and find out that she didn’t have to be there until 7p than it would be to arrive at 7p and find out that she had missed her 1:30p performance.

My next task was to tackle the infamous 405 freeway. As usual, it was packed. I frantically called my mom and dad and begged them to meet me halfway with Amari. My father agreed. I was at the point of tears because Amari had worked so hard…and I had spent so much time and money trying to make sure that everything went well for her recital.

While I waited on my father at our designated halfway mark, I really let myself have it. How could I allow this to happen? How terrible I must look to my professor for leaving class before he had finished lecturing. How could a mother get the time of something as important as her daughter’s dance recital so wrong? I was going to press Amari’s hair after I got out of class. Because of me she would have to dance with a month old hairdo. If she missed her performance it would throw off the choreography and that would definitely be a disappointment to her teacher and fellow dancers. They had all worked so hard.  Oh HOW could I get the time wrong?!?!?!?

Breathe, Loureva. Be thankful. Think about it…

I usually don’t look at anything other than my coursework (and occasionally my cell phone just in case there is an emergency with the girls) when I am in class. The fact that I had noticed the recital schedule was the work of the Lord. What lesson was I supposed to learn from this? First, clearly write my plans down and then PAY ATTENTION to what I write down. When I saw the recital time written in my monthly planner and my cell phone calendar, I assumed that I had noted an earlier time as a reminder to start preparing for the show. In actuality…the calendars denoted the actual start time of the show.

Second, I have to do a better job of teaching Amari to be more responsible about the activities that she has scheduled. She can’t depend on me to have all the information and to have it all right all the time. I am human, and she can miss out on tons of marvelous opportunities if she doesn’t make physical and mental notes of the things that she has to do and stress the importance of those events to the people who can get her there.

When my father arrived with Amari, we faced our next challenge. Pacific Coast Highway (PCH). It was a beast! Amari and I prayed almost the entire car ride. When we weren’t praying I was lecturing about the lessons we should learn from the situation. We made it to the show by 1:40p and rushed backstage. The show hadn’t started yet—praise God. I rushed and did her hair and put on her makeup. I was a nervous wreck, which I’m sure was evidenced by my face. 20 minutes later I found out that Amari’s group was to perform in the second act, which meant that although we were late, God had made a way for us to be there in enough time for Amari to relax a little before she had to take the stage.

My third lesson was the reiteration that I am human. I will make mistakes. But when I do, I can’t beat myself up about them. That doesn’t help anything. Instead, I should constantly thank God for His grace, and His help, and His strength. I can’t allow myself to get stuck in the emotional doldrums. God’s will SHALL be done. If things don’t turn out the way I thought they would, I should immediately thank God, look for the lesson, and grow from it.

My fourth lesson came in church on Sunday. The minister’s first words were about getting our priorities in line with the will of God and being good stewards of our time. He said that our priorities should be studying God’s word, prayer (communing with the Master), marriage and family, our calling and/or God-given career, church, and fun.

He also said that we should tell people “no” to the things that we honestly can’t do (especially if they don’t fall in line with our priorities). I have a problem with the word "no"…and I RARELY use it…and when I do, I feel like Keith Olberman’s “Worst Person in the World!” No matter how much a thing may stretch me or stress me…I often take on more responsibility than I can handle so that I don’t burn any bridges or hurt any feelings. As a result, I’m not able to give my best to any one thing. Each thing gets a small piece of me, I forget the things that really do matter, and my defeated look and attitude causes me to miss opportunities to witness.

Today I claim victory over a ridiculously crowded schedule. I promise to involve the Lord as I decide what activities, people, and tasks will receive my time and attention. I will tell people “no” when their requests are honestly not feasible and I won’t feel bad about it. Today I vow to clearly write my agenda in my planner and visit it at the start of each day so that I don’t double-book or forget the things that I have booked. I will make sure to keep time open each week to breathe, relax and have some fun. I will be emotionally present wherever I am…

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Awesome Wonder

After church today, Sabrina, Amari, Halle, and I went to The Gentle Barn in Santa Clarita (http://gentlebarn.org/).  Halle brushed a couple of the cows' fur; Amari, like Mary, befriended a little lamb; Sabrina was literally hit on by a black stallion who enthusiastically shook his head "YES" when she asked him if he liked her; and I bonded with the sleeping swine.  It was amazing!  To say that we had an awesome time would be an understatement.  I was so emotional by the time I made it back home that I had to tell my neighbor (who simply asked how my day was and surely wasn't expecting the earful that I gave him) all about how GREAT God is!

The entire time that we were at The Gentle Barn, I couldn't stop praising God for being such an awesome wonder.  I couldn't help but thank Him for allowing me to see and feel His presence all around me.  I gave praise aloud a few times because I just couldn't help myself. 

The animals were beautiful--so precious.  They had so much personality.  I looked at them and knew that they (like I) had been created for the sole purpose of giving glory to God.  I could see that He had taken His time with them and that He LOVED them.  His arms were wrapped around them and they were secure in His embrace. 

My mind began to run marathons as I thought about the swaying trees waving their leaves toward heaven--magnifying the Lord, their Creator.  I thought about the blowing wind singing praises to the Almighty.  I thought about the ocean, so wide and so deep, moving at His command.  I thought about the earth's plates shifting at His orchestration.  I thought about how lava spews forth after volcanic eruptions at His direction.  I thought about the mountains and the valleys and the deserts all prostrate as they honor Him.  I thought about the rocks crying out that He is the Most High God.  I thought about the sun and the moon and the stars that He set in place to light our world and provide the energy necessary for this life to exist.  I thought about how His creations depend upon each other and how none of this would be possible without Him...and I was reminded that God is my all and all.  He's my everything!  I live and I breathe to worship Him and I humbly submit to His will for my life.  I sing praises unto the Lord, for He is worthy!

