The Secret to Staying Young

 

Let’s start this off with a confession:

I use anti aging cream. Don’t worry, it’s the cheap stuff- for now. But still, is that bad? I mean, I am just three years away from thirty. Besides, I’m improving my adulting skills by being more proactive. I spend most of my time on airplanes where the air is dry and the oxygen is thin. It’s my responsibility to protect my skin from shriveling up like a raisin, right?

Alright, that was about 40% true. The remaining 60% sadly, lies in complete vanity. I don’t want to get old. And if I must, I certainly don’t need the evidence of wrinkles to prove it.

Nowadays though, we see more people embracing and being proud of their age, which is the way it should be. Unfortunately, I’m not that wise.

I’m in line with everyone else trying to catch the first ship out to Never land. Botox, plastic surgery, hair plugs (do people still do that?), and younger partners are just a few of the extreme measures we take in an effort to retain our youth.

Let me make clear, I don’t personally engage in the aforementioned activities, but I can certainly understand how easy it would be to fall prey to these practices.

The truth is, we’re growing older with each setting sun and there’s no way to stop it. Our lack of crows feet and smooth skin can no more rescue us from what actually needs saving than a topical cream can kill cancer. The sickness is within.

Our exterior is just that: A shell that houses our most precious jewels. But if the treasure rots, what is there to protect? Our bodies become useless. Yet we choose to focus most of our upkeep on our physical selves. L’Oréal’s latest under eye night serum cannot treat a withered spirit.

Our spirits are as strong or tenuous as we make them. In order to build their strength, we must feed them that which will encourage growth and resilience. If fed junk, such as anger and guilt, they begin to eat away at themselves and become emaciated.

From the moment we enter this earth, life becomes a toilsome journey: loss, addiction, betrayal, and self-hate are only a few potential struggles we face. Under the pressure of such circumstances, weak spirits are likely to break.

Our physical age will inevitably increase, but there’s nothing more exquisite than a spirit unaffected by age. One who has seen its share of hardships yet remains unblemished in its faith.

I know it sounds impossible. It’s certainly not easy, but with conscious effort, a lot of practice, and of course God, it is achievable. I don’t have all the answers to maintaining a healthy, strong, and youthful spirit, however I do have a few tips to get you started.

Let it go.

Stop dwelling on people and circumstances you can’t change. It only stands to further frustrate you. If someone has wronged you and you’re still bitter about it, you’re punishing yourself for their error. I’m not suggesting that you excuse their behavior, instead I invite you to release them to God. Once you release them, you also free yourself from feeling like you have to exact penance on them.

Surround yourself with positive people.

The company you keep has a major influence on your outlook on life. Be intentional about the people you surround yourself with. Make sure your friends are adding positivity to your life and not encouraging negativity. The normal rigamarole of life is stressful enough, you need people to bring the joy out in you at all costs.

Don’t neglect the little things

It’s easy to overlook the simplest parts of life because other aspects are so overwhelmingly complex. But it’s important that we find a way to always recognize the little things in our lives that make us smile. Our sanity depends on it.

Keep the Faith

I could elaborate endlessly on the importance of remaining faithful, but instead I’ll leave you with a snippet of lyric from a song I love.

Hold on to hope if you got it
Don’t let it go for nobody
They say that dreaming is free
But I wouldn’t care what it cost me

Yellow means GO!

Now, be honest-

You’re driving and the light turns from green to yellow: what do you do?

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 Pedal to the metal baby!

When I have somewhere to be, I want to get there yesterday. You guys already know, I’m not taking home any awards for most patient person of the year. However, you’d be proud to know that I have improved. Somewhat. On the important stuff like marriage and solving the riddle that is my purpose in life, I’ve learned to ease off the gas and enjoy the pretty – and not so pretty – scenery. But as for waiting in long lines at the grocery store, continue to pray for me.

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What factors do you all think contribute to the constant haste of our culture?

