Mastering the Unexpected

Mastering the Unexpected

Video Courtesy of Michelle McKinney Hammond


Let’s face it. Life doesn’t always go according to plan. Perhaps you expected to be married by now. Perhaps you did not anticipate being single again. Perhaps that big decision you made — the decision you sought godly counsel on and that you thoroughly prayed through before making — is not working out. Despite your surprise, God knew all along where you would be right now.

When life’s unexpected twists happen, I think the first thing we wonder is, “Where is God?” Yet the text in Genesis 39 says that when Joseph’s brothers sold him and he was taken down to Egypt to work in the house of Potiphar, one of Pharaoh’s officials, the Lord was with Joseph. So much for the theory that if God is in your situation, you won’t have any troubles or struggle with feeling alone.

Where is God? He is right there!

When the wind was tossing around the disciple’s boat, where was Jesus? Walking on the water to meet them. He even invited Peter, an ordinary fisherman, to come walk with Him on the water too. Peter did — that is, until he became absorbed with where he was. After that he started to sink in his own fear and unbelief.

Sometimes the single life can be overwhelming. The weight of dealing with and solving problems on your own can take a toll on your strength and your faith. However, we are all equipped to walk on water, so to speak — the troubled waters of our lives. If we look down at our state of affairs, we can only hope to sink. But by keeping our eyes up, locked on the Author of our faith, we will overcome. If we are able to take a deep breath and say, “This is only a test,” we can apply ourselves to finishing the course.

The choice is to either roll over and die a slow, painful death while repeating the mantra, “Why me? Why me?” or to rise to the occasion. Realizing I have an invisible enemy who wants me to cave in is usually enough to make me perk up and decide I won’t give him the satisfaction of seeing my demise.

It’s easy to say things can’t get any worse, but the truth of the matter is that they can. I recall a particularly bad year in my life when everything that could go wrong did. With each new setback I would say, “Things couldn’t get any worse than this.” And then things would get worse. Again I would say, “Things just couldn’t get any worse.” And then they would. Around the fifth time I was tempted to utter these ill-fated words, I caught myself. “Things couldn’t get — Oh, never mind!”

Wallowing in what can’t be fixed has never fixed anything. Don’t go there. Instead, take God’s advice:

“Awake, awake, O Zion, clothe yourself with strength. Put on your garments of splendor O Jerusalem the holy city. The uncircumcised and defiled will not enter you again. Shake off your dust; rise up, sit enthroned, O Jerusalem. Free yourself from the chains on your neck, O captive Daughter of Zion” (Isaiah 52:1-2).

Now let me break that down to a Michelle paraphrase: “Snap out of it! Push out of your fog and buck up! Don’t wimp out. Flex some muscle, locate your power, and use it.”

Fortify yourself with your faith in God and with what you’ve learned. Purposefully put your best face forward, even when your insides don’t match your outward expression. Get over the past. Shake off the bad influences and people who cling to you but are not contributing to your progress. Pull yourself together. Climb above your situation and gain a new perspective.

Notice that the people of Jerusalem were given the work of freeing themselves. No fairy godmother was going to show up to free them. It’s important to kill unrealistic fantasies and expectations and be grounded in God’s promises. How do you free yourself? By embracing the truth and wielding it like a weapon. If the truth is what makes you free, then what is true? God is still on the throne. Though you are standing alone, you are still standing. Therefore there is hope. Deal with your attitude.

When you take stock of your life not at eye-level but at faith-level, you will find something good to work with. Something great to hold out for. Something that will give you the strength to grit your teeth and hang on. Take note that God has been faithful so far. Though you may not feel your best, you are, in fact, living above the circumstances. This is just a test, and you are still standing.

The rest hinges on your own determination and the decisions you make as you move forward. The old saying “I felt sorry for myself because I had no shoes until I saw a man who had no feet” would perhaps be written by God this way, “Sing, O barren woman, you who never bore a child; burst into song, shout for joy, you who were never in labor; because more are the children of the desolate woman than of her who has a husband, says the LORD” (Isaiah 54:1). If you take the time, you will find that no matter what your circumstance is, God has equipped you not just to survive, but to thrive and flourish right where you are. This is the ultimate preparation for life no matter what your relationship status.

