Words are complex lovers.
When you give voice to them.
After you’ve left the warmth of their embrace,
They can unknowingly betray you.
Despite the best intentions,
Their mere utterance
Makes your heart a social experiment,
Your emotions fodder for curious conversation,
And your thoughts
The very rocks the crowd will later use to stone you.
In the interest of self-preservation,
I take unspoken words that have swelled
Into a massive tumor on my tongue
And shove them back down my throat,
An attempt to choke
The feeling out of them.
Rather than call it what it is,
Determined to starve the subject
Until the point is moot,
I press mute.
Many unexpressed words, lacking purpose,
Are destined to perish.
A Higher Voice will verbalize their truth.
Yet other muted words do neither.
Those tortured, silenced remarks
Gnaw at your insides,
And by His grace,
If they bear any healing or redemptive power,
Those words will stubbornly break free.
He will give them a platform to breathe.
And your muted, anguished soul
Will finally be at liberty
When boxer Cassius Clay changed his name in 1964 after converting to Islam, it took some time for ‘Muhammad Ali’ to stick. As I toured the Muhammad Ali Center in Louisville, Ky., last week, I watched footage of old media interviews in which he demanded that reporters and fans use his new name. For many, it took some convincing. Even 20 years later, it was still up for debate, as most of us can recall this classic line from the beloved comedy Coming to America: “his mama named him Clay, I’m ‘a call him Clay.”
However, while the public may have needed coaxing to comply with the boxer’s request to be called Ali, there is one name he gave himself that they seemed to take to with ease: The Greatest. Known as the Louisville Lip, Ali had a way with words, using rhymes to boast his skills, flaunt his good looks, and taunt his opponents. In the midst of his trash talking, one phrase rang the loudest: “I am the greatest.”
Not being much of a boxing fan, I really had no idea when the nickname “The Greatest” originated. My visit to the Center revealed that his use of the name occurred earlier than I would have thought. One of the exhibits read: “Early on, Muhammad Ali called himself ‘The Greatest.’ He later earned the title through talent, hard work, and excellence in the ring.”
So Ali called himself The Greatest before he actually was the greatest? Prior to earning the title Heavyweight Champion of the World? Interesting.
I used to think it was pretty arrogant to crown oneself The Greatest. It seemed like the type of thing you should wait for someone else to say about you. That kind of bold confidence is generally frowned upon. Yet here was this man – this Black man, in the 1960’s, at that – floating across boxing rings, calling himself The Greatest.
It’s easy to brush Ali’s comments off as nothing more than bragging about how good he was. However, upon further consideration, I think there was more to it. I believe that he gave himself that nickname not only to inform the world that he was The Greatest, but also to convince himself. You can’t become what you have not first conceived. Other people may see it in you, and believe it for you – but it will never come to fruition if you don’t first believe that you’re capable of making it happen.
Proverbs 18:21 says “death and life are in the power of the tongue.” Your words can speak life into your dreams or slaughter them. Words really are that powerful. In the beginning, God called everything He created ‘good.’ I think ‘good’ in that instance did not refer solely to what His hands had just done, or the state that each of His creations were already in. ‘Good’ was also prophetic; sure, He was saying that everything was good in that moment, but He was also speaking life, declaring that His creations would be good in the future. And then, even for those other matters in which our human frailties have caused things to be less than good, God still sees their potential, as He “calls those things which are not as though they were.”(Romans 4:17) The power of words.
Ali called himself The Greatest as if he already was. Then he put in the work necessary to back it up. He believed in himself and then the entire world followed suit.
Stop waiting for someone to be your hype man. Don’t press pause on your dreams because you think you need another person to tell you how great you can be. Muhammad Ali is living proof that you can do that yourself.
But will you? Do you have the courage to declare who you are and who you are determined to become? Do you have the drive to find The Greatest in you?
Photos taken at the Muhammad Ali Center. On the left, I was trying my hand at the speed bag.
At approximately 9:30 p.m., I dragged myself into the gym and plopped down on a bench in the ladies’ dressing room.
As I was coming, another woman was going. She pulled on her jacket and peered across the room at me. I was still holding down the bench, pulling my change of clothes from my bag ever so slowly.
“It’s okay,” she said. “You made it here.”
I laughed. Was my dread that obvious?
Maybe there was an entire day’s worth of frustration etched across my forehead. Or maybe I wore the shame of someone who had eaten healthy all day only to waste it on an all-fried-everything Chick-fil-a dinner. Perhaps I sighed aloud rather than in my head as I wondered whether that heavy meal would hold me back once I stepped on the treadmill.
