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What I learned from LAUGHING through my PAIN…

What I learned from LAUGHING through my PAIN…

Life happens.  We can all agree with that.

Honestly my dad used to always warn about those unfavorable moments as an adult.  Those moments when you watch your credit score plummet from 700+ to about 500.  Or, when you have to gather yourself after a serious accident sets you back.  What about the time that you had to sit out of graduate school for a year because of a mistake that you didn’t correct in enough time.  Wait, I almost forgot one,  the event of losing a parent before they were able to witness the wins in your 30s.

Over the past month I’ve been reminded of the moments that I spent with my father after my serious burns accident.  The posts that I shared on social media were rooted in laughter.  My dad was one of the funniest guys that I’ve ever known.  I’m not just saying that because he was dad.  He was absolutely hilarious.  The days that I spent with him during that journey of my life were unforgettable.  He encouraged me in his own little way to laugh through my pain.  He reminded me that things would get better.

They did.

Everything is a process.  No one can tell you how to cope with certain things that happen in your life.  For example, no one can tell you how to grieve.  I’ve had plenty of people ask me how did you keep pushing after the everything you’ve been through.

Laughter.

I find laughter in every situation.  I can remember at my dad’s funeral.  I was sitting at the end of the pew with my head down, and all of a sudden I heard the choir singing.  You would think that I would be moved to tears, because they were singing a song of encouragement.  I don’t remember the lyrics because the A and B selection was so terrible that it took everything in me not to burst into tears from laughing.

One thing that I’ve learned within the last seven years is the way that I respond to certain situations in my life can inspire others.

SAY WHAT?!

Yes, my response to those dark moments in my life was encouraging someone else.

You mean someone was watching me?

**NEWS FLASH: THERE IS ALWAYS SOMEONE WATCHING YOU!**

I thought I told you that before?!

Well, this weekend I was reminded of how I impact the lives of those around me that witnessed my highs and my lowest of lows.

On Sunday, I was asked about my hope during a photoshoot. What do I hope to accomplish with the documentary projects, children’s book series, and this platform of being the girl behind the lens.

 

Photography by JGrant 

 

I said to inspire and encourage laughter on a daily basis.

Hopefully, whatever I’ve been through can inspire someone else to be better.  That’s my mindset everyday when I’m assisting the young people in my community.  What are some of the mistakes that I can prevent them from making.  They are my motivation, and it doesn’t hurt that they put a smile on my face every day.

When I look back over those moments that should have destroyed me, I find one common denominator: laughter.

No matter the situation; find the sunshine.

On this first day of Spring, embrace it with all the laughter you have.

Don’t allow any dark moment to cloud your future.

Time to bloom…

XOXO,

RJ

 

 

You inspire me…Thank you!

You inspire me…Thank you!

Yes, I’m talking about Y-O-U. The person reading this right now.  You inspire me to keep grinding.  Keep pushing.  You motivate me.  The DM messages, the tweets, Instagram posts, Facebook posts, they all push me to bring you the content that YOU want to read and see.

Thank you! I see, and hear you.  I’m on it!

Well, it’s the last Monday in November! Where did the month go right?! I hope you had a great Thanksgiving, and reflected about what you’re #SteeleThankful for?

Can you see the finish line?  It’s so close. This challenge has definitely changed my perspective on so many things in my life, and the lives of others. ❤

The tag line for the November Challenge is in the featured photo. Even though the challenge occurs in November it’s a mantra you can apply to your everyday life. And what’s the word for today: MOTIVATION. 

Why are you #SteeleThankful for MOTIVATION? What motivates you? Lemme know. Use the hashtag #SteeleThankful cause I can’t wait to read it. 

Before I forget, I would love to hear your feedback on the challenge this year.  Did you participate online and/or offline?

Let’s finish this challenge, and 2016 STRONG!

Xoxo,

R.J.

How Long? Frustration…Confusion…Intimidation…Distraction…

How Long? Frustration…Confusion…Intimidation…Distraction…

How long Lord?

How long do I have to wait for the right opportunity?
How long do I have to wait for “the one?”
How long before you bless my kids to do better or want better?
How long before you deliver my family member from their addiction?
How long do I have to wait before I can pay off this debt?
How long before this flight leaves? (Lol my life in 2015 😩)
How long do I have to pray before I see a breakthrough?

Well…

I think the answer to all of these questions is in God’s timing. We have to be aligned within His will, or there’s really no way this thing called life will work.

At times I can become distracted.  That feeling usually leads me down a path that is hard to recover from.  We can become distracted by window shopping, and enter a store front that we had no business entering.  The intimidation of investing in that new shirt or skirt.  Receiving the credit card statement, or looking at your bank account the next day/month is a level of confusion.  A month later when you’re unable to make a payment on a bill, you become FRUSTRATED.  Do you get my drift?

It leads me back to the first question.  How long?

How long do you want this cycle to continue?  How long before I am delivered from the terrible decision making in my life?

Do you want to be delivered from the situation that you’re currently in.

YES, R.J. YES!

Shoot, I do too. Lol.  I can go through all of the above emotions within one day, and I find myself saying, How long, Lord?  When will that windfall that I really need happen?

Are you ready?
Are you ready? Where are you going?

 

You aren’t ready!

Ouch.