Hallelujah!




Friday, May 6, 2011

Think on These Things

Image and information filtering can be quite difficult—especially when you are looking for one thing and chance upon another. When flipping through the guide channels, for example, show titles “Girls Gone Wild,” “MILFS with Hot Amazon Mandingos,” etc. flash across the screen. Turn the radio to the wrong station at the wrong time and you hear about bumping and grinding with your best friend’s husband, smoking weed while selling cocaine, killing the fool who steps in your way, etc. Or when driving down a street in Hollywood, there is a billboard with two men hugging—under it a line about being tested for aids. News headlines talk of scandal in both the political and financial realms. The people engaging in the activities seem to be having so much fun. They seem so happy…Then you find yourself wondering: Why not sleep with your best friend’s husband—Especially if there is a good beat playing while you do it? If Jane and John Doe can do it and be happy, why can’t you?

With negative imagery and ungodly activities as in our face as they are, continuing to walk on the straight and narrow path isn’t always easy. But it is a must! It’s imperative that we keep our eyes focused on the prize—eternal life with God.

Sin begins in the mind with a single thought. When negative thoughts—“going wild,” doing drugs, participating in ungodly relationships, taking things that don’t belong to you, etc. try to creep into your mind, stop, breathe, and replace them with images and scriptures that will keep you on track. Don’t entertain thoughts of sin for a single moment. When you do, you will, without fail, find yourself in situations where you are faced with an opportunity to act out your thoughts…and that action leads to misery, guilt, unhappiness, bitterness, and dissatisfaction.

Remember that you have a higher calling. You are in the world but not of it. Choose Christ. Serve Him with your whole heart. Don’t flirt with sin. It isn’t worth it. Only that which is Christ-centered leads to true euphoria.

“Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things.” (Philippians 4:8)

Friday, April 8, 2011

Healing and Vision

For the past few years I experienced intense pain in my joints that resulted from a bad fall I had when I was pregnant with my youngest daughter. I had been to too many doctors and physical therapists to count. I had surgery to remove a large lump from my right hand. I took countless medications to alleviate the pain, but nothing worked. Three years later, the pain got progressively worse. I couldn’t get a full night’s rest because I would wake up in pain and not be able to get comfortable enough to go back to sleep. One morning it was so bad, that I broke down in tears and cried out for God to help me.

That’s when it all made sense. I had been looking to the wrong things for my healing. I put my faith in doctors, therapists, and specialists, hoping that their expertise would be enough to diagnose me and their medications enough to cure me. Ask me today if any of those doctors ever had a definite cause or cure and I will honestly tell you that they didn’t.

Throughout the Bible are examples of God’s omnipotence. Since He is my Father, since He is Jehovah Rapha, why hadn’t I sought Him—not just for ephemeral relief, but for actual healing? I KNOW first-hand what He can do, and yet…I hadn’t sincerely sought the help of the Master until the morning that the pain had become so intense that all I could do was cry out to Him.

At the end of March, I decided that on April 1st I would do a five day fast for healing. For five days, I ate fruits and veggies and drank only juice and water. I also prayed without ceasing. While I prayed I sang, “Because of Who You Are (I give You glory).” I felt so close to God, secure in His arms. A number of exciting things happened over the course of those five days. For the first couple of days I prayed for healing. The next two, I was led to stop asking and start thanking Him for healing. On the fifth day, for some reason, I felt compelled to petition God to show me His vision for my life. In 29 years that’s something that I hadn’t done. His vision is so important, and yet, I had never asked. I’ve always just done what I wanted to do and then asked Him to bless it. How backward is that?

My fast revealed the following things to me:

• There is power in my words. If I truly want healing I can’t walk around speaking of intense pain. When someone would ask me how I was doing, my answers were always: “I’m tired. I didn’t get much rest last night. You know my joints hurt,” “I’m ok, but my arms are killing me,” or I couldn’t do this or that because “I’m slightly injured.” If I’m speaking those words, how can I expect God to heal me? The first thing God wanted me to do was trust in Him, speak to my situation, and claim victory. (Proverbs 16: 24, 12:18)

• In addition to my words being potent, there is also power in my actions. I was so used to waking up in pain every morning that I would hold my hand above my head to get out of bed and typically keep it that way until I was alert and able enough to lower it gently with the least amount of pain. I expected the pain and I acted accordingly. On the third day of my fast I got out of bed in normal position—arm straight up—and God spoke to me and said, “Put your arm down. You are healed.” I put my arm down immediately. I didn’t feel any pain. The second thing God wanted me to do was act like a victor because He had given me the victory.

• Again, in the past I visited numerous doctors and they didn’t have any answers or solutions. The third thing God wanted me to understand is that I should not look to anyone or anything else to supply my needs. God is Jehovah Jireh. He is Jehovah Rapha. My first consultation should always be with Him…and He will direct my paths. (Proverbs 3: 6)

• I decided to go to prayer service on the final day of my fast. I figured it wouldn’t hurt to have someone else touch and agree with me for healing. When I went up to the altar, the minister didn’t ask me if I had any requests. He just began praying. While he was praying, I prayed about healing—until I started to hear his words. His prayer for me was for God to show me His vision for my life and to bless me in my giftings. He prayed that God would enhance my writing abilities and allow me to use them for His glory. This minister has no idea of who I am nor what I do in my spare time…so for his prayers to be for vision and giftings and writing was confirmation that God heard my prayers. I couldn’t stop thanking God for all His blessings. “Thank You, Lord…Thank You, Father.” I left church with a red nose and puffy eyes, but I also had new, clearer understanding.

