A Christmas Reflection

christmas-reflection

As a child, I was obsessed with Christmas. I would try to figure out what my parents had gotten me by shaking presents or delicately tearing a piece of the wrapping. I would beg my mom to allow me to open one present on Christmas Eve. I could not wait until Christmas’ arrival. There would be new toys to play with or movies to watch. One Christmas, I wanted a Furby. Essentially, an ugly talking toy that resembled a gremlin. It was the “it” toy to have that year, and I got it. Another year, I wanted the movies “Save the Last Dance” and “Bring It On.” I received my requests. For me, Christmas was about what I was going to get. I had selfish motives, but I truly enjoyed the holiday. Yet, I believe most children enjoy it for this reason. Christmas turns into something else as a person matures.

As I grew older, I became a gift giver. Christmas became a mixture of stress, procrastination, and some joy. I would shop for presents during the week of Christmas. I would contend with busy stores and concerns about what to buy for people. I wanted family and friends to enjoy their presents and to find them useful. I also worried about money. How much could I spend on family members and friends? Who could I realistically buy a gift for? And would I buy them a “good” gift?

When my sister died in July 2013, I witnessed my small portion of positivity towards Christmas dissipate. I desired to run away from the holiday. I didn’t want anyone to talk to me about their anticipation of Christmas. With my sister’s birthday being a few days after Christmas, I couldn’t be enthusiastic. Grief overwhelmed me.

On December 6th 2013, my mom and I went to a Jeremy Camp concert in our hometown. I was originally supposed to go with a friend, but she was unable to attend. I did not feel my mom would be interested in seeing Jeremy Camp as she listened to more old-school gospel music. Yet, she went to the concert with me and enjoyed his music. We were both worn out and needed to be comforted from our grief. Since Jeremy Camp lost his first wife to cancer several years ago, we knew he had experienced the wretchedness of grief. Before he would sing, he usually read Bible verses and offered encouraging words. My mom and I sang along with him. We cried and praised God together. We embraced each other, knowing that we missed Wanda, but that God was with us.

Emmanuel.

This year, I wondered what my response to Christmas would be. Would I continue to be discouraged by the commercialism of Christmas? Would I hide from the reminders of Christmas because of my sister’s birthday? If I’m honest, I still believe that there is a societal pressure to buy the best presents and to go into debt. Despite some of stresses of Christmas shopping, I see how gift giving can be a display of gratitude between people. When two siblings or two friends exchange presents, they are experiencing each other’s thoughtfulness. And when sweet words are planted in a Christmas card, the recipient becomes joyful. Hence, there is significance in our tradition of gift giving; of thinking about the folks that we adore.

And even with my sister’s birthday hovering over this season, the Christmas story engulfed me. Being raised in a Christian home, I have always known why Christmas needed to be acknowledged. I’d heard about the angel Gabriel, Mary, Joseph, Elizabeth and Zechariah. I’d read about the manger, the shepherds, and the wise men. In church, I sung the Christmas hymns with congregants. But this knowledge of the Christmas story did not exclude me from gaining new revelations. Of seeing how Mary and Elizabeth had received miracles. A virgin and an older, infertile woman would bear special infants. God would use them to allow the Savior and the forerunner to come into the world.

As God revealed the magnificence of the story to me, I shared what I had learned with my Sunday School students. I told them that Mary was a teenager when God chose her to be the mother of Jesus, the King. I watched their eyes widen as they processed that Mary was their age. Mary, a woman of God, willingly accepted the news that Gabriel brought her.

“I am the Lord’s servant,” Mary answered. “May your word to me be fulfilled.” Then the angel left her.” Luke 1:38

I chatted with the students about obedience and that God knows what best for us. I explained that it can feel scary and even wild to obey God, but that our willingness yields good things. Jesus’ presence enhances our lives.

In my life, I have been angered, grief-stricken and even excited by Christmas’ arrival. And I believe that it is normal to experience this assortment of feelings during the holiday season. Yet, I know that the re-telling of the Christmas story can exist amongst these emotions. I see that the story shows how human beings were redeemed.

“The world became flesh and made His dwelling among us. We have seen His glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth. “ John 1:14

Jesus, God in human form, was born in a manger. Hay and animals surrounded him.

