Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Balance is the key...

Okay moms, back to school season has arrived, so I thought I’d tell you a little story that may help you find balance in your life if you’re struggling to find it.

I’ve had experience in being both a working mom and a stay at home mom and I can honestly say that either choice/necessity has its challenges. The biggest challenge for me was my total lack of balance in both cases.

As a working mom, I felt a lot of guilt leaving my very young children every day. Daycare was not my favorite option, so after a while and some asking around, I hired a mother’s helper who saved my mommy life for a period of a year. I am grateful for this young lady to this day.  She came to my house every morning and took over while I finished dressing and getting ready for work. She made sure that the kids were fed, changed, read to, entertained and happy when I came home. My kids loved her. I loved her. She was young and energetic and they needed that with two working parents.

At the time, I had a bit of a demanding job working for a non-profit school for pregnant teens. We had three sites, which means I had to travel for work at times. Not only was the job demanding but it was stressful…very stressful, crazy boss stressful. I was in a struggle to navigate through the trials of my work life and the demands of my home life. The only solace that I had was that my mother’s helper was taking great care of my two youngest children, while my oldest was in a good school. There was something to be grateful for, until she announced to me one day that her gap year from high school was over and she wanted to join the military. I almost begged her to reconsider, okay I did. In retrospect that was selfish thinking on my part but in all honesty after her, I’ve never met anyone else who I felt as comfortable with taking care of my kids.

After Camille left, I tried preschool for my two younger ones, which didn’t work out well for the baby, who by now was a toddler. He kept getting ear infections. When the doctor told us that he would need tubes put into his ears if they kept getting infected, I decided to quit my job. From where I stood, there weren't enough paychecks in the world to justify putting my baby through that discomfort. I understand that not everyone would have been able to make that decision and I respect the moms who have to do what they have to do, the decision is not always that cut and dry. At the time I was married and we worked through the sacrifice, sort of.

My favorite memory from that time in our lives was the day after I quite my stressful job and sat on the floor with my two toddlers watching Sesame Street. The phone rang and it was my boss (crazy lady) asking me if I could come back in to work from time to time to help out. I gladly told her no and hung up the phone.  I felt so much freedom in that moment. I felt like I had control over my life again.

But did I?
What I didn’t realize with having hired help at home was that I was missing more than I wanted to at such early stages of my kid’s lives. I was glad to be back home and having one on one time with my kids…most days.  Of course, the challenge I faced after that novelty wore off, was feeling invisible in the house all day with the kids and not having enough grown up time for myself. I realize now that I didn’t know how to strike a balance between the two worlds that I lived in while my children were young. I was either all in and working all day, sometimes extra hours trying to breathe huge gusts of independent air before going home, or I was closed in my house most days on a rigid routine attempting to make my kid’s worlds feel completely protected and safe. In short, I extreme mom’d.

I thought that in either situation I had so much to prove to everyone around me. Growing up, the notion of an at home mother was very different than it is today. Anything modeled on television was between June Cleaver and Mrs. Brady, and she had Alice. (Some of you will have to google those two references.) Neither woman represented me at all.

My mother stayed at home on off when we were children but I never asked her what she did while I was in school all day. That question would probably not have gone over well anyway. It always ends up sounding like: So what do you do all day while the rest of the world is working hard at keeping the earth rotating on its axis? It’s one of those implied questions that can sound insulting to any busy mom.

At this point, I didn’t have a good support group for what I needed to know about staying at home with my kids in this season of my life and I needed to strike a balance in my life badly.

This leads me to the discovery of learning how to be still when necessary and my second favorite memory as a young mom.

It was when my youngest son was finally ready for preschool. This particular child was a DOOZY!!! He ran instead of walked, shouted instead of talked and knew his way through a temper tantrum like a pro. I was tired all the time with him, even when he was just waking up in the morning. But on this glorious day…the sun had a special shine and the birds seemed to achieve a rare harmonious pitch. I could have sworn I saw rainbows without rain. Even though I was a bit nervous that he was leaving the safety of home that day, I felt good about the preschool that he was attending and they came with the gift of all gifts…THEY HAD A VAN THAT PICKED HIM UP IN THE MORNINGS!!!