• I started blogging while my hands and arms throbbed. Writing had always been something that I LOVED doing. I even majored in Creative Writing in college. In spite of my love for writing, I hadn’t been able to find the time to write anything, aside from my name on checks. Even through the pain, blogging felt so right. I wondered how long I would be able to write anything at all. The ideas just kept coming and coming. They came so quickly that I couldn’t write them down fast enough. When my hands would hurt too much, I would take a break, but I couldn’t wait to sit back in front of the computer. I would even wake up from naps with ideas that I just had to put on paper. On the fifth day of my fast, I realized that had it not been for the aching in my hands I never would have had the thought that I might not always be able to write. Had I not had that thought, I might not have had the desire to use my hands to write about the lessons I’ve learned in my life (with the hopes of giving them to my daughters as guideposts for their own). Had I not had that desire, I never would have started blogging. And had it not been for me setting weekly goals with my blogging, I would never have pushed myself to produce as much material as I have over the past few months. If it hadn’t been for the positive and encouraging responses that I received as a result of my blogs, I might not have asked God to show me His vision for my life. Had I not asked God to show me, I might not have received the confirmation that I am supposed to use my writing to encourage and inspire—I might not have known that my next challenge is to write a book of Christian fiction for teenaged/young adult girls. God had to get my attention some way. The pain caused me to seek Him and listen. Hallelujah.

• Finally, I tossed out my old journals about a month ago (http://loureva.blogspot.com/2011/02/with-open-arms.html).  In hindsight, one of the reasons they HAD to go was because the material that was in them is not appropriate for what I am to write. There didn’t need to be any temptation to look in them to gain insight on my adolescent thoughts or experiences. God will give me a fresh word.

Thursday, March 31, 2011

Real Change

There are quite a few things about which I am VERY passionate, and EDUCATION is one of them. I have a tremendous amount of respect for teachers who care more about the education and enrichment of children than about the number of commas in their paychecks. I admire and appreciate those teachers who inspire our youth, push them to excellence, and provide the encouragement they need to become productive and successful individuals.

My tribute to history-making women wouldn’t be complete without me paying homage to an unsung hero, Monique Frierson, whose contributions to society could never be adequately compensated. She has unselfishly shared her wealth of knowledge, experience, and encouragement with hundreds of students over the years.

Monique grew up in the Los Angeles inner-city, approximately 5 minutes from Watts, California. She attended Fremont High School, and graduated with honors in 1995. According to Monique, she always had teachers and counselors who cared about her and kept her abreast of educational and career opportunities that were available to deserving Fremont students. For example, she was able to earn over 14 thousand dollars in scholarships, which, in addition to grants, allowed her to attend the University of Southern California almost entirely free. Monique also credits her family, church family, and teachers for encouraging her to think beyond the ghetto and reach for the stars. She says, “The ghetto was strong, but my support system was stronger.”

In college, Monique double majored in Spanish and Mandarin. Initially she had aspirations of becoming an interpreter, but soon changed her mind when she realized that it required a great deal of traveling outside of the country and didn’t offer the most attractive benefits. At a job fair at USC, she spoke with a Los Angeles Unified School District representative who encouraged her to consider a career in public education. That idea stuck with her, although it took her a while to actually pursue it.

Upon graduation from college, Monique explored her career options. She worked as a Spanish teacher at a Christian Middle School for one year, and then obtained a position at a Chinese-owned golf apparel company, where she was able to speak Mandarin on a daily basis. She really liked her fellow employees, but she eventually left the job because it literally stressed her out. It didn’t take her too long to decide that while corporate America is just right for some people, it wasn’t right for her. She had always thought that she could do well in and enjoy any career path she chose, but she realized that not everything is in God’s will. It was not meant for her to feel comfortable nor was it meant for her to excel in Corporate America.

Monique asked God for guidance. What would He have her to do? When she sat and examined her passions and strengths, she thought back to how important her teachers had been in her academic career. She remembered the support and encouragement that they had provided her, and knew that she wanted to give those same gifts to other young people. It only made sense for her to step back into the classroom.

She didn’t have her credential when she first started teaching, but LAUSD had a pre-intern program that allowed her to begin teaching immediately while she went to school twice a week from 4-7p to prepare for the Multiple Subject Assessment Test (MSAT), which is required in order to teach elementary school. Instead of going into the district intern program, which typically follows the pre-intern program, Monique attended California State University, Bakersfield to obtain her credential. Now that she was positively in the right career field, she aggressively pursued the necessary paperwork to ensure her continued employment with the district. As a result, the 9 month CSUB program was much more attractive to her than the 2 year district program. Ten years later, Monique is still teaching at the school she initially started with in Sylmar, CA…and she ABSOLUTELY LOVES IT.

Each morning before Monique begins her day teaching a class of minority 5th graders, she prays and asks God to allow her to be an expression of His love. She calls herself an “Ambassador for Christ,” and she asks that God speak through her and use her teaching and encouragement for His glory.

Monique’s work is never finished. Sometimes she can spend up to nine hours on a Saturday preparing assignments for her students or grading their papers. She is determined to give her students a thorough foundational understanding of reading, writing, science, and mathematics to equip them for future academic success. She is willing to do whatever it takes to make that happen. Their success makes her time commitment worth it.

One of Monique’s main goals each year is to instill values in her students because many of them don’t have a parental support system at home. A lot of the parents are so busy trying to feed their families and keep a roof over their heads that they don’t have the time, energy, or ability to focus on their children’s education. Monique makes it a point to stress the importance of having manners, being courteous, and respecting others because she sees these as fundamental elements of success.

