Monday, July 21, 2014

How to Create a "Love Rulebook"

 I love love! I love the feel of love. I love what love stands for and for what love has the potential to create. I love that love is liberating, stimulating and empowering; love is magical to me. But even though love is an amazing feeling, love is sometimes difficult to give, difficult to share, difficult to express and difficult to demonstrate. And, it is especially challenging if you don’t know how a person needs to receive it, feel it, sense it, hear it or experience it. Honestly, it can be downright frustrating and in some ways, deflating if you are unable to express love in a way that resonates with your beloved.

So, I have an idea. The next time you decide to love someone ask for a “How to Love You Rulebook”. I am definitely going to request one because I want a love playbook, blueprint or a template if you will. My new motto in love is - Please… me connect the dots. I don’t mind doing emotional work, but Lawd have mercy, give me a brief overview, a summary or at least some bullet points to get me started. In other words, help me put my best foot forward. Help me win at loving you!

But not only that, I am also going to ask (delicately demand) that my beloved answer a few questions. And not only answer questions, but provide context, details, examples and some best practices. My new mantra is “Help me win at loving you”.  Yes, Help me win…. give me a fighting chance of successfully sharing my love by telling me upfront about your “love” needs, desires and wants. It is ok if you don’t know all of them, but please provide a few. Don’t make me guess, assume, surmise or play twenty `questions.  I don’t like to play “Name That Love Tune”; that doesn’t work for me. Provide me with some information so that I can love you purposely, passionately, persuasively, powerfully and profoundly. Help me LOVE you!!!