Que the theme to the sound of music complete with birds flying above and me spinning on the top of a mountain…

After kissing my rambunctious toddler bye-bye and standing on the curb watching him being fastened into his car seat with other oblivious toddlers who had no idea that their mothers where probably at home in a semi-conscious state of glee, I stood there listening to the soothing sound of his driver’s southern voice. He was in good hands. I then wiped a tear or two from my eyes and went into the house to begin my full day of being a productive mom.  (Notice I didn’t say a productive person? I never thought of myself outside of my roles at home then. Take note.)

I had plans and they were big ones. I was going to start cleaning at the very top of the house and finish in the kitchen as any good mother should. I was about to delve into my extreme mode on a whole new level. No yoga pants and ponytail for me thank you. You can keep the Starbucks and Target lines for this mom. I was going for the gold in housekeeping Olympics and you couldn’t stop me!

I went back upstairs to my bedroom and made the maddening mistake of turning on the television out of curiosity. Toddler shows at this hour were all that I was accustomed to. What grownups talked about in the morning was a mystery to me at this point.

We had just moved into our home and our cable service was new, which of course came with a free preview of HBO. I stood there for a moment looking at Tom Hanks. I like Tom Hanks.  I’d never seen Castaway but I had heard it was a good movie. Before long, I was stretched out across the bed glued to this movie feeling like quite a castaway myself at home alone for the first time in years. I kept checking for guilt but it seemed to have taken the day off. 

After the movie, I fixed myself lunch. It was intermission and I was hungry. The previews said that The Legend of Bagger Vance was next. I like Will Smith and I had never seen this movie… Okay, I may have folded clothes through this one but I realized what I needed more than anything was a day of nothingness, or close to it, to recalibrate my mind. It was wonderful and I was relaxed and excited to hear how my kid’s school days went when they came home. And while I cannot claim that I had achieved this level of relaxation all the time (a neat freak has to do what a neat freak has to do) I can say that I learned the art of mommy naps, reading and quiet time that carries over until today…even as the kids are all grow up and I am no longer answering to just the title of mom. As wonderful as that title is (and it is my favorite) through the years of learning how to take time out for myself, I have discovered my many interests and titles that go along with me just being me.

I had to learn to balance work with play and that I could have both in my life in order to be at peace. This however, is a lifelong lesson for all of us in all seasons.

Balance is the key…

Monday, August 8, 2016

You become who you resent...

Think of this in terms of your parents or whoever the caretakers in your life were.

You become who you resent. This was taught to me by a counselor years ago and it is a lesson that I will never forget. When we hold on to unforgiveness for those who have hurt us throughout our lives in any way and we refuse to forgive, resentment fills our hearts. This occurs through a series of judgments that we hold over our family members for their unhealthy behavior. We become so judgmental of the person or people who caused us pain that we silently fixate on all of their wrongs to the point of obsession. We think by doing this that we will be able to avoid the same behaviors, but this is not true. Obsession keeps us staring into the past. 

When this happens we inadvertently begin to duplicate the very behavior that we are fixated on because it’s all we see in our minds eye. We have not changed the scenery of our thoughts making it impossible to produce a better life for ourselves, because we are constantly staring at an old blue print. So if there was alcoholism, neglect, abandonment, extra marital affairs or overall irresponsible behavior coming from our parental figures and we have never fully been able to forgive them, we are in grave danger of repeating the sins of the past by way of resentment.

Lord, unveil the hidden pains, hurts and devastations of my past that may keep me emotionally stunted and turn my voice into a bitter instrument of contempt. Help me to heal, reach inside of my heart and remove the hardness that has occurred through suffering. Free me Father, from the past so that I may be prepared to live anew and practice forgiveness in my future. I cannot do this without you…

Sunday, July 31, 2016

I'll Rise Up...