I don’t know what prompted her to say it. Regardless whether she associated my defeated body language with the day that lay behind me or the workout before me, I’m glad she said those words: “it’s okay, you made it here.”
She was right. Although I tapped into some emotions today that made me want to curl up under my covers, I made it to the gym. Even though I ate something I immediately regretted, I still made it to the gym. Whether I felt like I could pull off a good workout or not, I had made it to the gym. That alone should encourage me.
And it did. Greasy dinner aside, I went hard at the gym. In fact, I think I tried to right that fast food wrong by exercising harder than I would have if I had eaten a healthy dinner. Fueled by my diet failure, I set a new personal record.
But it didn’t stop there. Her words and my adrenaline rush talked me out of an earlier decision not to post to the blog this week. My brain was spent and I didn’t have it in me to tackle any of the topics in my head. However, my time at the gym gave me just enough energy to come home and place my fingers across my laptop’s home row keys just long enough to type this simple post.
If you are anything like me, sometimes you can let your failures weigh you down. You’re dragging through today because you’re still dwelling on the mistake you made yesterday. And you’re so consumed with that one misstep that you assume it has thrown off your next move.
However, as that woman told me, it’s okay, you made it here. You may have messed up back there, but you made it here. Showing up, or stepping into a new headspace in order to make a better decision, is half the battle. Pat yourself on the back for that small achievement. Understand that what you did then can only hold you back now if you allow it to do so. Use that previous failure to motivate you to achieve your next success. You have something to prove now – that you can bounce back. So let the mistake push you further than you would have otherwise gone.
Don’t allow the present and future to be clouded by your past failures. You may have screwed up, and you probably can’t take it back. But it’s okay, you made it here, to this moment, with intentions to do better. So move forward.
Workplace greetings typically fall in to one of a few tried and true categories. Some say ‘hi,’ other’s ‘hey.’ The more formal offer a ‘hello.’ For the naturally sullen or caffeine-delayed, it may be an inaudible grunt. Many give a pleasant ‘good morning’ with a smile. And from the impossibly cheerful, you may receive any combination of these followed by full blown conversation.
But a certain coworker’s greeting is distinct: “happy day.” Morning or afternoon. First encounter of the day or fifth. Always, “happy day.”
At first I thought this unique phrase was the result of his Central American upbringing. Perhaps “happy day” was Spanglish for “have a nice day.” However, my translation made little sense when I realized that sometimes he says “happy day” as a greeting, has a short conversation, and then says “happy day” again in closing.
After a couple of years sensing the general spirit of his words without knowing their literal meaning, I have decided to interpret my coworker’s catch phrase precisely as it is stated: happy day.
I think ‘happy day’ is first and foremost a declaration. Today is a happy day. We are alive, loved by some, tolerated by many, doing the mundane or the exciting – thus, living. A happy day indeed.
I also believe ‘happy day’ is a statement of intent. It is a public announcement of a personal decision to be happy regardless of how the day unfolds. We tell people to have a good day with the understanding that they do not have total control of that outcome. Evil may tap them on the shoulder; foolishness may repeat their name with the same crass, annoying tone as that chick in that one Madea movie. They may come face to face with misfortune as they round life’s next corner. Yet, no matter what the day holds, they can still choose to be happy. Sure, life throws us curve balls and even has the nerve to send fastballs crashing into our chests from time to time. However, for the most part, on most days, we can choose to be happy.
I wonder how much richer our lives would be if we started each day not with the intention to be great, or the desire for awesome things to happen to us, but simply choosing a happy disposition. What if we rose each morning with plans to fix those things that prevent us from achieving happiness, to banish those thoughts that threaten our joy? Imagine if we declared to ourselves and the world that this day, regardless of yesterday, and not investing too much hope in tomorrow, we will be cheerful. Today we will be happy.
Finally, I believe my coworker’s ‘happy day’ is a wish. That others might view the day as he does: as an opportunity, a gift to be unwrapped with excitement. An infectious hope that those who cross his path are welcome to catch if they refuse to allow life’s hardships and heartbreaks to make them immune.
Today I’m simply spreading that hope, publicly declaring to readers that today is happy, and announcing to the universe my intent to remain happy in spite of it all. Won’t you join me?
Did I ever tell y’all about the stranger I let hold my hand?
*In my golden girl Sophia Petrillo voice* Picture it: Washington, D.C., 200X.