Jesus, God in human form, grew into a man. John the Baptist baptized him. He chose disciples and performed miracles.

Jesus, God in human form, was betrayed and arrested. He was ridiculed and beaten.

Jesus, God in human form, carried the Cross and was crucified.

Jesus, God in human form, rose again and ascended to Heaven. He is coming back again.

The Christmas story is about God’s humility and love. And He was born to save us from our sins.

 

 

 

 

November’s 6 Grateful Things List

novembers-6-grateful-things-list

Hey friends! I wanted to release November’s 6 Grateful Things List before Thanksgiving! Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday, but I don’t think it gets the attention it deserves. For example, Christmas music is already playing. Y’all, I love Christmas music, but it’s too early for all of that. Anywho, I’m excited that I have been doing these gratitude lists for a year now! Woot woot! Thank you so much for watching my quirky antics and reflections on gratitude!

I believe in striving to be grateful all year long, but I encourage you to set some time over the holiday weekend to write your own “6 Grateful Things List.” Please feel to jot down whatever comes out of your head. It’s important to be grateful for the things that you deem as small, as those blessings often lead to bigger blessings.  Have a blessed and restful Thanksgiving!

BTW, I have enclosed a random picture of Spanish rice and beans with chicken. Please watch the video in order to learn more about my adoration for this dish. 🙂

Blessings,

Monica aka afrotasticlady

blog-picture

 

A Letter to the Grievers

a-letter-to-the-grievers

Dear Grievers,

I have been thinking about the upcoming holiday season and how this time of the year can be challenging for us. Often, I have mixed feelings about the holiday season. While I enjoy digging into Thanksgiving turkey and listening to Christmas music, I begin to miss my sister, Wanda. Indeed, I know she is living comfortably in Heaven, but the fact that I cannot go into her room to say “Happy Thanksgiving” or “Merry Christmas” is tough. Her birthday is a few days after Christmas which worsens the grief.

I wanted to write this letter to folks who grieve, because you may feel misunderstood right now. Your family or peers may wonder why you are not as excited about the holidays as they are. They may wonder why you just want to hide from the world from November-December and return to it in January. Grievers, I see you and I want you to know that your emotions are okay. You do not have to apologize for how you feel. You can just be. You can run to Jesus with your wet faces and shaky legs. He knows what you are feeling right now, and He wants to hug you. He desires to cover you with His love.

Grievers, you may believe that you have no right to grieve because of what society has barked at you. Perhaps, you miscarried or dealt with a stillbirth. You still carried a baby in your womb and waited to hold that baby next to your body. That child’s life mattered to you so you do not have to ask for permission to grieve.

Grievers, you may believe that you have no right to grieve because your loved one died from a substance overdose. Society told you, “Well, he or she shouldn’t have been doing drugs anyways.” Yet, you witnessed your loved one’s addiction and his/her attempts to recover from it. Maybe, you experienced his/her negative behaviors because of the impact of the substances on their mind and body. Maybe, you’ve felt guilty for giving him/her money that would be used to buy their substance. Grievers, I pray that you do not experience shame anymore. I encourage you to express your real emotions about the loss despite the way society ostracized your loved one.

Grievers, you may believe you have no right to grieve because your loved one was dealing with a chronic illness that you knew he/she would eventually die from. You may have even helped them plan their own funeral. Your loved one was ready to pass on from Earth to Heaven. Even though you prepared for their death, you are still allowed to grieve it. You can miss your loved one because their life and their love refreshed you.

Grievers, you may believe you have no right to grieve because you did not lose someone to death. Perhaps, you recently endured a divorce or break-up. Maybe, you were laid off from your job. These events are losses and they elicit various emotions. You’re going to miss not being with your significant other during the holiday season. Or you’re going to feel hurt by how the relationship ended. Regarding your job, you’re going to feel frustrated by your lack of income. You’re probably going to question why you had to lose a job that you have invested several years in.

Grievers, I realize that you feel raw and uncomfortable. In the first year of my sister’s death, I used to tell folks that it felt like someone took my heart out of my chest and stomped it. I don’t know what metaphor you have used to describe your emotional pain. I don’t even know where you are in your grief journey.