What bears repeating time and time again, is the simple truth that in order for new life to come forth, our old life must die. In order for healing to take place, the old body must be laid to rest, sometimes figuratively as well as literally. It’s necessary that we understand these truths in order to survive the trying times, the lonely times, the painful times and the times when we feel as if we are suffering so much that we are leaving this earth way too soon. I say this in honor of all those who have, those of us left on this earth to live, must do so with purpose, determination and gratefulness. We must honor each breath as if it is our last. We must let go of the things that are destined to hurt us, for the things that are destined to heal us…

God, I seek you in ways that I never thought my spirit could cry out. My desperation for all things love has brought me full circle back into your embrace. I’m broken inside, surrounded by a shattered frame, the ghost of my own strength. I refuse to pretend anymore because I know that you meet me in truth. I cannot run from the calling within, that has kept me seeking all these years, because I have run out of road, still I have many miles to go with you. I cannot speak without you, walk without you or live without you.

This surrender in this season, has taken me to a far off place that I’ve never been before. I cannot navigate this climate on my own. My hand searches for yours in the dark. I still myself and wait for dawn. I seek my reflection in a stream filled with tears, only to find staring back at me the image of a tree. Branches reaching for the sun and earth, leaves singing in the breeze, a lullaby for the spirit, roots one with holy soil, pumping new life through its veins.

You allowed the life I knew to drive me to my knees, if only to seek you on my face. I cried out for death to take my soul and you released me from my pain and raised me up within the limbs of a tree. “Behold, I will do a new thing, now it shall spring forth, shall ye not know it? I will even make a way in the wilderness, and rivers in the desert.” Isaiah 43:18

No longer a shattered frame of desperation, I am now a tree standing against the forces that dare take me over to steal my voice and render me helpless. One breath from you Lord, and I rise up in new form, to bask in your sun and give shade to all those who embrace the You in me…

“I’ll rise up”

Bonita Y. Jones © July 30, 2016

Sunday, July 17, 2016

Dear God...

I am writing to you today, not because of any one personal need that I have as an individual, but because I have witnessed your unfailing love and total commitment to my life for many years now. Your faithfulness to me cannot be rivaled by anyone else on earth. For that I want to say thank you.

God, I am writing this letter about the state of my country America. I will admit that I am not a patriot as some would be. I am not consumed with the colors of the flag nor am I enamored by the tales of how this country was established because hidden history has been revealed and revived and lives to tell its story. The truth is my ancestors, both Native Americans and Africans, are the story. Because of this, I find it hard to pretend that we are not standing on the remains of those who were here first. We have built highways and shopping malls over the trail of tears. We have turned plantations into quaint inns and banquet halls. We mock the murdered by distracting tourists with t-shirts and coffee mugs. But this is not the America that so concerns me on a daily basis.

I am writing to you about Christian America. The select set of citizens who wear crosses and gather on Sundays to worship. The people who claim to know you intimately and take communion to remember your suffering for us all. I am concerned God, truly concerned by the double standards, the mixed messages, the lack of love for fellow man, the anger and racial tension that abides deep within those who claim to be your people.

It seems as though your teachings have been replaced by the need for political power and the lust that comes as a result of a long standing adulterous affair with weapons and war.

Murder has become acceptable and division a way of life. There are now sympathizers of Cain and a calculated response to his rights for killing Abel, only with modern day scenarios.

Holy Scripture is used for waging war against anyone who doesn’t look or act “American” and some Christians wish silently for an ethnic cleansing by openly supporting those who will attempt to carry this out.

Dear God, I have two well-mannered educated sons who have a bright future. But even if their manners weren't so polished and their education not complete, they still deserve to live.

I have a daughter who is the promising jewel of our family with great hopes and the ability to change her generation. But even if she didn’t always act promising and refused to carry the mantle for her generation, she still deserves to live.

I have raised my children well God, all with your help and guidance. I have raised them to be Christians and now I’m not so sure what American Christianity means or what it stands for. I feel as though we have bought into a construct that has nothing to do with you because it is being used in direct opposition to who you are. I feel betrayed. Not by America, our relationship started with betrayal but by Christian America who pretended at first that we love the same God and then deserted me for political power and a false sense of freedom, only to side with the murderers of the innocent speaking on behalf of Cain instead of mourning Abel…

Gracious Father, please intervene, heal our hearts and our minds. Deliver us from evil and heal our land by way of a mass repentance. It’s the only way back to you Lord.