Monique also tells her students the story of her upbringing and her ability to rise above stereotypes and achieve. She wants them to know that no matter what their situation, they can excel if they put their minds to it and work hard.

On a final note, I was blessed with an opportunity to volunteer in Monique’s classroom this past Black History Month. While I was there I could see just how much respect and admiration her students had for her. She couldn’t hide her passion for educating them. Her students were all obviously bright, well-mannered, and confident children, who were unafraid to answer my many questions. I loved that they were eager to ask me quite a few as well. I left her classroom feeling immensely proud and extremely happy that such a wonderful person stands before 30 students each day and gives them they keys to a bright and promising future. God’s light, shining through Monique (and countless other sincere Christian teachers), is bright enough to remove the darkness that plagues our world…and I thank Him for placing His vessels in a position to implement REAL CHANGE. It starts with the children.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Shooting Star


Avant-garde photographer and Los Angeles native Ebony Marmolejos started her own photography business, Essence by Ebony, in the latter part of 2010. She specializes in on-location headshots, wedding photography, senior portraits, newborn photography, family portraits, and boudoir shots. Her stellar portfolio speaks volumes about her God-given dexterity and her passion for capturing the essence of her subjects through her camera’s lenses. It is because of this that word about Essence by Ebony is spreading quickly throughout the Phoenix, Arizona area, where she currently resides with her husband and their 5 children.

For years, Ebony carried her camera with her everywhere she went and took pictures of anything and everything she could—just for the fun of it. She never considered starting her own business until her husband, Nector, who is also an amazing photographer, fervently encouraged her to seriously pursue it. After all, he felt that she had something very special. Nector’s urging was just what she needed to push her into action. She started advertising and marketing her business and pretty soon the inquiries started pouring in. She began shooting around the clock, allowing her work to speak for itself.

Although the work of Joel Grimes, Desiree Hayes, and Julie Harris inspires Ebony, her biggest motivation is the excitement of having the perfect shoot. The thought of being able to create a photograph that someone will love propels her to excellence.

Ebony is a perfectionist, to say the least. She will drive for 3 hours sometimes just scouting for the perfect spot. And with the architecture in Arizona being somewhat uniform, finding unique locales can be challenging, but that pushes her to work even harder to find them.

Before a photo shoot, Ebony schedules a consultation with her clients to find out exactly what they want for their pictures. She also asks the client what they would like for other people to think when they see their pictures. She takes that information, searches Google Images for possible looks the client might like, and emails the images to her client just to be sure that they are on the same page. Once she receives feedback, she almost always has an accurate idea of what kind of pictures she needs to take. She then uses her scouting prep work to determine where the shoot will take place.

So far, all of Ebony’s customer feedback has been extremely positive. Her clients often tell her that her pictures are the best they’ve ever had, which is amazing because just 5 short years ago Ebony didn’t believe that anyone would ever take her work seriously. She thought, “I’m JUST Ebony. I work in a call center. I’m JUST a mom.” As time passed, Ebony realized that she didn’t have to have any titles behind her name to be legit. She was more than just a call center worker…and more than just a mom. She was an extremely talented photographer with a creative voice—one that couldn’t be ignored.

Ebony says that God will move and shift earth to make your dream a reality if it is in His will. “God doesn’t part the red sea so that you can stand there and look at it. He parts it so that you can walk through.” For years Ebony stood admiring the road that God had cleared for her, questioning whether He had actually cleared it for her. She wondered whether the waters would swallow her whole if she took a step through them. It was when she finally stopped allowing her thoughts of fear and self-doubt to consume her that she developed the strength to step out on faith, move outside of her comfort zone, and walk into God’s blessing for her—where the rewards are endless.

Ebony’s advice to aspiring photographers is “Be your own #1 fan. No one should love your work more than you do. When you’re excited about your work others can’t help but to be excited as well…Someone’s going to be the next world-renowned photographer. Why can’t it be you? You have the potential to be just as good as the next person. If you’re even thinking that you want to be a photographer, JUST DO IT. Pick up a camera and shoot. Don’t put the camera down until you find what you like.”

In five years, Ebony hopes to have her own studio. Even though most of her shots are on-location, she wants to provide her clients with the option of taking in-studio shots as well so that they won’t have to use multiple photographers for their needs. It is her ultimate goal to be known as “THE professional studio to go to” in Arizona. She wants Essence by Ebony to be on the lips of everyone who is even considering having their pictures taken.

On a final note, I must say that Ebony is one of my dearest friends. She’s someone I’ve known my entire life, and whom I’ve always looked up to. She has always had her own unique style and she’s always been extremely creative. She literally breathes life into anything and everything that she touches. I admire her because she has finally taken her photography to the next level. I enthusiastically look forward to the day when her work is studied on the collegiate level and hangs from the walls of photography museums across the world. Her success is my success. Seeing her living her dreams inspires me to live mine as well.

I encourage you to check out her work and see exactly what I mean when I say that Ebony Marmolejos is a Shooting Star:



Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Yolanda’s Gems for a Successful Marriage

Although I meet many women who are enthusiastic mothers, sadly it’s not very often that these same enthusiastic mothers are also enthusiastic wives. To hear how some of these ladies talk about their marriages or even to see how they interact with their husbands is disconcerting. So many couples seem miserable together and it scares me to think that they probably started off as excited, or almost as excited, about their spouses as I am about mine. Does being an involved and loving mother make me destined to a dull and lifeless marriage? Will my husband and I grow apart as the years pass? Is there any hope of us still being madly in love with each other 25 years from now? If there are things I can do to ensure a happy and successful marriage, what are they? For my sanity’s sake I had to find out.