Despite the pain, I hope that you are honest with yourself. Let yourself feel the pain, because if you keep it bottled inside, you may burst at an inconvenient time. I pray that God sends you folks that will pray with you and listen to you when you need to talk. When you feel like you have talked about that deceased loved one or that break-up too much, that God-sent person will be patient with you.

Grievers, please be patient with yourself during this holiday season. I’ll pray for you and I ask for your prayers as well!

“Cause I believe always, always our Savior never fails

Even when all hope is gone

God knows our pain and His promise remains

He will be with you always.” 

“Always” by Building 429

God Bless,

Monica aka afrotasticlady

 

 

 

 

September’s 6 Grateful Things List

septembers-6-grateful-things-list

(Hey y’all! It’s the end of the month, and it’s time for me to talk about what I’m grateful for. Please join in the fun and let me know what awesome things you have experienced this month. Also, I wanted to give y’all a heads up that I won’t be posting on the blog again until the end of October. I usually post twice a month, but I will only be posting once instead. Blessings, Monica aka afrotasticlady)

#Yass: My Final Year of Grad School

my-final-year-of-grad-school

This past Tuesday, I started the third year of my grad school journey. Despite the stress of school, I have enjoyed the learning process. I have learned effective strategies for engaging and assessing clients. I have grown in self-awareness. I would consider myself a self-aware person already, but I have discovered the pros and cons of my thought processes. While I hold high standards for myself and strive to do well in all of my efforts, I need to become comfortable in making mistakes. Several wise instructors have informed me of my role as a student-learner. Hence, I do not have to excel at everything. It’s actually impossible to excel in everything anyways.

Grad school has led to emotional and intellectual growth. I have been given opportunities to explore various clinical interests, and I have met compassionate and intelligent colleagues. I have also trudged through my studies when I wanted to quit. I can recall numerous days where I felt incompetent or I wondered if social work was the right career choice. Yet, my parents and friends looked into my weary face and confirmed my intelligence. They encouraged me to finish school, and they saw me as a social worker when I viewed myself as an imposter.

But social work has become so ingrained in me. Now, it is challenging for me to even watch a TV show without assessing fictional characters for mental health conditions. Whenever I talk to a friend about a problem they are having, I will often use phrases such as “It looks like you are dealing with_____” and “It sounds like you are _________.”

Despite my own insecurities, I believe I am well-suited for this career. I am passionate about supporting clients as they work towards making personal changes in their lives. I am excited about pointing out the strengths of such clients and watching them realize that they have always been beautiful and resilient. Though, I am nervous about which agency, city, or even state that I will be in after I graduate. But I have recently been praying that I will follow Jesus’ guidance. That I will obey if God directs to remain in my hometown for a little while. Or if Jesus calls me to another New England city or even out of the New England area, I will also obey.

“The Lord is my Shepherd; I shall not want. He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me besides the still waters. He restoreth my soul: he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.” Psalm 23:1-3 (KJV)

The above Psalm is a familiar passage to me, as I have read it often in church services. Spiritually, I am a sheep and God is my shepherd. God is interested in answering my questions and helping me with my concerns. But regarding my post grad school life, I see the relevance of these verses. If I allow God to lead me, He will lead me to the job that is best for me. He will allow employers to give me favor. He will give me good things, because that’s what He does. He knows what I need.

 

school-commute

My commute to school

 

I know this last year of school is going to be busy and even grueling, but I trust that God will give me the ability to endure. I will have those letters after my name: MSW, LCSW. Eventually, I will also have LISCW after my name. But I realize this entire journey is not just about having those letters. It is about surrendering every area of my life to God, even when my flesh yearns to live in my own way. My way is not right, but God’s way is wonderful, splendid, and adventurous!

Friends, I would appreciate it if you kept me in your prayers this year and post-graduation. I will be meditating on the following songs about trusting God: “Lead Me” by KJ Scriven and “The Voyage” by Amanda Cook. These songs minister to my heart, and I pray that you find them edifying as well.