Whether you are single, divorced, or widowed, life happens. Just remember that each test can result in an amazing testimony if you purpose to stay connected to the One who promises to be your life partner forever.

Can you love authentically if you were raised to be toxic?

Can you love authentically if you were raised to be toxic?

Video Courtesy of The Beat by Allen Parr


It’s not easy to be hated by the person who is supposed to love you most, and unfortunately, being toxic has become normalized in our culture.

Many see misdirected aggravation, gaslighting, physical abuse, and more as “love tactics.” When a child only knows pain as a source of love, then they too love in that way and any other form of healthy love seems abnormal.

However, the question is, can a person ever love authentically if they were raised to be toxic?

The assumption is no. When someone is exposed to consistent, toxic stress, they are vulnerable to mental and physical illness that can sometimes develop into a genetic trait, according to Hey Sigmund; therefore this behavior is biologically passed on through generations.

However, despite the science behind the effects of toxic love, there is always hope for a better life.

Fighting for Love

“I just felt like I wasn’t loved by my mom, says Monique, a woman in her 40s who was often told she wasn’t good enough. “I felt growing up in my mom’s house I wasn’t allowed to be me, an individual.”

To suit her mother’s perfect image of a family, Monique, was to participate in certain activities without any consideration of her talents or desires. While at the same time, her brother was given free reign to participate in activities of his choice throughout their childhood.

And to make matters worse, Monique’s father suffered from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and would often abuse her. She recalls him touching her to satisfy his physical desires and severely beating her when she reported it to her incredulous mother.

Fortunately, Monique found refuge in her grandmother’s home, where she found the kind of love her mother envied. Monique remembers her mother punishing and verbally abusing her as a result of the love she received from her grandmother.

Like many girls, Monique found herself looking for love in empty relationships during her teen years that lead to a forced, terminated pregnancy and physical and emotional abuse similar to the treatment she received from her own father.

Eventually, Monique met a gentle and caring man named Laz. However, Laz’s compassion and gentleness were unfamiliar to her, which ultimately lead to Monique returning to one of her previous, toxic relationships.

She went on to marry a former flame named Xavier and stayed in her abusive marriage for eight years.

Towards the end of my [3rd] pregnancy, I found out he was cheating and when I confronted him, he hit me,” says Monique who recalls her toxic relationship that mirrored her childhood. “He asked, ‘Who are you to question me?’…It felt like because of the way I grew up, if I wasn’t getting hit, then it wasn’t love,”

After her divorce, Monique fought against her toxic past. She made the decision to rise above her father’s mental illness, her mother’s jealousy and apathy, and their collective effort to make her their emotional punching bag for their marriage troubles.

Although the struggle did not end after her marriage when it came to love, her children, and health, she remains hopeful enough to fight for the love she deserves. She charges her will to carry on to God, because without Him, she would have taken the final blow to end her suffering.

Turning Off the Gaslight

Bella was born to a Catholic family that rejected her mother for having a baby with a man that she later learned was married. The rejection caused her mother to make multiple attempts to prove her worth to the family by making Bella seem exceptional, but in private her mother was spiteful and unloving as the list of accomplishments grew.

“[My mother] did everything for me to prove herself, but not for the love of me,” Bella explains. “She worked hard to put me through private school and extracurricular activities, but at home I was repeatedly told I was nothing; sometimes she even called me a waste of a human being. To this day, she has never told me she loves me.”

Whenever something would go wrong in Bella’s life, she would automatically blame herself as a result of her relationship with her mother. Even when her husband and father of their two children committed adultery, she took the blame.

As time went on, Bella lost the love of her life, her job, and believed that she would never be loved which drove her into a suicidal state .