For one, we are unremittedly fed the lie that we have to have it now. Whether it be a spouse, a child, a new car, or the latest iPhone, the idea of waiting has become unfathomable. We’ve been programmed to FOMO. For those of you not up with the times, FOMO is an acronym that means fear of missing out. It’s generally used when people are afraid of missing something at a social event or outing, but I think it’s also relevant in terms of stuff.  Either way, we’ve got it bad.

On the surface, this lie is simply a consumerism/marketing ploy by filthy rich companies trying to attain even more wealth by playing on the emotions of people in need. We’re being manipulated by a man made guarantee that more stuff will make us happy. Even though marketers fail on their promise again and again, we continue to buy the lies. When we look in the mirror, we see a version of ourselves plastered in all the things we thought we needed.

If you don’t remember anything else from this post, please remember this:

The only thing we need in this life has already been purchased. We just have to make the decision to accept Him. 

Okay, so we’ve dodged the yellow light, now what? We’re maybe two to three minutes ahead of those we left in our dust, but what have we actually gained in that time? It’s easy for us to feel like those few minutes make a huge difference, but in actuality they don’t.

“Your imaginary self is not your real self.”

My brother said this during a conversation we were having a few days ago and I literally had to write it down because, as simple a sentence as it is, it makes so much sense.

We create these euphorias in our minds that translate into reality as utter ridiculousness.

Like, Oh I gained two extra minutes to get to work by flying through the yellow light. Now I have time to get gas, drop that package off at the post office, and maybe get a blueberry donut from Dunkin’ (my favorite!). 

Okay, maybe that was a bit of an exaggeration, but not by much. 

We all have this mental checklist of things we need to have accomplished by a certain time. As the days and years inch closer to that time frame, we set into panic mode, and quite frankly, start making some not-so-smart choices to fulfill those goals.

I’ll spare us the listing of those choices.

Now on the other side of those decisions, are we any happier? Is it the same euphoric dream we had cooked up in our fantasy driven heads?

I can answer from personal experience: not at all. I’m still digging myself out of the hole from a few bad decisions I rushed into because I thought I’d die waiting.

In retrospect, my life would be a lot easier now, had I slowed down at those yellow lights and allowed God to tell me when to go.

Timing is everything. And God, who is both the creator of time and us, surely knows when something is best for us and how to perfectly orchestrate it into our lives.  place it in our lives during the perfect season.

Impatience is human and I get it. Not knowing what will become of our lives is stressful and can cause us to make rash decisions just for the sake of feeling in control.

Fight that urge.

Pray and ask God for patience. Build your trust and faith in him by spending time getting to know him. When we truly come to know the character of God, we don’t have to doubt that his plan for our lives is the best version.

Recalculating

I’ve always viewed school as a necessity. Whether or not I liked it was never a factor, it was just something I knew I had to grit my teeth and do. Naturally inquisitive, the desire to learn and acquire knowledge has never been an issue for me. No, my problem is that I have trouble acclimating to structured learning settings. I remember being two semesters shy of earning my bachelor’s degree when I decided to mentally check out. Between being burnt out and having senioritis, I gave myself permission to stop caring. As a result, I stopped turning in assignments, showing up to class, and lost interest in my grades. Soon after, I was threatened with being placed on academic probation: they gave me one more chance to get my crap together.

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 I recall meeting with my academic advisor:

Her office was a neat little nook tucked away at the edge of the building. It was dark, save for a small lamp on her desk that dimmed the area just enough for me to see the knickknacks and stacks of papers that comfortably cluttered her desk. Despite being afraid of the reprimand I was about to receive, her office seemed to exude warmth. Almost like a refuge: Somewhere you go for safety and refueling, but only for a short while.

She asked me what was going on and why my grades had fallen. I of course, tried to make my lousy excuse sound as justifiable as possible. She listened quietly as she busied herself with paperwork. When I’d run out of words to fuel my explanation, she turned to me, sighed and said matter of factly, “Okay. You’ve checked out.”