Love Always,

Your Daughter & Descendant of Eve…

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

When someone says "I believe in you"

Recently I sent a letter out to a group of friends in order to receive support for a program that I’ve developed called EMPOWER ME TO READ AND WRITE! This was a difficult task for me because it involved a request for help with funding my project. Asking for funding help is not my strong suit. Asking for anything is rather difficult for me period. Still, I felt led to send this letter, so I did it afraid.  Here’s what happened…

Words of affirmation reached my heart:

“I believe in you.”
“I’m proud of you.”
“I support you.”
“You’re doing wonderful work!”

Those words were sent along with financial support. I cannot tell you how amazing it feels to be validated this way. I wasn't expecting such a response. Perhaps I’m a bit jaded because life has been tougher than usual lately and when we are faced with persistent challenges during hard seasons, our perspective for good ever coming our way becomes clouded with doubt. That doubt manifests itself as a huge roadblock which seems impossible to get around particularly if it’s never met with a frightening leap of faith.

Maybe we are most afraid of taking risks because it leaves us completely vulnerable to being rejected or ignored. Maybe it feels safer never knowing if someone is in your corner if you don’t ask for their help. Whatever the case, I’m starting to believe that the perfect antidote for such fear is pushing past all the apprehension and asking for what you need, butterflies and all.

Lately, I live with a lot of butterflies in my stomach because everything that I’ve known to be the norm for me is turning upside down and I have no choice but to learn this new path that is being paved for me. My program is living proof. I work with children to ignite a sense of love and passion for literacy and when I step into a classroom, I never know if my ideas and methods will work but somehow, by the end of class, I have managed to get their attention and actually get the students engaged. But the butterflies stay because there is always a next time and a next class.

What propels me to keep going is the fact that I love what I do and who I do it for.
But what gives me wings…are the words of affirmation spoken by friends.

“I believe in you”

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

The heart of a swimmer in the frame of a Mosquito…

I can recall my earliest memory of jumping in over my head literally, when I was five years old. My family and I were visiting with friends who had a pool in their backyard. It was above ground and the older kids were entrusted with the younger ones to keep us safe.

My oldest sister Monica, eight years above me, had the job of carrying me around on her back so that I could take part in the water fun. After tolerating me for a while, there may have been some misbehaving on my part, she sat me on the side of the pool and told me to stay put while they played without me. I sat on the edge of the pool watching the independence of the older kids and envying their every move for all of five seconds, which felt like an eternity. Just when I could not take being benched any longer, I jumped in on my own and began to sink to the bottom while flailing. At first, the gang had no idea that I even entered the water. I was so small that I couldn't even muster an alarming splash to warn anyone. My nickname was Mosquito, so that should explain my size and inability to create a proper ruckus when my jump occurred. It wasn't until I grabbed my sister’s leg on my trip to the bottom of the pool, did they even notice me missing. She quickly grabbed me up and brought me to surface. I scared the crap out of everyone. After gasping for air, being told on and whisked away from all the fun, I decided that jumping in unannounced didn’t exactly get me what I wanted. I wanted to join in on the games but all I got was scared, a nose full of water, in big trouble and locked in my mom’s maternal worry grip for a while instead.

This is where I should tell you that I never jumped again…

Fast forward about 10 years, when a couple of my sisters and I decided to drive out to the suburbs to go swimming in the heat of the summer at a community pool. We arrived, paid our money and entered the pool ground. After being flooded with stares, we were obviously not part of the neighborhood, we sat down and tried to muster up the courage to actually swim with these strangers. I should mention that we were not good swimmers, in fact we were still learning. These children seemed to have had lessons and access to a pool all of their lives. We just loved the water.

My mother got me started with the notion that I could actually stay alive in a pool when she began to teach me how to kick and push away from the edge while we were on vacation in Florida staying at a Days Inn. It was the 70’s and black children were not exactly making Olympic swimming history then but we were unaware that this was even a problem since my mother seemed so confident that we would be able to swim. We did get called the “n” word while in the process of learning that day and one of my sisters got pretty pissed and shouted “YOU get out of the pool then!”  We kept right on splashing and trying. That may have been the beginning of my fearless pursuit of being treated with respect as well as becoming a swimmer.