Until one day, Bella decided that she had enough and began to fight for her life, beauty, and self-love through therapy. “Once I figured out that I wasn’t this awful, unlovable monster that I was made to believe as a reality by someone who was unloved, it turned my world upside down in a great way,” Bella says. “It never would have happened without me doing the work in therapy.”

As a result of her treatment, Bella was led to a love that she has been enveloped in for the last four years. Even though the pain of rejection transcended through two generations, love won in the end.

“In the middle of all of this, I met a man who just rained love on me,” Bella joyfully exclaims.

Is there hope after a toxic upbringing?

“But you have this in your favor: You hate the practices of [your abuser], which I also hate” (Revelations 2:6, NIV).

In the beginning of this article, the question was, can a person love authentically if they were raised to be toxic? The answer is yes, but you must fight for it.

It is easy to nurse the scars of someone that you love, because love is to be unconditional, right? But what good is unconditional love when a person’s pain has replaced the spirit that you desperately want to love?

That is spiritual warfare and it is best to back away and allow God to handle it if they are unwilling to get help. It is important to recognize the signs of someone who has been abused and trying to regain power, which can include verbally sharing memories of their toxic loved ones.

Fortunately, Bella and Monique worked past those painful memories found a way to defeat them so that the tradition of toxicity ended with them and a reign of love could begin.

How’s Your Relationship with Yourself?

How’s Your Relationship with Yourself?

Video Courtesy of Dr. Minnie Claiborne, Ph.D. LHD


A column by Dr. Minnie Claiborn, Ph.D., a licensed counselor, life coach and author. 


There are seven basic areas wherein all human challenges lie. One of these is our relationship with self. We form many of our opinions of ourselves based on what others around us say to us and about us, or how we interpret what they say and do.

In some respects, we do come into the world with a “blank slate” and we write on it based on how we are treated. Some of us encounter rejection, abuse, abandonment, and many other hurtful experiences from our primary families or caregivers when we are young. From these experiences, which may be accompanied by ugly words, we often form unhealthy opinions of ourselves.

I had a young woman client once who in her mind and experience did not fit the societal standard of beauty. When she told me that she had been raped, she asked with incredulity, “Why would anyone rape me?” Her opinion of herself was so low, she felt so unattractive, that she was amazed that even a rapist would want her.

On the other hand, I observed a young lady whose body shape and physical features also did not meet the society standard of beauty, yet she exuded self-confidence. I discovered that she was a daddy’s girl, had a loving, doting mother and had married a man who also adored her.

Many young men who were not affirmed by their fathers suffer from a sense of insecurity, fear, rejection, lack of self-identity and a lack of belonging. Other people contributed to our being broken, but God can heal us (Luke 4:18). We can’t go back and change what was said or done to us or about us, but with new information and truth, we can change how if affects us.

Truth trumps facts. Divine truth (truth from God’s perspective) is greater than the facts of our experiences and thoughts. If you were not told that you are beautiful, or handsome or valuable by anyone else, know that God made you and He thinks you’re all of that (Psalm 139).

How do you change a wrong or bad opinion of yourself? Put God’s Word in your mouth and speak it to yourself out loud. A good place to start is by saying, “God loves me.” The entire Bible bears witness to that truth. I have witnessed the power of Scripture-based affirmations. An affirmation simply means that you affirm and agree with what is being said. Here is an affirmation that you can use every day that will help you to begin to have a winning relationship with yourself. You might know it in your head, but you need to SAY it over and over so that your subconscious will receive truth and your conscious thoughts and behaviors will begin to change. God told young Joshua to meditate on His word day and night and he (Joshua) would have prosperity and good success (Joshua 1:8). I suggest that you say this out loud at least five times per day until you know in your soul that it is true.

AFFIRMATION: God loves me. God accepts me. I love and accept myself. I invite God to change the things that do not please Him and things that are detrimental to me.