I was recently speaking with a very good friend about how hard it is to balance school, work, parenting, taking time for myself, and being a wife. She reminded me that I have to keep my priorities aligned with the Word of God—my marriage is a ministry and it is the most important relationship for me to maintain, right behind my relationship with the Master, and right before my relationship with my children. Although it is tempting to focus on my career or my children or myself, I must give my relationship with my husband my all. God has called me to do that. If my priorities aren’t in line, I risk having the mundane and unfulfilling relationship that so many others have—and if my relationship isn’t glorifying the Lord, then what is the point?

That realization led me to my next endeavor…linking up with a mentor—a wife and mother whose priorities are aligned with God’s word—someone who could be an example for me. I opened myself up for whoever God would choose. Then, as He is known for doing, God allowed me to cross paths with Yolanda Jackson.

Within my first few minutes of getting to know Yolanda, I was in awe of the love and adoration with which she spoke about her family. I could tell that she was very proud of them and that they meant the world to her. She didn’t miss any opportunity to give God the glory for all that He had done and was doing in their lives. As we chatted, a man walked up to her, and I could see school-girl excitement in her eyes. They exchanged a few words, and when he walked away she said, “That was Mr. Jackson.” I couldn’t help but smile. It was the cutest thing. In that moment I knew that she possessed the secrets to a happy marriage—and I wanted her to pass them along to me.

Yolanda and Mr. Jackson met while she was a sophomore at Crenshaw High School, in Los Angeles, California. She was a majorette, and he was a football player. They immediately clicked, courted, and fell in love.

Their relationship had a few bumps when they reached adulthood, however. For example, it took a while for them to make it to the altar—and not because Yolanda wasn’t ready. Mr. Jackson gave her a friendship ring, followed by a promise ring. This was great, but next there was an “after promise ring,” followed by an engagement ring and then an “after engagement ring.” Yolanda laughed recalling it all. She knew that she wanted to be with him, but wasn’t quite sure why the rings hadn’t yet led to the wedding. She finally told him that she was going to have to explore other options. He assured her that she was who he wanted and shortly after that, they married. 30 years later, they’re still together—happily married. The following are the gems Yolanda attributes to the success of her marriage:

• Make sure God is at the head of your marriage. Stay in constant prayer and study His word. That will help you to stay focused on His desires for your relationship.

• Have a Vision Statement. While some couples choose to write theirs down, the Jackson’s is more informal. Their goal is to always have something that they are working toward together. They study together and constantly dream and plan for their future. It keeps them talking and excited about life.

• Be honest about what you’re feeling. Holding things in can make you bitter and angry, and that often pushes people away. Communication is extremely important. Say how you feel and then let it go. Don’t try to manipulate situations or force the outcome that you want.

• Have patience and be understanding. Don’t focus so much on your spouse or who they should be or how they can meet your needs. Remember that you are both children of God and He loves you both the same. Your spouse is going to make some mistakes and so are you. Don’t try to fix your mate. Work on bettering yourself and allow God to fix your situations.

• Use touchstones to overcome stress and adversity. Touchstones are past moments that were overwhelming at the time you experienced them, but in hindsight, they were situations that worked out for the good. Looking back, touchstones allow you to see that “God had a ram in the bush,” and that He was in control all along. (Romans 8: 28) An example of a touchstone for Yolanda was her recent season of unemployment. She wanted to work, but the economic climate made securing employment quite difficult. It was a tough period for her, but in hindsight she realized that she needed a break. That period gave her an opportunity to relax, help her daughter with her business venture, and be available for the birth of her granddaughter. She wouldn’t have had the freedom to be as actively involved in those important life moments had she been working.

• Make sure you are on one accord with your spouse. Make important decisions together. This one required Yolanda to do a lot of praying. She had always been independent and wasn’t used to consulting with anyone before making decisions, but she had to change her behavior because it wasn’t conducive to the strong relationship that she desired.

• Ask God to connect you with other Christians who you can talk with and who will stand with you in prayer when difficulties arise. It’s not a matter of telling the intimate details of your relationship, but it is a matter of obtaining strength and encouragement from others who may have been through similar situations.

• Make sure your affairs with your spouse are in order. You’ll feel like strangers if you don’t give your marriage the time and attention it requires in order to flourish. Your children grow up and have their own lives. Your spouse is your future.

• It is important to have “Hot Date Nights,” as Yolanda describes them. She and Mr. Jackson LOVE spending time together. They go to the movies and/or out to dinner at least twice a month. That keeps the fire burning.

For Yolanda, the best part about being married to such a wonderful man is that she has someone to grow with. She and Mr. Jackson have each others’ backs. They are best friends and business partners. Giving 100% of themselves to their marriage allows for extremely fulfilling lives. Their marriage is an excellent example of love, commitment, learning, partnership, spiritual growth and the many blessings that accompany being in the will of God.

Again, I thank God for allowing me to meet a wife and mother who is genuinely enthusiastic about both of those roles. Yolanda’s story inspires me and I am using her gems as a roadmap for my own marriage. I don’t know about you, but I’m already planning some “Hot Date Nights.”

Monday, March 7, 2011

Ms. B's Road Map for Success

I was first introduced to Ms. B. when I was a freshman in high school. I grew to admire her because of her passion for her career, her family, and her community.

I have watched Ms. B. in pure adoration for years as TOO MANY great ideas to count have set up camp in her mind…and once the seeds were planted and she determined the logistics of it all, the ideas went from the planning stages to implementation. The end result was SUCCESS…every time. Her motto: “If there is something you want: Be focused. Be dedicated. And make it happen!”