After sitting there on the side of the suburban pool in the scorching heat for a while, I noticed that most of the kids were constantly lining up for the high diving board. They seemed so excited to climb the tall ladder and jump off with their various forms, making really good attempts to point their arms properly and glide into the deep just so. After a few seconds they would resurface and swim to the edge of the pool to line up again. I became fixated on how easily they handled this feat. My fixation turned to curiosity and before I knew it, I was in line to climb the ladder to jump off of my very first diving board (the high dive that was probably used for competition) along with all the other kids. I ignored their stares. Some kids were actually being nice allowing me to go ahead of them. I took each step with such outward confidence that even I was beginning to believe that I would make it through my dare-devil attempt gracefully. My heart sounded like the clock just before the TNT explodes in the Warner Bros. cartoons, but it was too late. I was already at the top and it was my turn. I had no earthly idea what I was doing and yet, true to Bonita form, I was doing it anyway. I walked to the edge of the diving board, curled my body forward, mimicking what I had seen, pointed my arms above my head and essentially fell into the water at a harrowing speed. I pierced the water and began heading straight toward the bottom of 12 feet nonstop before I realized that I did at least know how to point my arms and torso upward and surface to the top. Once above water, I began making my way to the side of the pool with absolutely no form and crawled out onto the pavement feeling incredibly lucky to be alive. I refused to make eye contact with anyone and ignored my sister’s remark of me being completely crazy when I sat back down.

 It was my first and only diving experience. And when I told the story later…I nailed it.

I’m sitting here laughing at that memory and the complete irony that inside of me today is still that leaping kid, eager to find out if I can do what I’ve never been able to do before, on a dare only to myself. I still don’t want to miss out on the fun. I still don’t want to sit on the side lines and wait. I still don’t understand why them and not me?

In my adult life I DO NOT recommend jumping into deep water without knowing how to swim in the literal sense. However, I do recommend it as it pertains to life’s goals. Sometimes, you just have to try what you don’t know and figure it out in the process. Sometimes, if you wait too long for everything to feel just right, you miss out. Sometimes, it’s more about having heart than experience. And yes, sometimes there will be people who will call you ugly names in the process of your own self daring efforts in order to intimidate you. Just look them straight in the eye and let them know that your journey is just as valuable as theirs’ and you’re not going anywhere!

No wonder the ‘Nike’ brand uses their “Just Do It” slogan so well. The ads create a synergistic oxymornic mix of contemplative impulsivity within, resulting in an outward leaping forward to challenge yourself.  JUST DO IT! GO FOR IT! IT’S YOURS IF YOU WANT IT!!

I’m a much improved swimmer these days and I practice in the summer season often. But I still do it my way, preferring swimming underwater to the traditional above water breast stroke. I love being completely submerged, eyes wide open and challenging myself to make it to the end of a lap without coming up for air until I finish. My form can use a bit of work and I see better swimmers with faster speed than I have all the time, but I refuse to stop and compare their journey to mine.

Being in the water is my way of challenging myself to be better at something that I have come to love so much. I was never supposed to make it past the first impulsive jump but I did.

In my writing, teaching, performing and living in general, I just want to make my own signature splash in this world and come up smiling big, feeling satisfied and inspiring others before the sun sets, the Lifeguard’s whistle blows and it’s time for me to get out of the pool for good.

Maybe, none of us are ever meant to sit on the edge and watch everyone else splash and have a good time. Maybe, inside of all of us, is a great big daring heart beating behind what feels like a tiny mosquito frame. I have two words for you if that’s you:

Just leap…

Friday, April 1, 2016

Love's a Beach...

It’s been months since I’ve blogged. The other day I wrote my first poem of the year (I believe) and it’s March. I’ve let my creative side slip into a small coma while trying to figure out the meaning of my life in this season and why I am the way I am. Ironically, I need writing to sort through those things. I need writing to breathe deeply into the lungs of my inner soul and then exhale into the atmosphere with punctuation and symbolisms. I need metaphors like a cat needs a ball of yarn to keep her active and playful. And yet, I laid it down to sort through my heart. Interesting.