Blessings,

Monica aka afrotasticlady

August’s 6 Grateful Things List

August's Grateful Things List

(Happy Wednesday, y’all! As you will see, this month’s edition of the grateful things list was shot on the beach. Also, I enlisted the assistance of my friend to be my videographer. So, if you hear hints of laughter, that’s her. Thanks to JH for holding my phone so I did not have to awkwardly do so. 🙂  Please don’t forget to let me know you are grateful for this month. I would love to hear about the good things that God has done for you! Blessings, Monica aka afrotasticlady)

Blog Series: Blogging in His Light, 2nd Blogoversary

2nd Blogoversary

 

Today, my blog turns two! Two years of thinking about topics as I drove to school or work. Two years of becoming a pseudo photographer. Two years of spending absurdly long times writing one blog post. Two years of commitment to my own creative space. Two years of community.

When I first started blogging, it was a solitary activity. I had family and friends who commented on the blog. I had a few subscribers. Yet, I desired to be in a writer/blogger community. I needed to be able to converse with other writers about life and faith. Upon a friend’s recommendation, I joined Instagram. Afterwards, I decided to sign up with Twitter. Then, I tweeted something like “Where are all the Christian bloggers? I’d love to connect with you.” My online community increased. I virtually met several gifted writers. And I admired these women for being honest in a world that often lacks connection.

Unfortunately, we all move around very quickly in our daily lives. Sometimes, we forget to even eat our lunches. We toggle around from app to app on our phones. We are tired, but we still keep trudging through our activities. Yet, the writers and the storytellers create a revelatory piece. They write something that makes us ponder our own situations

In honor of my second blogoversary, I decided to approach the day differently. It would not only be a celebration of my blog, but of all faith-filled blogs. I would congratulate the storytellers for the work that they have been doing online. I would be curious and ask them to answer deep questions. I would be humbled by their thoughtful answers.

These storytellers started their own blogs when they could no longer block God’s voice. Their writing was needed in the blogosphere, and God planned to use them to uplift society. I have been encouraged by the triumphs they have shared and their resilience throughout the pain. I have been refreshed by their kindness towards me. They have urged me to keep on writing, and they’ve highlighted my positivity.

Community. It’s so unusual that I found a writing/blogger online. Yet, I am blessed by the sisterhood. Hopefully, I can meet some of these powerhouses in real life someday.

Now, I’m going to share some nuggets that I garnered from my seven interviews with Christian writers/bloggers:

Interview #1 with Nicole: “I love that blogging is healing and therapeutic. It is an outlet for my deepest longings and feelings. I have went through some hard times and blogging has helped to heal me from deep pain while going through them.”

Interview #2 with Naomi: “Put God first in all that you do even with blogging. Being genuine goes a long way. Do not get caught up with quantity or the numbers but the quality of what you do.”

Interview #3 with Jamia: “Writing is a gift and not everyone has the ability to string together words in a way that touches the hearts of others. This gift of ours is meant to be shared! We never know who will be blessed by our story, let’s be faithful to tell it.”

Interview #4 with Elsie: “I deeply believe that being vulnerable within a loving Christian community leads to healing and wholeness. I don’t believe in keeping shameful secrets – they only fester and poison our spirits.”

Interview #5 with Latoya:Make friends with other bloggers. Don’t view them as competition because we can always learn from each other.”

Interview #6 with Emelda: “I believe one of the most important things we can contribute as both believers and writers is to show up with our authenticity and heart. Imagine you’re talking to a good friend as you write. This makes your work relatable, and our readers respond to us when we are unafraid to walk in our truth.”

Interview #7 with Simone: There are a lot of blogs out there, but so many specialize in ridiculousness. We must MUST add our voices to help quiet the noise, and share hope.”

All of these gems point towards compassion. Christian writers and bloggers cannot keep their words hidden or their laptops closed. With all of the brutality in this world, we have to share our hearts. We have to yearn to comfort, pray, and write for the bruised ones. Sometimes, we are the bruised ones, and we are basically writing for ourselves.

I thank God for two years of afrotasticlady. Two years of introspective and quirky musings. Two years of writing the things that hurt me but provide solace to others. Two years of fellowship. And two years of striving to blog in His light!

And thank you so much to all of my readers and subscribers for hanging out with me. I appreciate you, beautiful ones! Your comments and your support motivate me to keep writing!

Deuces, Monica aka afrotasticlady

Beach Picture