READ: Psalm 139, Joshua 1:8, John 3:16


 

Mastering the Unexpected

Mastering the Unexpected

Video Courtesy of Michelle McKinney Hammond


Let’s face it. Life doesn’t always go according to plan. Perhaps you expected to be married by now. Perhaps you did not anticipate being single again. Perhaps that big decision you made — the decision you sought godly counsel on and that you thoroughly prayed through before making — is not working out. Despite your surprise, God knew all along where you would be right now.

When life’s unexpected twists happen, I think the first thing we wonder is, “Where is God?” Yet the text in Genesis 39 says that when Joseph’s brothers sold him and he was taken down to Egypt to work in the house of Potiphar, one of Pharaoh’s officials, the Lord was with Joseph. So much for the theory that if God is in your situation, you won’t have any troubles or struggle with feeling alone.

Where is God? He is right there!

When the wind was tossing around the disciple’s boat, where was Jesus? Walking on the water to meet them. He even invited Peter, an ordinary fisherman, to come walk with Him on the water too. Peter did — that is, until he became absorbed with where he was. After that he started to sink in his own fear and unbelief.

Sometimes the single life can be overwhelming. The weight of dealing with and solving problems on your own can take a toll on your strength and your faith. However, we are all equipped to walk on water, so to speak — the troubled waters of our lives. If we look down at our state of affairs, we can only hope to sink. But by keeping our eyes up, locked on the Author of our faith, we will overcome. If we are able to take a deep breath and say, “This is only a test,” we can apply ourselves to finishing the course.

The choice is to either roll over and die a slow, painful death while repeating the mantra, “Why me? Why me?” or to rise to the occasion. Realizing I have an invisible enemy who wants me to cave in is usually enough to make me perk up and decide I won’t give him the satisfaction of seeing my demise.

It’s easy to say things can’t get any worse, but the truth of the matter is that they can. I recall a particularly bad year in my life when everything that could go wrong did. With each new setback I would say, “Things couldn’t get any worse than this.” And then things would get worse. Again I would say, “Things just couldn’t get any worse.” And then they would. Around the fifth time I was tempted to utter these ill-fated words, I caught myself. “Things couldn’t get — Oh, never mind!”

Wallowing in what can’t be fixed has never fixed anything. Don’t go there. Instead, take God’s advice:

“Awake, awake, O Zion, clothe yourself with strength. Put on your garments of splendor O Jerusalem the holy city. The uncircumcised and defiled will not enter you again. Shake off your dust; rise up, sit enthroned, O Jerusalem. Free yourself from the chains on your neck, O captive Daughter of Zion” (Isaiah 52:1-2).

Now let me break that down to a Michelle paraphrase: “Snap out of it! Push out of your fog and buck up! Don’t wimp out. Flex some muscle, locate your power, and use it.”

Fortify yourself with your faith in God and with what you’ve learned. Purposefully put your best face forward, even when your insides don’t match your outward expression. Get over the past. Shake off the bad influences and people who cling to you but are not contributing to your progress. Pull yourself together. Climb above your situation and gain a new perspective.

Notice that the people of Jerusalem were given the work of freeing themselves. No fairy godmother was going to show up to free them. It’s important to kill unrealistic fantasies and expectations and be grounded in God’s promises. How do you free yourself? By embracing the truth and wielding it like a weapon. If the truth is what makes you free, then what is true? God is still on the throne. Though you are standing alone, you are still standing. Therefore there is hope. Deal with your attitude.

When you take stock of your life not at eye-level but at faith-level, you will find something good to work with. Something great to hold out for. Something that will give you the strength to grit your teeth and hang on. Take note that God has been faithful so far. Though you may not feel your best, you are, in fact, living above the circumstances. This is just a test, and you are still standing.

The rest hinges on your own determination and the decisions you make as you move forward. The old saying “I felt sorry for myself because I had no shoes until I saw a man who had no feet” would perhaps be written by God this way, “Sing, O barren woman, you who never bore a child; burst into song, shout for joy, you who were never in labor; because more are the children of the desolate woman than of her who has a husband, says the LORD” (Isaiah 54:1). If you take the time, you will find that no matter what your circumstance is, God has equipped you not just to survive, but to thrive and flourish right where you are. This is the ultimate preparation for life no matter what your relationship status.