So here are some questions that I am going to get answered as soon as I decide to enter into a love connection or date seriously. Hopefully, these questions will help you too.
  • What are your values? What tenets add texture to your life? What guides you morally and ethically? What are your personal standards for life and for love? What important principles inform and influence your daily decisions or determine how you navigate in the world?  Please know them and then share please. And honestly, if you don’t know what your values are, please figure them out first before you even mention the word “exclusive”. Why? Because beliefs determine behavior and I want to understand what regulates, inspires and directs you. I want to understand your moral compass so I better appreciate who you are authentically and spiritually. I don’t mind surprises but I don’t want to be surprised if you are a liar, thief, parasite, opportunist, adulterer, molester, murderer or anything else that translates into jail time, house arrest, a witness protection program or just plain old irritation. So tell me what shapes you, sways you, stimulates you and strengthens you and your choices. Inquiring minds want, but really NEED, to know.
  • What is your love language?  That’s a good foundation question and hopefully the answer will set me up for love success so be sure to ask that too.  If my potential partner is unable to answer, I am going to ask her to complete the 5 Love Languages survey. Yes, I am aware that asking a potential mate to take a test is not romantic. But I am a pragmatic person desirous of making a person feel loved and valued. So complete the survey and give me the results …please and thank you. I will use the information to help me speak your love language fluently, emphatically and consistently so my love will penetrate the deepest depths of your soul.
  • What and where would you like additional support? Your spirituality, your career, your family? Just tell me so I can “show up”.  Tell me how I can motivate you, inspire you or just “fill the gap” for/with you.  Just tell me how and tell me why. If you are not sure, please conduct a life inventory and identify where you need or would like more encouragement, feedback, back-up and/or assistance. That way I can better serve, satisfy and stand with you. Remember the more data I have the better I can deliver or try to deliver what you need. Just remember….no information = no implementation, no education = no expectation, and no communication = no correction.  Where do you need or want me? I really want to be there for you.
  • What are your “pain points”? Is there some action, some event or some experience that still has the potential to elicit strong emotions?  Is there something in your past that triggers you or makes you “feel some type of way”?  If you don’t know, please figure it out and share it with me. And if you don’t know what it is, please don’t villianize me if I accidentally step on one of your emotional landmines and /or trigger an emotional tsunami. Because let’s face it - If you don’t know, how am I to know? If you are not aware, how can I be aware? Again, help me, help you because I don’t want to hurt you; I want to help heal you, hold you and hear you. So please ask yourself….……what information should I share so that my partner can care for me emotionally, physically, mentally and spiritually. You don’t have to share immediately. Wait until I have earned your trust and then spill the beans because I want to win at loving you.
  • What are you dislikes and likes?  I need to know what makes you tick so please share that with me ASAP. Tell me your truth. And, I beg you to leave your “representative” at home when sharing with me too because I don’t have the energy or desire to date both of you. If you don’t like children, tell me. If you don’t like how I run my life, tell me. I am not promising that I will change but together we can determine if having a relationship with each other is viable. So please be honest and provide some information up front. Be candid; candor and I are friends.  Don’t try to camouflage who you are or try to convince me of who you are not. Don’t be an imposter or an actor. Because let’s face it - you cannot act for 24 hours a day and I refuse to act for 24 minutes a day. Acting is draining and nonproductive. Just thinking about non-stop feigning and faking makes me tired. Whew…..I am about to take a nap.
Listen, here’s the bottom-line. Don’t deceive me and I will not deceive you. Remember, we don’t have to be together so speak up and tell me the truth. Let’s save both of us some frustration, energy, money and time. Also, if we are honest and since we are probably both good people we may have an opportunity to transition to a different type of “ship” and remain in each other’s lives.
  • What does happiness look like and feel like for you?  Do you know? If not, please think about it because if you don’t know what happy feels like or looks like you will not be able to discern when “happy” shows up. You will have me doing emotional gymnastics trying to please you and placate you. And since I am almost 50 I am not, but really I am not interested, in emotional twists, turns, gyrations and whirls. Drama does not excite me; it frustrates and antagonizes me.  Mind games sap my energy and poison my spirit. So, slow down and construct your own definition/version of happy and explain it to me. Also, be ready to discuss your role in achieving your own “happy” too. That way you can bring your happy and I can bring my happy and together we can hopefully achieve the “ier” – HAPPIER!! Yes, I know. That doesn’t sound passionate, romantic or glamorous. Sorry….. But for me being content and happy are both of on my short list and both are non-negotiable.
  • What is your vision for your life? What do you want to accomplish? What do you want to do with your life? What’s your purpose? What do you see for your life? Now, don’t get mad when I ask you that on the first date. I need to know who I am dealing with. I can’t build a life with someone who does not know what they want to build. I want a person who has a divine mission and a calling on their life. Mine you…..I said a calling and not just a craving because cravings are temporary. I need a mate who has passion, purpose and a plan. And if you are restructuring, redefining and re-evaluating your life, share that information too.  Change and paradigm shifts are a sign a growth and I welcome both. But I don’t want to be involved with someone randomly moving through life. It is not wrong if you enjoy living capriciously and carefree; do you. But living life that way produces anxiety in my spirit and I am already jumpy enough, at least that is what I have been told.
Here is the bottom line:  I want to know who you are and where you are going so I can determine if I can or want to go with you.  I know, discussing visions and life goals upfront may not be the sexiest conversations, but to me, having a vision is extremely stimulating and sexy. So please be able to share what you want out of life, why your aspirations invigorate you, how you plan on achieving your life’s work, when do you expect to reach your objectives and how I can stand (support) with you in your vision/purpose. Yes, that’s a tall order but we both are worth it.
  • Do you know your little girl and what role does she play in your life? Everybody has an inner child that cries out or attention. Everybody has an inner child who holds and keeps secrets. Everybody has an inner child who has experienced some pain. If you don’t know your little girl or if you ignore you little girl, I will not have an opportunity to see all of you. I will not have a chance to understand parts of your past that help me have a better perspective of your present/future. I want to know your little girl and I will introduce you to my little girl to you too. That way we can love each other honestly, deeply, thoroughly and authentically.  We can bless each other, build each other, bolster each other and broaden each other. Again, help me love ALL of you; you are worth it and you deserve it.
  • What “Ds” have you been through? Have you experienced divorce, death, devastation, depression, displacement, disappointment, desperation, debt, disaster, dichotomy, disease, discrimination or anything else that starts with a D? Have you? I want to know. Because if you have not, I am not sure if you have the capacity, experience, expertise or the tenacity to deal with challenges, chaos and complexity. Here is the truth - If you tell me that you have NEVER experienced anything bad, unnerving or unsettling, I am going to think that you are from a another planet or that you are just plain unaware. Both thoughts make me nervous.
 I personally want and need someone who understands struggle, sacrifice, sadness and success. I want somebody who has dealt effectively with trials, tribulation and triumphs. I want a powerhouse who is no stranger to opposition, obstacles, obligations and insurmountable odds. I want a partner who knows how to deal with conflict, chaos, confusion and confrontation. In other words, I want a person who has been tried and tested by life, but understands that she is a overcomer, conqueror and warrior. I want a person who knows that she is a winner and not a whiner.