Growing up in Detroit, Ms. B. was a self-proclaimed tomboy. She played HARD. Her favorite pastimes were climbing trees or houses, playing basketball, baseball and touch football. She has always been a competitive go-getter, but her athleticism didn’t take away from her femininity. She knew how to balance the shoulder pads and the Barbie dolls in order to reach the level of success that she desired. Ms. B’s father taught her that a girl should never fight. She should be able to sit down with anyone and use rational dialogue to get her points across. Her ability to do the latter has aided in her ability to get the job done.

Her parents kept her in creative arts programs offered by the community center near her childhood home. She learned to play the piano, saxophone, guitar and clarinet. She also learned modern and tap dancing as well. Her early exposure gave her a great appreciation for the arts—one that still permeates her being years later.

Ms. B’s Career Advice
When Ms. B. was in high school she decided that she wanted to attend interior design school. At the time, however, there weren’t very many opportunities for African Americans in design. She chose, instead, to marry and start a family. She took up employment at a financial institution as well. It was during that time that Ms. B. began to think seriously about her future. She looked in the mirror and did a self-assessment—focusing on who she was, what she was good at, what she wanted to do, and what, if anything, was holding her back.

Her self-reflection enabled her to realize that a few people who were a part of her life were acting as obstacles to her success. They didn’t have her best interest at heart. And although she cared for them, she had to let them go.

She decided that she wanted to become a vice president of finance or accounting at a major corporation. With that, she found individuals who already had successful careers in finance and accounting and studied them. She researched the schools they had attended, the degrees they had, the companies they worked for, etc….Her next step was to enroll in school. She started off in a community college and then transferred to the University of Detroit, where she attained a dual degree in finance and accounting. While in college she established an accounting tutoring program, spearheaded resume writing workshops, and joined professional organizations to keep her sharp and “on top of her game.”

While she was putting in the necessary work to prepare herself, God was perfecting all the details—opening some doors and closing others—setting the stage for greatness. He arranged it so that upon Ms. B’s graduation, the opportunities in accounting were endless. Because she didn’t go straight to college after finishing high school, she was a little more seasoned than some of her younger classmates. That, coupled with the fact that she was an African American woman (which had worked against her design aspirations earlier in her life) gave her a competitive edge in corporate America. There was a need for her in the accounting world! Her experience, education, and relationships had all prepared her for the moment she was finally able to step into the career blessings that God had for her.

The rest is history. She obtained a job working for a major entertainment company and worked her way to the top from there. Her current title—Vice President of Accounting.

Her strategy: “Figure out what your ultimate desire is and do the research on whatever that is. You have to do your homework and set small goals.” Each small goal that you achieve prepares you for the success of your ultimate goal…but you have to be able to SEE your ultimate goal first. Have dreams. Dream as BIG as you can—and then pursue your dreams. “If you want to be great, you have to live and breathe greatness and have an action plan. You have to know that it will come.”

Community Involvement
Ms. B. believes that it is very important to help others while traveling down the highways of life. She fervidly comments that “Life is all about doing the best you can with the time you have. You have to give back!” She says that she wouldn’t be as successful as she is today had it not been for people helping her along the way. As a result, Ms. B. is actively involved in community service organizations and activities in the Los Angeles area. Her efforts have helped hundreds of young people develop the confidence and life-skills necessary for success, fund educational endeavors, secure employment, and forage lifetime relationships with industry professionals.

Ms B.’s Future Projects
Ms. B. lives each day to the fullest. “God has given me today. I’d better do something with it. Otherwise why am I even here?” When I asked her what her plans for the future entail, she told me that her latest goal is to learn to sing (while playing her own accompaniment). She is currently taking vocal lessons, and although she doesn’t necessarily want to perform in front of an audience, she looks forward to the day she will have mastered her skills.

Ms. B. absolutely LOVES working with money, but her strong passion for interior design never died. So, the fact that she finished design school a few years ago shouldn’t come as a surprise. She is currently in the process of growing her own design company and sharing her vision with the world.

Her community involvement will also continue. Her involvement with the youth makes her feel complete. God has blessed her, and she feels that she has an obligation to encourage and assist others along their journeys.

A Final Word
I am using Ms. B’s keys to success as a road map to reach my own. In order to be successful: You have to rely on God. You HAVE to be confident. You have to be able to dream. You have to be able to visualize success. You have to be able to effectively communicate. You have to be prepared. You have to be willing to walk away from the people and things that aren’t conducive to your success. You have to give to others. You can’t make excuses. You have to demand respect from others while also giving them that same level of respect.

Thank you, Ms. B. for being the wonderful woman you are. Thank you for believing in me and taking the time out to care enough to invest your time, wisdom, and expertise in me. I hear you…and I won’t let you down.  :)

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Upcoming

I’m very excited about my upcoming March blogs. From reading my past posts, I’m sure you have a pretty good idea of the things that matter most to me—God, family, love, sound mind, finances, education, helping others, nurturing gifts and abilities, valuing and believing in one’s self, etc.

Not too long ago one of my co-workers presented me with an interesting question—If I could create a council of advisors, alive or dead (to provide guidance, insight, and inspiration), who would be on it? I started naming names—Jesus (definitely. I can’t go wrong with Him leading the way), Abraham Lincoln (he was a trailblazer and knew how to get lasting results), Malcolm X (he stood firmly in his beliefs, was open to new ideas and wasn’t too proud to admit when he was wrong), Warren Buffett (he’s a financial mastermind), and my father (he came from humble beginnings and has done very well in spite of the odds. God is undeniably the head of his life).