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It was like she was a doctor diagnosing me with a common cold. She knew exactly where I was mentally and she understood how I had gotten there. She gave me no sympathy but there wasn’t a strong sense of reprimand either.

Her final words to me during that meeting were, “You need to find a way to check back in.”

I left the campus feeling much more fueled than I did going into the meeting. Our discussion had given me just enough charge to find my way back to my why. 

Two semesters later, I graduated.

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I find myself at a similar impasse. I checked out about a month ago. I knowingly and intentionally submerged myself into the mindset of a defeatist. I was beginning to feel like everything in life was just too hard, so I figured I’m done trying. I knew that it was a momentary phase, but I didn’t put up much of a fight against it. I became more frivolous with money than usual and I didn’t beat myself up about it. My spiritual upkeep was slacking. I missed almost two weeks of talking to you guys. Deep down, I knew better, but on the surface, I refused to allow myself to care. I just wanted to be. I wanted to do whatever I felt like doing without feeling bad or rehashing fifty times over, every move I made and every thought that even considered crossing my mind. Just for a second, I wanted to be completely human and not feel bad about it.

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Things are still a bit hazy but I’m on the back end of that phase. I think my final salute was my purchase at Victoria’s Secret today at the Las Vegas airport. And in my defense, their semi-annual sale is going on so it could be argued that it was a logical and reasonable purchase.

That liberation I was looking for is returning to its former glory of frustration. I’m back to beating myself up. I’ve made the same mistakes so many times I’m dizzy. I want new mistakes! I want to be able to reflect and say, I used to be that way, but it feels impossible. Like it’s some sort of cruel joke to even think we can actually overcome our problems or become better.

In this time of reflection, I’m trying to figure out my why, because I really don’t want to go down this dead end road a millionth time.

I remember exactly when the downward spiral began. It was the first time I’d missed a post since recommitting myself to the blog back in February. It was a big deal to me and in my mind, it proved that I could not be committed or driven enough to accomplish anything. It shouted and reverberated throughout my entire being that no matter my efforts, I will always circle right back around to who I’ve always been. And that’s when I said

Forget it then, I’ll just stop trying.

One mistake sucked me into a black hole of psychological abuse toward myself. It should not have been that catastrophic, but because it was, that tells me that there’s more. I don’t think I actually believe I can be different. I didn’t realize that truth until just now. Looking at the words staring back at me on the screen, I can’t deny it. Whenever I’m doing well: praying, reading my Bible, keeping up with my blog, making smart money choices,  I am proving to myself that I can change. And it feels good. until I mess up. Then it feels really bad.

I think maybe my mistake is that I don’t ask for God’s help often enough. For a long time, I went through this battle of understanding that I don’t have to prove myself to God. I could never make myself worthy of Him through deeds. Instead, it’s grace through His sacrifice that I fall on time and time again. I know that with absolute certainty and I live my life through that belief. But now I find myself trying to prove me to myself. As if life isn’t complicated enough. I only ask God to bless the outcomes of my goals, not the entire process. Like with my blog, I ask:

Dear God, I want to be dedicated to my blog, please help me.

There are smaller steps I need to be praying to God about concerning my dedication to the blog. For instance, if I know I have a busy week coming up and I’m not sure how I’m going to have time for the blog, I could pray and ask God to help me create time, give me the words to write and let them come effortlessly. That way, I’m being specific and I’m showing a constant need for God to help me in my endeavor. As opposed to praying for this colossal idea one time and expecting no hiccups.

Life is life and there will always be mistakes. But doing the wrong thing or making a mistake provides us with an opportunity to improve.


Reevaluate then Recalibrate.

Assess then Address.

I’m pretty much back on track, but I know I’ll eventually make another mistake. But the next time, I’m looking forward to it being an opportunity to improve and recalculate, not a self-bashing session.

I saw this commercial a few weeks ago and it stuck out to me. It’s a perfect ending to this piece.