It was a beautiful summer night. My girls and I had been keeping vigil inside a dead nightclub with the hopes that the scene would find its pulse again. But ready to ‘call it,’ I abruptly pulled the plug, chucked the deuces, and rolled out solo.
It was late, but since I was in a good part of town and the streets were sprinkled with other party goers and deserters, I felt safe. I took my time strolling to my car, thankful to breathe in air that wasn’t first filtered through a roomful of lungs. And just as I adjusted to no longer feeling the club’s stereo system vibrating in my chest, something else set my heart racing.
It was a hand. Masculine. And swiftly, expertly enveloping my own. Its owner had snuck up behind me, taken my hand, and matched my stride before I even noticed him. I turned toward this crazy man, prepared to reclaim my hand and reprimand him for invading my personal space.
But I didn’t. He was smiling, a gorgeous grin that made you forget why you were angry in the first place. His eyes were soft, but they boldly dared me to pull away.
Now, I usually reserve public displays of affection, particularly prolonged PDA, for men that I really like – or shoot, at least know. But here was this strange man holding my hand, and here I was, letting him. Though I’ve had no problem pulling my hand away from men I’ve actually dated, I was comfortable and content to stroll hand in hand for blocks with this beautiful stranger.
Fineness aside, there was something about this man’s grasp that kept me holding on. His grip was firm, but not threatening; disarming yet strong; comforting and confident. It said, ‘I’m not letting you go, but I won’t stop you if you want to break free.’ It was perfect.
Recently, I recalled that brief walk holding hands with a stranger. The trigger was a Kelly Price song. Though it was three minutes long, I decided that the lyrics’ last seven words – about holding hands – were the most important.
It’s a gospel tune, one in which the songwriter confesses a list of unknowns, specifically what tomorrow will bring. But that’s okay, she sings, because “I know Who holds the future, and I know Who holds my hand.” The first part of that sentence is usually enough to help me sleep at night. But that conjunction? Maybe it’s my current station in life, but the conjunction seals the deal.
I’ve held hands with a few men in my day. I’ve even loved a couple. But I have a million other memories with them that overpower those spent simply holding hands. Therefore, it was this brief encounter with the stranger who only held my hand, and perfectly at that, which reminded me how much weight that can carry if done properly, and if appreciated sufficiently.
The perfect hand-hold demands nothing but vulnerability, and gives a world of strength, peace, and comfort in return. It guides rather than tugs. It is a reminder of someone’s presence, and a promise that you don’t have to walk alone. It gives you courage to venture where you ordinarily would not go. It is a steady grip when your steps falter. It gives you the freedom to let go, but the encouragement to hold on. It is perfect.
So many of us only focus on the fact that God holds the future. We look to Him for clues of what the next day will bring while steadily laying a heap of problems at His feet. However, maybe God wants us to value the fact that He holds our hand as much as, if not more than, the fact that He holds the future.
Perhaps what God wants most from us is vulnerability, and enough trust in Him, to let Him hold our hand. Even when we haven’t known Him very long. No matter who’s watching. Regardless of where He leads us. Maybe He beams each time we choose not to pull away.
There are so many places God wants to take us and so many miracles He wants to perform. Yet sometimes He approaches us like that handsome stranger did me, only offering a hand to hold. Something so simple that He hopes we’ll come to realize, is so incredibly powerful.
P.S. Menfolk, don’t try this at home
There are few things antsier than my right pointer finger as it flies across my car’s radio console. Trying to find the best song, it presses buttons for over a dozen pre-programmed stations, one after the other, giving each channel only a couple of seconds to state its case. A few times, my finger has gotten so carried away that it moves on to a new station before I even realize that I liked the song the previous channel was playing.
Modern technology has only enabled my incorrigible rapid-fire finger. Now that radio consoles display both the song title and artist alongside the station name, I don’t have to wait for a familiar lyric or beat before I can name that tune. The car does it for me.
It’s a beautiful thing. But there’s just one catch: sometimes the timing is a few seconds off.
I was recently flipping through stations when my eyes landed on Jodeci’s oldie-but-goodie “Stay.” Naturally, I decided to stick with that channel. However, there was a disconnect between what I saw and what I heard. The display read “Jodeci,” but my ears registered a less enthralling modern R&B hit. Then, within seconds, the correct song title and artist appeared. Jodeci was nowhere in sight. Ugh.
Since the song seemed to be winding down, I decided to stay with that station… for a little while.