As I was naming my council members (comprised of all men for the first 2 minutes of me answering the question), I shifted gears and began to think about the ladies who would be on my council. I realized that they are all women who are currently a part of my life. My list of ladies led me to think about how blessed I am to have such amazing women in my life—providing support and encouragement, being great examples and role models, and challenging me to think outside of my self-imposed boxes and demand the best from myself at all times. I decided at that moment that I had to pay homage to them in some way…and why not via Journey, Discovery, and Growth?

In March, my blogs will focus on four women (in honor of Women’s History Month) who I greatly admire. They are God-fearing. They are go-getters. They are successful. They are ladies who know how to prioritize. They know how to enjoy life. They live their dreams every day. They are God’s gifts to me, and I thank Him for them. They inspire me. I know that if they can do it all, so can I. I’m sure they will have the same impact on you as well.

Please stay tuned. :)

Lou

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Pass the EERIOS, Please!

I took a course on investing during the summer of 2009. One evening the instructor asked an interesting question—do you buy the same brand names that your parents bought when you were growing up? My answer was yes, of course.

My mother has always been VERY frugal, but she ALWAYS bought brand name items that were on sale and had corresponding coupons in the L.A. Times to go along with them. She bought in bulk, so rarely did we run out of things. Many years later (and regardless of whether I had a coupon or not), I bought the exact same products that I had been accustomed to using in my mother’s home. Regardless of how much the name brand item cost and no matter whether the store brand promised the same quality as the name brand item, I wouldn’t touch the product if it didn’t say Johnson & Johnson’s, Del Monte, Glad, Ziploc, Tropicana, Hunt’s, etc.

My eyes were opened to a whole new world approximately 5 years ago. I started paying attention to how much farther $10 could go for friends who shopped at the 99 Cent Store as opposed to me. They would have 9 items at the end of the day, and I would only have 2…and I can’t stand for people to out-save me. I refused to embrace this new world, reasoning that a can of Hormel Chili from the 99 Cent Store isn’t the same as the Hormel Chili from Vons, but that just wasn’t the truth. It took me 4 years to fully step into this world, but I’m glad I did. It is a world where I will still spend a pretty penny on those things that are important and/or “worth it” to me but for things that aren’t as important—things that I HATE buying anyway—I am open to spending less for the store brand as long as the taste and quality aren’t compromised.

I am actually comfortable using Equate lotion as opposed to Aveeno. Equate saves me at least $2 a bottle. Up also makes great baby powder…I can save at least $1 on that one. I will buy the Up brand of Q-Tips because they work just as well as the Q-Tip brand and they are at least $1.50 cheaper. I will buy pork chops at Fresh & Easy as opposed to Ralph’s because the price and quality are just right at Fresh & Easy.

Again, I will pay more for the things that are worth it to me. Filet mignon from Trader Joe’s is worth it to me. Charmin Extra Soft toilet tissue is worth it to me. Don Francisco Coffee is worth it to me. Other things are NOT—and now that I’m asking myself the point of spending an extra $4 on Glad trash bags when the UP brand works just as well, I’m not wasting as much money, and it feels good.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

With Open Arms

David Ruggles once said, “A man is sometimes lost in the dust of his own raising.” Sometimes we create the drama we are in. Sometimes we are the sole cause of our own mental agony and duress. Sometimes we need to let go of some things and forgive ourselves so that we can move on and live the good life.

When I was in college I kept quite a few journals. I wrote about EVERYTHING I was dealing with at the time. Some of the thoughts that I thought were plain twisted. Some of the people I hung with should NOT have been in my inner circle. Some of the things I did were the antithesis of the things Christians are called to do. I made excuses for everyone and everything. I was a hypocrite—I loved God but I flirted with the ways of the world.

Ever so often I would look back at those journals to remind myself of all I had been through. I tried to convince myself that revisiting what was in the journals would allow me to relate to other young ladies who are going though similar things. I reasoned that the journals would help me to see how much I had grown, but the opposite thing happened whenever I opened them up. Instead of focusing on growth, I would feel guilt. I would beat myself up for making such poor choices. I would cry and feel as emotionally distraught as I had all those years ago. I would take myself right back to those times and I would stay stuck there for a while as I worried about my daughters and prayed to God that they will be wiser than I was.

Year after year the thought of those journals haunted me. I kept them bed-side for reasons that don’t make an ounce of sense. It finally occurred to me that I had to get rid of them. I had to free myself of my past. My life as the prodigal daughter is over. The most important and meaningful part of my journey is occurring right now. 10 years later the journals have finally been shredded. I have forgiven myself. I have released myself of the guilt, the worry, the embarrassment, and the shame. A huge weight was IMMEDIATELY lifted. There’s no need to look for me in the past. I’m no longer that person and you won’t find me there. I am free!

Steven Biko said it well—“The most potent weapon of the oppressor is the mind of the oppressed.” I refuse to allow my past to replay itself in my mind and hold my present captive. It doesn’t matter that I asked for my inheritance, blew it, and ate with swine. What matters is that I made my way back to my Father and that He was there all along, waiting with open arms.



Sunday, January 30, 2011

The Birds and the Bees

Last year Amari asked me a dreaded question. “What is sex, Mommy?” I literally panicked. I know my face was beet red. In the 30 seconds it took me to answer, I wondered where the question had come from. Was it that blasted television? Had her friends mentioned it at school? Had she happened across an inappropriate website? What should I say to her? How much does she really need to know? How much does she already know? Do I take the sex is BAAAAD approach? Do I take the good when done in God’s order approach? Do I give a light answer and hope she forgets about it? What should I do?!?!?

My response—“Why do you ask?” She said that she had watched an episode of “My Wife and Kids” that was about sex (and pregnancy). I decided to give her the simple answer…the easiest answer…and then I hoped she wouldn’t have any follow-up questions. She didn’t. Whew.