What I Learned from “Moana” 

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I  saw the movie Moana four times in two days. I blame it on my three-year-old niece Journee, who not unlike any other toddler, never tires of watching the same thing over and over. And over again. To her defense and my hypocrisy, I do the exact same thing. I’ve seen Aladdin at least a hundred times. Usually, I’m knocking down theater doors to catch the latest animated film,  but Moana didn’t pique my interest like usual. The storyline didn’t draw me in the way other Disney movies did and…fine, I’ll just say it: I felt like we had already done the Hawaiian thing with Lilo and Stitch so it seemed a little been there done that-ish. I know, I’m sorry.

After being practically forced to watch Moana, I set aside my preconceived notions and gave the movie a fair chance and I can honestly say, it wasn’t my favorite. The whole demi-god deal was different in a way that didn’t quite suit me. And then the songs weren’t as up to par as I expect from Disney- I know I’m in the minority on that one. What I did love about Moana though, was the out of this world CGI cinematography. It was everything: colorful, exuberant, and breathtakingly real. I swear, I thought I could walk right through my television screen and onto the warm sands of Motunui. For that reason alone, I’d be willing to watch Moana a fifth time.

Just because I didn’t like the movie all that much, doesn’t mean there was no takeaway. There’s always a lesson to be learned. Moana’s journey was both inspiring and relatable. One that we all face in a way. Deciding to choose our destiny despite how hopeless the odds appear, is a battle we must all face. Moana made me feel capable. Like whatever it is I’m supposed to do, I can do it.

Moana left an impression of confidence, resilience, and courage on this 27-year-old heart. There were three lessons in particular that resonated with me.

Ready?

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Running from or ignoring the truth won’t make it any less real. Moana’s father did everything in his power to stop her from embarking on a Journey he knew would be dangerous. Even after he saw the effects of the curse beginning to infect the island, he held on to stubborn fear. He pretended that all the signs were coincidental and not a derivative. Blinded by fright, he chose to ignore it. But the burden of the curse did not lighten because he pretended it didn’t exist. If anything, he further encouraged it by being complacent and unacting. It was able to spread more rapidly because there was no resistance to it. Our problems don’t dissolve just because we don’t face them. Unacknowledged, they fester.

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Do it scared. I loved Moana’s courage. She knew she had to fulfill her destiny of restoring the heart of Te Fiti. She didn’t know exactly how or what to do, but she went anyway. She had no idea where to find Maui, yet she found him. What we often fail to realize is that the answers are within the journey, not before it. We spend a lot of time worrying and being apprehensive about trying to gather all the tools we need before we embark. Some tools, we simply acquire along the way. So, so what because we don’t have a military like plan on how to fulfill our purpose. Jump anyway. Leap nonetheless. We’ll do it scared if we have to, so long as we do it.

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What we do affects others. Because Moana was courageous enough to war against fear, her entire island was saved. Our society preaches a lot about self-love, but I think it’s truly about loving others. Finding ourselves in others. Learning to embrace those that are broken so that we may also allow ourselves to be embraced beyond our faults. And yes, I do believe that it is possible to love others without first loving yourself. When we do for others, it allows us to see an entire community within ourselves. What we do matters to others. How we live our lives today sets precedence for future generations. Many times dreams and purposes go unfulfilled because we lack confidence in ourselves. But say we were to shift the focus onto others and how us accomplishing our goals will have a positive impact on them. How different a place this might be.

Are we really Praying?

The headlines didn’t sink in right away. I thought here we go again and went about my day. As the evening progressed, chatter regarding the incident grew and it was only then that I began to understand the gravity of the situation. I finally pulled up CNN and read for myself what had occurred in Manchester.

Even after I fully comprehended the devastation of the bombing, I still felt hollow. The only word I could think of was more. More death and more hate. More tragedies my heart cannot bear to contain.

At times I am so overwrought with despair at the ceaseless death and destruction swallowing our world that I don’t allow the painful realities to sink in. An embarrassing and selfish admission, yet true. If I did, I fear I’d never be happy again. So I force myself to forget. I sometimes forget that my aunt passed away a few months ago or that my best friend’s dad has cancer. I forget that suicide is the second leading cause of death among adolescents, that there are terrorists who kill innocent people, and that human trafficking is a $32 billion per year industry.