My youngest son and I just returned from the beach for a four day getaway to stay in a private cottage. It belongs to friends and it is beautiful in every way. It’s homey and crisp, well decorated and relaxing. The island feels like home when I visit and I have secretly moved into the neighborhood in my dreams.

 Once on the beach, Tim (my son) started running. This is my child that is glued to something electronic every day and who has to be reminded to go outside and ride his bike at least once a day. This is my introvert child number two, so by now I know what it looks like. But this day, he took off like a gazelle, all six feet of him, running toward the ocean and then back to me. He looked amazing. He had perfect form and he looked like he should be in the Olympics, at least for beach running. He did this a few times and then, after running toward me said: “I like to practice my running on the beach.” I smiled and said: “Looks good T, you look real good running.”

My child, who is on the Autistic spectrum didn’t squabble about how often this can or cannot happen, since we don’t live near the ocean. He simply shifted into this free beach runner spirit and took off. My mom guilt began to wonder if I was harboring the next Usain Bolt in the suburbs of North Carolina instead of moving him to the beach to let him run free. My slight panic coupled with a quick prayer: “God if this kid needs to move to the beach to become the next Usain Bolt, please let it happen…”

As time went on Tim asked: “Think maybe I can take my shirt off now?” He was ready to shed his civilian land wear for the bare chested beach bod, be it ever so thin. “Umm, I’d give it a bit to warm up.” Cautious mom, ever cautious mom. I sat there in a beach chair in my bathing suit and cover up zipped until the sun assured me that it was going to do its job that day. After two days of rain, I needed more assurance than a half hour appearance. Tim said okay and went about splashing in the ocean, trying to build a mote, creating sand art, running etc… I thought to myself, you know you did something right when your kids love the ocean. I read and watched him for a while and learned a lot about living on your free side from my son that day.

I realized that life, love and relationship can often be a wonderful experience, no an amazing experience, when you allow yourself the pleasure of taking off with wild abandon and enjoying the scenery and breathing the air in big deep swallows. I learned that just because you live in the suburbs far away from the ocean, doesn’t mean that you can’t allow yourself the privilege to run free from time to time. I learned that the journey to freedom may be a 4.5 hour car ride and having your GPS take you off the main road to save time, but it’s worth it. I also learned that you need a willing participant, if you so choose not to journey this life alone, to allow you to be you and take your shirt off to run on the beach.

My mom nature would ask Tim: “Why are you carrying dirt into the ocean?” To which he would reply: “It’s not dirt, it’s sand” and keep walking with handfuls that he would drop into the water. I thought it was odd, he didn’t care.

At some point, it was warm enough to shed his t-shirt and me my cover up. This made him feel freer, me too actually. I had given permission to enjoy the elements without limit and he was happy. I was too. I sat there now allowing myself to be covered in exquisite warmth and my mood shifted from cautious mom, to relaxing mom.

This made me think of relationships of a non-maternal nature:

When you’re in relationship with someone who just wants to enjoy the full experience, no matter how cautious you are, no matter how many rules you have and how dangerous vulnerability feels, allowing them the freedom to be their full authentic selves in front of you, without limitation is a gift. It’s a gift that you benefit from as well because you will relax and receive an enormous amount of love and affection given by someone who is willing to share.

If someone loves you, wants to spend time with you and likes your warmth and embrace, continually fending them off to keep yourself safe only deprives you of one of the greatest experiences you can be having.

If you are afraid of love, relationship, commitment, fear of getting hurt etc… you’re afraid of life.

Life is messy and wonderful and necessary. Let the one who loves you run free with the sun on their shoulders towards you. Allow them in, not to extract from your life but to add to it the joy of being cared for. They were sent to you for a reason and you are a gift to them as well, you make them feel like they just set foot on the sandy shores of life and now they can take off and be free. You allow them the beauty of giving to you from the heart without question.

Allowing a true lover to love you is like letting an artist paint without limitation or a writer to write all the time with endless vocabulary.

It brings new life to weary souls who just want to fulfill their God given purpose to love unconditionally.

Isn't that worth taking a chance?

My dad told me once when I was young, that I wore my heart on my sleeve too much. My response today would be: “But isn't it beautiful to look at? It’s so full of love Dad…”