My waiting was not in vain. After a few moments, K-Ci, Jo Jo, Dalvin, and DeVante made their entrance as my real-time listening caught up with the projected programming. Good thing I hadn’t changed the channel.
I think that sometimes the decisions we make in life can be as hasty as my music choices. We give jobs, situations, places, and people only a moment to prove themselves worthy of our attention. We’re sifting through options so quickly that we don’t get a definitive read on them. We fail to realize that sometimes what is playing out in real-time before our eyes will soon phase out.
However, God, in His infinite wisdom and supreme patience, knows that we make rash decisions with limited knowledge. He predicts that we will try to change the channel so quickly that we miss the next blessing on the line-up. So sometimes, He graciously gives us a glimpse of what is to come in order to keep us in the right place.
It’s in those moments, when God has provided a clue of what lies ahead, that He asks us not to touch that dial. He knows that though we grow impatient, only a moment separates the present from the future. So He encourages us, allowing us to glimpse future greatness in hopes that we won’t change course. He promises it will get better. Then like Jodeci, He asks, “Won’t you just stay… for a little while?”
To what channel is your life tuned today? Don’t make the same mistake my antsy fingers sometimes do. Make sure you know what’s playing before you make a decision. And who knows? God just might let you take a peek at His play list.
Easy listening, my friends. And happy living.
“I found my everything in you.”
That Mary J. Blige lyric ranks up there with Jerry McGuire’s “you complete me” as one of the most swoon-worthy phrases one could – but should not – say. It is romantic and flattering. It is what many of us have dreamt of hearing since we read our first fairytale or were introduced to romantic comedies. But is it a wise, or even realistic, expectation?
A while back I wrote a post about our tendency to fear love and marriage because of past heartbreak and relatively high divorce rates. When a reader posted my piece on Facebook, I got into an interesting conversation with one of her male friends. He said, “I would love to be married but don’t imagine how I can be successful meeting most, if not all, of the daily needs of someone else… that level of accountability is uncomfortable for me.”
He explained that in his previous relationships, he had fallen short of the man that his woman needed him to be. He possessed several attributes that most ladies want in a man – hardworking, taking care of traditionally ‘manly’ household chores, good credit, etc. However, among the ladies’ complaints about him (in my words): lack of sensitivity, inflexibility, not being romantic enough, and being too possessive.
Since I can respect a man who not only takes his responsibility as a husband seriously, but also tries to do everything in his power to keep his woman happy, I wanted to let this issue marinate in my brain and my heart.
Months later, my thoughts are well seasoned. And I wanted to cook up a post because though the afore-mentioned song is one of my favorite MJB tunes, unfortunately it is indicative of the problematic views we have about love and marriage.
My unsolicited take?
We shouldn’t expect to find someone who is everything we want. Our culture prefers to acquire things ready-made. No assembly required, no additional parts needed, no fuss, no wait, no problems. This is fine for products, but people don’t work that way. What are the chances that someone with a different personality, upbringing, and life experience will be everything that you want and need in a mate the moment you lock eyes? Slim. But maybe they can grow into being as close as possible, and vice versa. Perhaps it’s more realistic to find someone who meets the major criteria that you know you cannot live without, and then jointly commit to growing together in order to love the other as s/he desires.
(Considering that the list of ‘problems’ this man provided fall in line with complaints women typically have about men in general, I wonder if both genders don’t have basic differences to accept, and years of social conditioning to undo, before we can truly relate to one another in the first place.)
No person should be your everything. Everything? That means without you, I have and am nothing. That means that you, a human being capable of changing and making mistakes, are solely responsible for my happiness. Truthfully, I don’t even want to be my own everything. I let myself down, I’m indecisive, I keep bringing up old stuff… As a human, I’m incapable of meeting the standard. But I know a divine being who can. Listen to Tye Tribbett’s “Everything” and set your sights higher.
Ego won’t allow you to be less than someone’s everything. Ego says ‘this is who I am; take it or leave it.’ While I fully support the essence of the ‘take me as I am’ mantra, we all must admit that we could be better. No matter how great we believe ourselves to be, there are some aspects of our personalities and our lovin’ that can be improved. A man may have to practice a little more emotional intelligence than usual to be with me, but perhaps that will make him more kind-hearted and better able to relate to others. Conversely, sometimes I am, ahem, overly emotional. Maybe the future Mr. will help me take fewer things to heart. If we’re not so defensive about the areas in which we fall short, if we don’ expect the other person to simply ‘deal with it,’ and instead are willing to take the time and energy to improve, maybe we can have healthier relationships. Is it easy? No. But if you’re not ready to be challenged, you’re not ready to love.