Flash forward. My family and I headed to L.A. last Friday and I had the radio tuned to KFWB where a story about 2nd graders having sex in an Oakland classroom made it across the sound waves before I could change the station. I panicked. SECOND graders? What? In a classroom? What? Did Amari hear the story as well or had the book she was reading distracted her? My face was beet red, once again. I was floored.

When Amari first asked me about sex she was in the 2nd Grade. Was my answer actually good enough last year? I had given the easy answer and didn’t really explain too much, reasoning she was too young to know—but obviously that might not have been the best decision since there are second graders who were documented having sex in a CLASSROOM…I thought back and remembered that kids talked about sex ALL the time when I was in the 2nd and 3rd grades.  I don't remember what was said, but I know it was discussed on recess and lunch.

Hmmm…I decided I would have to tackle the subject in a little more detail. I would rather tell her what it’s all about before she hears the wrong things from her peers, television, etc.

A few nights ago I sat her down. I drew pictures and everything and tried to explain how it all works, the purpose of it, and why it is intended for marriage. I told her what could happen if one engages in the act before marriage—STDs, pregnancy, etc. I explained that it is a beautiful act when done with your husband but if done before marriage a piece of yourself is left with every partner you share yourself with. I pointed out the body parts, once again, that are off limits to anyone other than herself at this time in her life. I went on to tell her the mental and emotional rollercoaster that can come about when one engages before marriage. I used myself as an example, where applicable.

I told her all the things I had never been told by my parents—who I assume just hoped I wouldn’t do it. My sex talk with my mom growing up was her commenting on the guests on Maury Povich. We never discussed what leads a person to have sex outside of marriage. We never explored the scriptures to find out what was written about fornication. Everything I learned, I learned from friends and television. I learned warped ideology…and I made decisions based on warped ideology—decisions that affect so many people other than just me all these years later.

I ended my talk by encouraging my daughter to ask me any questions she may have about sex. I told her that she shouldn’t be embarrassed and although I may seem a little uncomfortable initially, I promised to always be honest with my responses.

As she gets a little older I’ll give her scriptures that coincide with the things we discuss. After all, what matters more than what I say is what God says.  His word is true. It’s imperative that she knows His wishes and intentions for her life. For now, the basics about the birds and the bees have been covered.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Palate Exposure

I’ve been considered a “picky eater” my entire life. When I was a little girl I only REALLY liked steak, mashed potatoes, pizza and corn. (Oddly, the pizza had to be pepperoni, but I would pick off all the pepperoni and cheese before it touched my tongue. I still can’t explain that one.) I spent countless hours in front of the kitchen table crying while my mom made threats about what would happen if I even thought about gagging. It was awful.

Years later, there are many foods that I have never tried. Although I am still considered picky, I am actually more open to new tastes now. One of my goals for 2011 is to expose my palate to new flavors and I’m already on it.

Last night, for the first time ever, I tried (and actually enjoyed) Brussels sprouts. If you had mentioned them to me 4 years ago, I would have turned my nose up and said, “I don’t DO Brussels sprouts” even though I had never tried them. I didn’t even know what Brussels sprouts looked like until a few days ago when a recipe found its way to my inbox and piqued my interest.

Weeks of the same 4 dinners (spaghetti, tacos, fried chicken, and hamburgers) can be quite mundane, so I’m excited about all the new foods I will try this year—and I’m proud to say that I have already added a new veggie to my repertoire.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Fear Not!

Walking around fearing what could happen is a horrible way to live. Fear leads to worry, anxiety, stress, and a host of other dangerous emotions and physical manifestations of those emotions. I was so afraid of my greatest fears that I talked about them all the time, hoping they never happened. I gave them so much power and attention that before I knew it they had become my reality. It’s like I spoke them into existence. In the latter part of 2010 I was forced to come face to face with a few of my greatest fears—I was summoned to court for issues concerning Amari, I was audited by the IRS, I received a red light camera ticket, my big, big sister took sick and almost died…the list goes on.

It was all a huge eye opener for me. Now I truly UNDERSTAND that fear and faith cannot co-exist. I feel like God allowed my greatest fears to happen for a number of reasons—He wanted me to learn the importance of choosing faith over fear and fully trusting in Him. He wanted me to experience first hand why I should refuse to entertain negative thoughts and why I shouldn’t worry about ANYTHING. He wanted to show me that He is bigger than all my circumstances and better equipped than I am to work everything out.

F.E.A.R. is nothing more than False Evidence Appearing Real. I have decided that when a fearful thought enters my mind, I will not entertain it. Instead, I will trust in the Lord and remind myself of the following scriptures:

The Lord is on my side; I will not fear: what can man do unto me? (Psalms 118:6)

So that we may boldly say, The Lord is my helper, and I will not fear what man shall do to me. (Heb 13:6)

In God I will praise his word, in God I have put my trust; I will not fear what flesh can do to me. (Psalms 56:4)

Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me: thy rod and thy staff they comfort me. (Psalms 23:4)

The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? The Lord is the strength of my life; of whom shall I be afraid? (Psalms 27:1)

Death and life are in the power of the tongue (Proverbs 18:21a)

There is no fear in love; but perfect love casteth out fear; because fear hath torment. He that feareth is not made perfect in love (1 John 4:18)

For God has not given us a spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind. (2 Tim 1:7)

Whatsoever is not faith is sin. (Romans 14:23b)

But without faith it is impossible to please him; for he that cometh to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him. (Hebrews 11:6)

Trust in the Lord with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding. In all thy ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct thy paths. (Proverbs 3:5-6)