 I don’t care that you have been beat down, broke down or just busted and disgusted. I want to know that you have the gumption to get back up and to keep trying. I want to be convinced that if I have to dig a ditch to support us that you will go get your own shovel and help. I want to know that if we lost everything that you are resilient and will work to get it back. I want to know that if we hit a rough patch in our relationship that we will fight and turn over every stone to find our way back to each other. I want to be assured that if I got sick that you can nurse me back to health while managing the household at the same time. Yes, that’s a lot, but I am a lot of woman. I am a woman who has been broken down but built back up. I am not ashamed to admit that I have a few battle scars from life and some from hard living. Those hardships and hard knocks have equipped for durability and longevity. In the words of Imani Evans, I am a women warrior and I desire the same.

So let me know if you have been through some hardships, some pain and some frustration because people who are survivors interest, excite and inspire me. People who beat the odds or challenge convention motivate me. Courage, determination and perseverance are traits that I value and those qualities also bring out the best in me. So, share you “Ds” and don’t be scared when I share mine because I have experienced about 10 of them myself and I am a stronger because of them. I have been shaped by struggle, molded by misery and perfected by pain to be the awesome woman that I am. No, I am not boasting! I am just blessed and wise enough to know it.
  • Are you financially capable of taking care of yourself? In other words, are you able to take care of your own financially needs? I must admit that I might ask this question on the second date because I want to understand your financial situation. I am not asking to review your stock portfolio or to see your credit score yet. But I do want to know if you are looking for a meal ticket, a sugar momma, a cougar, some financial relief, a good meal or a ride home. I need to know if you expect presents and lots of gifts because neither of them will be forthcoming. I may treat you to a movie or a mid-priced dinner every now and then but nothing elaborate.  No, I am not selfish but I am part of the “sandwich” generation – a son in college on 1 side and aging parents on the other side. So if money is your goal, just wave at me and keep stepping. I only have enough finances for my son’s education, nursing homes, eldercare, pharmaceuticals and therapy. Yes, therapy! If not, how will I escape the stress of being sandwiched, cramped, pressed and confined between two generations that need me? Therapy is not a luxury for me these days; it is a necessity.
So, do you have your own cash or at least some good credit? I have my own money but I don’t have any to spare. Just wanted you to know up front in case you are looking for a new revenue stream…..the stream is dry, bone dry.
  • What role does spirituality play in your life? You had to see this question coming. God is important to me and will always be a part of my life. And even though my beliefs are private, how I live out my faith is public because I believe that Jesus should always be connected to justice. So if your beliefs are myopic, traditional, sexist, homophobic, racist, elitist and chauvinistic, I am not for you. Why? Because I believe that God’s love is inclusive, radical and transformational. By the way, I also believe that Christianity is not the only way to have a relationship with God.  And just for the record, I believe in prayer, fervent and consistent prayer. I also believe in sharing my time, tithes and my talents to bless others too. So if you are person who wants to pray every now and then and prefers not to share your talents with the world, that’s fine. Just know that I am not for you because I plan on being used as a vessel to edify people and glorify God. No, I don’t know what being a vessel will require me to do in the future. But whatever is required, I am doing it. Of course, if we are together I will not make decisions without you because I honor our relationship. However, not serving will NEVER be an option for me and that’s the truth.
Well, thanks for indulging me. I know that’s a lot but I hope the questions help you as you embark on your own journey to CREATE LOVE.  Stay tuned. I will let you know how things turn out for me and I look forward to hearing how the questions work for you. All the best.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Plan Your Work...Work Your Plan!

Plan Your Work – then- Work Your Plan

Success is not a onetime event. You cannot set it and forget it. Success is a mindset and it is developed by years of planning, working, assessing, planning, working, assessing, etc. In order to be successful at anything you have to have a plan, work your plan and assess your plan. I don’t ever go to trial without a plan. In fact, the plan begins when I meet with the client, we begin planning from day one. We may have to modify the plan as information develops, but we do not fly by the seat of our pants, and neither should you. So, here are a few thoughts.

1. Start with a Plan – Most people do not plan to fail, they just fail to plan. Studies have shown that people, who have a savings plan with a specific goal in mind, tend to save more than people who just put money away. Why? Because having a plan gives you something to wrap your head around, it keeps you focused. It makes giving up that Starbucks on Fridays easier because you are not depriving yourself, but rather working toward something. It’s all in the way you look at it.