We should be looking to other people for some things. While I’ve mentioned that you risk being disappointed when you expect someone to be your everything, let’s also consider that being your everything is an overwhelming responsibility for your significant other. I’d dare say it’s a burden. When you constantly tell someone how they don’t measure up, they will feel inadequate. Plus, I can’t help but wonder if we’re always using a fair measuring stick.
I recently decided I wanted to do something, but I knew there was a good chance that no one in my regular crew would want to join me. I was temporarily blown – until I thought of another friend outside of that circle. We’re good friends, but just don’t have as many opportunities to hang out. I hit her up and she was immediately down to go! It was wrong for me to be disappointed my regular crew wouldn’t want to attend this event. Though we enjoy many of the same things, it’s unfair for me to expect them to like everything that I like. That’s why I have other friends.
Though there are clearly some things you will need your boo to do with you or certain conversations you need to feel comfortable having with them, and while this doesn’t get anyone off the hook for developing certain attributes as a person, I wonder if there are times we could take the pressure off of certain people in our lives simply by occasionally turning to others. This is not an invitation to cozy up to other members of the opposite sex. It is simply a suggestion to take advantage of all the beautiful relationships and friendships you’ve currently been blessed with, particularly the same sex ones, rather than consistently draining the primary one.
I would be lying if I said I didn’t want to be everything my future hubby has ever desired in a woman. But since I’m working on having more realistic expectations, the most I can hope for is coming pretty close to the woman of his dreams – and then committing to spend a lifetime trying to close the gap. I pray he’ll do the same.
During a recent G-chat conversation, one of my friends dropped a few pearls of her own. I figured I’d be a doll and let you listen in.
The subject was love and she asked what was up with me in the man department. I had nothing worthwhile to share. Sometime during our exchange, I typed these words: “I need to work on me.”
“Work on you?” she challenged. “I feel like that’s a cop out. Errrrybody working on themselves.” She followed this with the obligatory lol, cushioning the blow that the hard truth always deals.
I laughed right along with her, but I’m (usually) smart enough to know when someone’s trying to tell me about myself. “What? Really?”
“Yes,” she said. “When will anyone stop working on themselves? There’s always progress that we want to make. But unless it’s extreme, folks will always work on themselves – even after the relationship. But don’t magnify your issues because your future boo might laugh in the face of your issues. God will make it so. Don’t sweat it, the right person will understand.”
While I believe that there are legitimate times when we need to work on ourselves, I have to acknowledge that I’ve had plenty of time to do so. At some point, maybe self-improvement becomes an excuse. Maybe you can take it too far and assume you need to become a perfect version of yourself before you find love.
Additionally, perhaps there are some parts of you that can’t be developed without the help of another person. You can shoot free throws in an empty gym all day every day, but eventually your teammates have to join you on the court for a scrimmage if you’re ever going to win games. And yes, many games are won at the free throw line, but usually, you won’t even make it to the line if you don’t at first take a shot.
I knew my friend was on to something that I didn’t want to confront yet, so I tucked her words away for future reference.
I had to pull them out this week as I considered my latest writing project. If you asked me how it was going, I’d say, “I’m working on it.”
This is a true statement; I’m writing, organizing, editing, etc. However, it has become clear to me that I could “work on it” forever. I’m always getting new ideas that I would like to include, so I’ve wondered at what point I will draw the line and simply work with what I have. I also can tell how my writing style has evolved since I began, so I’m second guessing some of the older stuff. But I’ve heard many a writer say you’re never really finished, you just stop writing and hope for the best.
Touché, writers. Touché, G-chat friend. I guess I don’t have to be perfect in order to be ready.
On New Year’s Eve, an awesome preacher friend gave a sermon entitled “I’m Ready.” In essence, she said that God has used all of our gifts and previous experiences to prepare us for where we are right now. When you have been prepped and processed by Him for the next big thing in your life, regardless what you may think of your qualifications, you’re ready. I heard her as December 2012 turned into January 2013, but it may not have completely sunk in until this lovely March day.
Would I like to hand a reader a perfect book? Of course. Do I wish I could have every single area of my life in perfect order before I fall in love? Absolutely. But neither is possible.
God is the only perfect being. When you can accept that, whether it comes to your love life or the dreams you’re chasing, you’ll finally be on your way to declaring, “I’m ready.”