I’ve seen the tweets of people proclaiming solidarity, the thinking of Manchester statuses on social media, the pictures and stories remembering those who perished, but what I’ve come across most are those who claim to be praying for Manchester.

It all appears very hopeful on the surface. It makes us each feel good inside to step out of our own lives to offer condolences and prayers to those affected by this horrific event.

But are we really praying?

I lost my brother almost three years ago. I still remember all the people who came to my parent’s house to console us. I’m sorry they all said. Which I’ve no doubt they were, but those two words peeved me to no end. What were they sorry for, they hadn’t taken his life. Moreover, their apologies could not bring him back. What irked me most was that I felt they were saying sorry partly out of obligation. Because that’s what’s you’re supposed to say when someone dies.

My pain that day was too real to have been blanketed by social formalities.

The day following John’s funeral, my best friend’s family was throwing a 90th birthday party for her grandmother. In an effort to get back into the swing of normalcy, I went. I arrived before the party started to help out. I’ll never forget, the moment Cherise ( my best friend Ashley’s cousin) saw me, she immediately enveloped me in an embrace. To this day, every time I recall that moment, it brings tears to my eyes. No words, just an embrace, filled with strength, safety, empathy, reassurance that it would be okay, and love. It was one of the only times I felt understood regarding my brother’s death.

I wish with all my might that I could pass that embrace along to Manchester right now. But the truth is, I’m not as certain as Cherise was that everything is going to be okay. I feel powerless because I know that in the next few months, I’ll be reading the same headline about a different city.

To answer my own question, no, I’ve not been praying for Manchester.

Did I say a little two minute prayer asking God to provide peace to the families of those lost and that He would cover them with His love? Yes, of course I did. And indeed I meant it. But to think that that was enough is a shame. We need to be falling on our faces in prayer, begging in desperation for peace in our world. Saying one little obligatory prayer simply will not do.

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Remember when King David’s son fell ill? He did not eat or bathe. He spent his nights on the ground pleading with God to heal his son.

That is the type of prayer we need to be submitting ourselves to. And I don’t mean literally (although, if you feel God leading you to fast, so be it), but we need to be tenacious in our prayers.

Part of the problem is that we don’t actually believe our prayers have power. Some of us aren’t even sure who we’re praying to. How then, can we be meaningful and confident in our prayers when we’ve no belief?

We’re in this religious limbo where everyone wants to be free and send their good energy out into the universe because they don’t want to be bogged down by the burden of religion. That’s another post entirely, but what’s interesting is that no one prays to the universe in times of tragedy.

There’s no hope in disbelief, and there’s no faith without hope. What then, is the point of our prayers?

That’s just it. They’re not prayers as much as they are empty words that temporarily make us feel better.

Guys, we have to wake up. We have to make decisions about what we believe. We have to have a spiritual foundation. Deep down, we know that we cannot take the evil out of this world on our own.

Because really, without God, what hope do we have to offer those affected by this horrific event?

To Manchester:

I am sorry. I’m sorry that my prayer for you wasn’t fueled by complete faith. I’m sorry that I only prayed once. I apologize that I’m not sorry enough to do more. I’m sorry that I can’t possibly imagine what you must be going through. If I truly did, I’d still be praying now. I’m sorry that this world is filled with a despair so deep that hope, at times feels impossible. Please forgive me for my perfunctory handling of this devastation.

If you would allow me to try again, I would like to say most sincerely, with all my faith behind me, I am actually praying to God for you Manchester.

Stay strong in Him,

Celestial 

A Talk with God

One of the main reasons I fell in love with writing was because I discovered that it’s how God and I mostly converse. Unscrambling and deciphering voices in my head is difficult, but when I release my mind on paper (or Microsoft Word) His voice becomes so clear. I wrote this one day when I was doing my usual dramatics of feeling overwhelmed. 