2. Work Your Plan – It is not enough to have a plan; you have to work your plan. If you create a business plan or a savings plan and then put it in a drawer, the plan will not jump out of the drawer and go to work on its own. “You” have to do the work. Put specific action items in your plan that you believe will help you get one step closer to your desired goal. Each action item should be consistent with the overall goal of the plan.

3. Asses Your Plan – Review your plan regularly so that you can determine what you need to do in order to make the plan work. If you’re not assessing, you’re just guessing! You have to assess and reassess over and over and over. Why? To make sure that the plan you created is getting you to where you want to be. If it is, great! If it is not, then you may need to tweak your plan or scrap it and start all over. Don’t just have a plan for the sake of having a plan. Likewise, don’t just work a plan for the sake of working. Make sure the plan you create is getting you where you want to be.

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Monday, July 7, 2014

How to Love A Broken Woman

Every woman has a little girl inside of her. For some women that little girl experienced pain beyond anything she could imagine. Those of us who made it through the pain, on the other side, have become survivors. We are survivors of many things, such as various forms of abuse, neglect, health challenges and other forms of trauma that tried to keep us from being the dynamic women we were destined to be. But it didn't win and instead we developed the coping skills that allowed us to persevere. In some cases we learned to re-parent ourselves, escape in any way possible, or repress the memories of an all too painful childhood. We are teachers, leaders, healers and women doing amazing things against all odds.

But for some of us there is still a dark place, a place wherein there is brokenness. It is a place that can only be filled with authentic love. It can only be filled with the kind of unconditional and compassionate love that is, too often, uncommon and seemingly esoteric. You see, some of us hold this brokenness deep down inside of us and quietly yearn for the one who can see it, hold it, and love us anyway. We yearn for the kind of love that doesn't make room for hiding or shaming. Instead it is the beacon for our soul to voyage into the light.

I want to be clear that my use of the term "brokenness" in this article is not meant to be synonymous with dysfunctional. The brokenness I speak of is the kind of hurt that tugs at your heart, but does not rip through to your soul. It is the kind of brokenness that makes us human. It reminds us of our humanity and our strength, simultaneously. It is the gateway to compassion and empathy for others. It does not define us but rather becomes part of the collective experience that is us.  This brokenness is the flawed I AM in all survivors.

My personal story of brokenness begins at such a young age that I have a difficult time remembering all of my childhood. Instead I have patches of memories. Fortunately, my brother is very nostalgic and keeps some of the precious memories green for me. As a little girl I endured my share of unspeakable hurts. I experienced sexual, emotional and verbal abuse that took a toll on my self-esteem. I remember being called painful names that pierced my heart sharper then any physical lash could ever do. The glory is that I have truly forgiven the one who delivered such verbal venom. The forgiveness was not a onetime act, but rather a journey that we took together. I wholeheartedly believe we are both better for it. As I get older, the healing continues and the hurt becomes less and less palpable. Don't get me wrong, it hasn't disappeared but it has taken a backseat to an unshakable joy. This remains my daily intention.

Surviving my wounded little girl has been nothing short of a miracle. When I think about those occurrences I do not do so with grief. To the contrary, it reminds me of my strength, perseverance and determination to defy that painful existence. From at least the age of 14 I realized that the God of my understanding had a call on my life. And even then I knew I would accept it. I didn't know how and I'm not even sure I truly knew what that meant at the time. But I do remember a resolve in my spirit. It was a resolve that didn't come easily. I fought for it. Thus, like any warrior, I did not come out unscathed.

With a beat-up self-esteem following me like a ominous shadow, I became self-destructive. I imploded and exploded as I tried to grapple with the rage. I didn't know that rage belonged to the ones who had hurt me. I thought it was mine to bear. Often I turned it outward, but mostly the gun of destruction was pointed directly at myself. So it is no surprise that I became suicidal. However as I reflect on this time in my life, I am very clear that I didn't want to die; I just did not know how to make the pain stop. I did not know how to make people see me...really see me. I had a total of three suicide attempts. First with a razor blade to my wrist and twice with pills. The second time with the pills was the last suicide attempt I would ever make. As I was being rushed down the hallway in the hospital staring at the ceiling with a glimpse of the tortured faces of my parents in my peripheral vision, it became clear-- I want to live. I want to live! In that moment I chose unpredictable as it had been. Today, when I looked down at my wrist I see the small scar from the razor. Over the years, the cut has shrunken to a little over a quarter inch. It healed with a bit of keloid tissue and it is now my warrior mark.