Whether you are single, divorced, or widowed, life happens. Just remember that each test can result in an amazing testimony if you purpose to stay connected to the One who promises to be your life partner forever.

Surviving Holiday Drama

Surviving Holiday Drama

Video Courtesy of WKBW TV | Buffalo, NY


Turkey dinners, desserts for days, decorating the house, planning for parties, and power-shopping until the wee hours of the mornings — yes, it’s that time of the year. And just as Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s Eve come at the same time each year, without fail every holiday season, the very people you’re supposed to be cherishing are the ones who seem to bring you the most stress.

Unfortunately, the picture-perfect family dinner we see on television is not something that always translates to our personal situations. With crazy relational dynamics that can test one’s patience and sanity, there’s a bit of dysfunction in every family — and it’s often heightened during the holidays.

While on the surface certain family members may appear to be the enemy, they are people to whom God has connected you for a reason, and they’re often the first opportunity we have to learn to “love your neighbor.” As the old saying goes, “You can choose your friends, but you can’t choose your family.” With that in mind, here are five tips to help you navigate family drama during this most joyful season.

1. Learn how and when to say no. You can’t satisfy everyone in your family, and the quicker you realize that the better you and your family will be. Set boundaries for yourself and your personal relationships. With pressure to shop for gifts, attend holiday parties and family gatherings, as well as your usual everyday demands of work and family, it’s easy to get overwhelmed. You have to remember that you’re just one person, you can’t do everything. You may not be able to go to every party that you’re invited to and you may even have to make adjustments to plans for traveling to see different relatives. Set priorities and stick to them.

2. Accept your family’s differences. We all have that aunt or uncle who drinks a little too much and lets their mouths get them into trouble. Or there’s the cousin who always comes late with the main dish — so the family is waiting for hours to eat. Whatever your family scenario, remember that we all have our own idiosyncrasies that can be irritating — and honestly we all probably have a bit of crazy deep down inside. It doesn’t mean you condone or agree with certain behaviors, but you just don’t let it hang you up. Don’t sweat the small stuff that you can’t change.

3. Keep it simple. Whether it’s with gift-giving, hosting a family gathering, or cooking a dish for a family potluck — make it easy on yourself. While you may want to stick to traditions, it’s okay to make adjustments. Instead of cooking, maybe you can buy a prepared dish. You may want to do it all on your own as your mother did back in the day, but know that it’s okay to ask for help. Get other family members involved with planning and preparing holiday meals or gatherings. When it comes to gifts, stick to a budget. Be real about your financial situation; if you can’t afford to buy everyone — or anyone — a gift, it’s okay. Your presence really is enough.

4. Keep conversations light. Avoid hot-button issues during the holidays. Keep conversations light and focus on the good. Trying to flesh out unresolved conflicts at the dinner table is probably not a good idea — especially because of the spirit of the season. Try to find things that you have in common with your loved ones and bring those elements into your conversations. Often tension and angst arise from misunderstandings and miscommunication. Find common ground, which will help in the end to build stronger bonds that last beyond the Christmas dinner at Granny’s.

5. Take time out for yourself. Focusing on everyone else, it’s easy to forget about yourself. If it’s no more than 15 minutes or an hour, take some time for you. Do something you want to do. Seeing a movie, reading a book, journaling, exercising — whatever you need to do to tend to your mind, body, and soul do it. Even Jesus needed some time alone.

The Real Reason for the Season

When it’s all said and done, remember what the holidays are really all about. Taking time to be thankful for the blessings in your life, celebrating the birth of Christ and looking ahead to the New Year, it’s a time to reflect and put things in a proper perspective.

After all, Jesus had supper with Judas (who betrayed Him) and Peter (who would later deny Him). If He can forgive and show love, shouldn’t we follow His lead and extend grace to those special relatives who annually work our last nerve?

So how do you survive the stress that the holidays can put on family relationships? Share your thoughts and tips for coping below.