Every time I return to this conversation, a peace washes over me and I am reminded that God has me right where He wants me. I hope you all can draw some encouragement from it as well.

Do not worry about tomorrow; today has enough worries of its own.

Tomorrow’s troubles will inevitably trample me if I live solely for today.

Prepare for tomorrow, but do not linger in its sorrow. Breathe in this hour and love in this moment, it is the only thing certain. Do not quarrel with yourself over days not promised to you. It is my hand that steers your heart to beat and my spirit that will draw your last breath. Fret not the day after, for I have given you today, and in it you shall walk among all as a disciple to me.

This world will be destroyed in a short time and I have placed you in a position to save those around you. Lead them to the kingdom of heaven, for this earth will surely return to dust.

Your faith is dwindling because you rely on yourself.  You say to yourself, “how can I do it? “You make requests of yourself as if you are the conductor of your life. You’ve placed it in my hands and it is mine.  I simply ask your faith in me my child. You need not know how, or the day, or the hour, but rest in knowing that my hand is upon your life.

Every step you take is in direct accordance with my guide. Continue to seek me in new ways and I will place firm stones ahead of you. You must do the work of today before you can stress over the fruits of tomorrow. Continue to mold your gift, pray to me, know me,  and I will fulfill the desires of your heart. I have much more in store for you than you have dreamt, but you must heed my commands. Cease your worries of tomorrow and make me a proud father today.

Maybe To-later

It’s what my three year old nephew says when he doesn’t want to do something right away. I like it. Mostly because I’m feeling one hundred percent maybe to-later today. I have nothing for you guys: no epiphanies or spiritual awakenings. I have drained words of honesty to offer, but that’s about it. I’m always tired, but yesterday and today especially, I’ve been a walking personification of exhaustion. I’m on leg two of three for today and thank God this last flight to Nashville is only an hour and five minutes.

Since I relaunched my blog back in February, I’ve been dreading today. I knew it would come because it always does with me. My fingers are heavy as they graze over the keyboard, but I’m trying to power through. I had already halfway made up in my mind that I would skip out on posting today. I have no material, not much time to come up with anything, and I know the moment I get to my hotel room, I’m going to pass out.

But if I allow days like today to defeat me, I know I won’t make it very far. Days when I think I’m too tired, lacking in energy, depleted of mental capacity to do the things I’ve committed to. I promised myself that this time I would prove to myself that I can be consistent. Reliable. Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays are the days I post on “Soul Bare.” Period. If I don’t post today because I don’t feel like it, I’m taking ten steps back that I’ve taken too many times over again. Even though I know the WordPress community is not going to protest, or even notice if I don’t post today,  it’s still important that I do. I’m doing it for me. Hashtag selfish.

I only have eleven minutes and thirty seconds left on Chicago O’ Hare’s complimentary wifi, so I’ll wrap this up. Today’s post means nothing and yet, for me, it means so much. It means that I’m learning to fight past my feelings and emotions. I’m pushing beyond my boundaries to do the things I know need to be done regardless of if I’d rather do them later. This feeling of wanting to skip out on my commitment will reemerge, but I’ll have the ammunition to combat it. I’ll have today. I’ll remember that I didn’t feel like it, but I did it anyway.  When I wanted to fall asleep I forced myself to stay awake and do the work.

Maybe some of you feel the same way today. You want to abandon responsibility and slip away into a deep sleep. I hope this post will at the very least, encourage you to push through. I know you’ll be glad you did. What’s funny is that, as lethargic as I am right now, writing you all (and myself) has given me a boost of energy I wouldn’t have thought possible had I chosen to dismiss my commitment today. I think that’s part of the answer. We have to teach ourselves to ignore emotion and find the strength in doing it anyway. I know, easier said than done. But true.

To-later is the easy way out and it feels good for a little while, but when tomorrow arrives, later becomes regret. My three year old nephew doesn’t know any better and I pity him on the day he realizes that some things have to be done today. We however, have expired the luxury of tomorrow.

The answer is today.