This small scar oddly links me to my African sisters in a strange way. While it seems that the practice is becoming less and less utilized, scarification for women in some African tribes is a very sacred practice (judge it as you will). Through research you'll find that there are many reasons for these markings. In some cases it is done to beautify the woman, or as part of a spiritual practice, or simply to identify members of a tribe. The marks are often made with a small razor, much like the one I used as a confused and hurting child. So my "mark" looks very much like these tribal markings.  I have decided to reframe and reclaim its meaning. It identifies me with my tribe of warrior women who have overcome trauma (Note: by no means am I advocating self harming. I am talking about acceptance).  My small scar is no longer an indication of pain. Instead, it is a reminder that I am a survivor.  More than that, it is a reminder that I am a warrior; I am an overcomer. Even when I don't know how, I always know that the miracle will come. Then gratitude fills my heart and just for a moment the brokenness mends.

I know that my story is not unique. I know that there are powerful women all around us doing amazing things, while holding a wounded little girl at bay. Like me, those women are also warriors. They are not amazing in spite of their brokenness; they are amazing because the brokenness could not defeat them. And all of us deserve to be loved, wholly and fully. I am grateful that I can proclaim to have found the kind of love that sees me. She sees me and she loves me.

To all those warrior women who recognize themselves in my story, I say --we are one in the same! To them I say--I am glad that you made it! Your experience does not define you. It merely gave you an opportunity to step into your greatness. Now, to all of those women who are fortunate enough to capture the heart of one of these women, I say – – blessed are you! The journey you have accepted will heal, amaze and inspire you both.

Here are 3 very key tips on how to love a warrior women with a wounded little girl inside:
  1. If you are trying to be her savior, then you have missed the point. Even more tragic – if
    you are trying to be her savior, then you don't fully see her.  
    It is not your job, nor is it within your power to "fix" her. Besides, it is an exercise in futility to fix something that isn't broken. Your beloved is not broken in that way. The work of healing is hers and hers alone. Your role is to be her respite from the world of--what I call--Earth people who do not fully see her. Your role is to let her know, with consistency of word and deed, that your love is strong enough to hold her vulnerability and her strength.
  2. Be committed to doing your own work too. The best thing you can be for your sweetie is the best "you" that you can be. I believe that who we attract as a mate is no mistake. We come together to heal each other, or at least the opportunity is there for us to embrace. We can take it or leave it, but the need for growth will not go away. We will find ourselves repeating lessons over and over until we welcome our individual emotional and spiritual evolution. When we come together, whether consciously or unconsciously, we will share our joy and our pain. Subsequently, we may trigger each other's old wounds. This is not a reason to run, but rather an opportunity to turn and face the familiar for the purpose of healing. I truly believe this. I've seen it for my clients and for myself. When it happens it is a gift.
  3. You must be willing to see your warrior woman with what I call "love bifocals". Okay, so the name may sound weird and honestly it even makes me giggle. :-) However it is no joke. Wearing love bifocals means being able to see your beloved it in her dichotomy and celebrate her fully. It means seeing all her parts and loving the whole. You must be able to see her hurt places and hold them gingerly. Sometimes the holding is meant to be literal and other times it means holding her in your heart with compassion and grace. It is about witnessing her story and never, never, never using it as a weapon against her. 
Conversely, wearing love bifocals has another lens. Through the other lens you must be able to see her strength and courage. You must be willing to bear witness to all of her while not holding her on an unattainable, unsustainable pedestal. To genuinely understand this means to love the real person and not the fantasy that might make you feel good, look good to others, or serves as a trophy for your ego. Ahhh...this can be the tricky one. It is not for the faint of heart and not everyone can see through this lens clearly. But if you are able to focus your love bifocals in just the right balance, then you will find yourself gazing at a gem!

Loving a warrior woman with a brokenness is not to be done lightly, nor taken for granted. If you have her heart, treasure it. Share your vulnerabilities with one another as a road map to deeper intimacy. It will anchor you forever when you are able to love her...mind, body and soul. It is not a love of perfection but rather a love of powerful progress.

It is my greatest hope that this article resonates with your spirit and that you find beauty in everything you see. I honor your journey beyond the brokenness and wish you great success as you seek to Create Love in all that you do.

Nya Akoma! (Take Heart)
Imani Evans, MA

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My dedication to survivors everywhere!