What changes do you (we) need to make in order to choose the path that is right, and stop expecting God to do EVERYTHING.  We have to roll up our sleeves, and get dirty.

So, How long before the breakthrough?

No one knows the answer to that.  You have to keep believing, keep plugging away, and don’t get defeated.  It is TOUGH, but I know it will be worth it.

XOXO,

R.J.

 

Surrounded by Dream Chasers: Trust the process…

Surrounded by Dream Chasers: Trust the process…

I almost said, No.  I almost missed the opportunity.  I almost decided to play it safe.  I almost missed the chance to leap.  Oh, but my faith wouldn’t let me do it.

When I heard one of my childhood friends was hosting the annual event for the International Natural Hair Meet-up Day in my hometown I couldn’t wait until tickets went on sale.

I wrestled with the idea of being a vendor before purchasing my ticket, but didn’t think I was ready.  I waited until it was too late to inquire about the opportunity, and missed out.  So, I thought.

I was contacted a couple of weeks later about being a vendor for the event.  Was I ready?  I was scheduled for a separate event at the local library for authors and illustrators.  The library event was in the morning, and her event was in the evening.  I could do both, right? Again, I asked myself.  Was I ready?

Next thing I know, I said, “Girl lemme do it.”

**Exhale**

Vista Print was having a sale, and I thought oh my goodness this is PERFECT!  I can get a banner made, and look into getting a personalized t-shirt.

Promo Alleykats T-Shirt
Promo Alleykats T-Shirt

Alleykats Banner

Highlights from Saturday:

Library Professionals unite, and a cool member of the Alleykat Club!

Benton Harbor Public Library - Local Authors & Illustrators Reception
Benton Harbor Public Library – Local Authors & Illustrators Reception

I was able to connect with one of my favorite elementary teachers, Mrs. Elwell at the event Saturday evening.  She was so moved that I had written a book, she began crying.  We shared the emotional moment together, and parted with this picture.

Mrs. Elwell and I - INHMD

 

What if I would have said, No, I don’t think I’m ready to be a vendor.  This was my first event being a vendor, and connecting with so many cool people was truly a priceless experience.  I’m so proud of my childhood friend Dashuna, and the success of her event along with her Serenity’s Hair LLC staff/volunteers.

I’m #SteeleThankful for my strong support system.  My mom and sister do whatever they can to make sure that my dreams come true.  They are definitely my cheerleaders.

I scheduled an interview between both events on Saturday for the Final 48 Project. I was sitting in the car playing around with SnapChat reflecting on my morning, and preparing for my interview.  My morning went to a whole new level after a phone call from my mom.  Here’s a snippet of the video I recorded.

Squad Goals - R.J., My Sister, and My Mom
Squad Goals – R.J., My Sister, and My Mom

 

Amazing weekend! Thank God for the lesson and testimony.  Trust the process, keep the faith, and JUMP! It’s worth it.

Don’t forget to grab your copy of the hit book, Adventures of Alleykats – The Missing President!

Xoxo,

R.J.

Why we all need to choose forgiveness…

Why we all need to choose forgiveness…

“You don’t know who you are until God sets you free.”

When Pastor Austin said this in church yesterday I was stuck to my seat. It’s so very true. Have you ever been lost in a situation that you don’t know who you are anymore?

That was my story a year ago.

When I was in church yesterday I was convicted. I’m absolutely grateful that I’m not in the same place I was in a year ago, but I haven’t completely forgiven the people that treated me terribly from Summer 2014 – 2015.

I’ve never hated anything or anyone so much and I know that the key to all of my dreams will only be revealed once I forgive them.

How can I be grateful that I’m no longer in that situation but I choose not to forgive them. How does that work?

How they treated me was not for me to understand. It was for me to grow deeper in my faith. Jesus is the only reason why I kept my cool. I’m serious. Not laughing or giggling. I’m being real here. The situation was unbearable at times. I constantly asked myself, “What Would Jesus Do?”

When I received my walking papers last year it was a month earlier than MY PLANNED departure date.

Now…that…was…God!

I was so miserable, and my mental state was at risk. My plan was to exit stage left and just consider the situation a BUST. I was completely OVER IT. God had a better plan (Always better than our own right) and allowed me to exit with style and grace. They were stunned, and I was rejoicing on the inside with a smile on the outside. I felt like breakdancing!  The peace that I received on that day was so calm.  That storm was officially over.

Even though I left that place and never went back. I didn’t forgive. That’s on me. I’ve talked about bitterness and not forgiving can block you from your blessings. So, I had to take a long, hard look in the mirror. The negative energy was still present, and I needed to let go.

I decided to purge those feelings, and leave them on this post:

I forgive those that tried to rob me of my joy and smile. 

I forgive those that tried to hinder my growth. 

I forgive myself for allowing others to mistreat me. 

I know that God has set me free, and everyday I’m trying my hardest to glorify God’s Kingdom. I know sometimes it’s hard to forgive but if Jesus can forgive, so can I. One day at a time.

Today, I am able to focus on my many projects, and I honestly couldn’t be happier.

I know who I am, and I’ve never felt so free in my life.

**Chains Broken**

Don’t CLOSE the Blinds, there’s a war outside…

Don’t CLOSE the Blinds, there’s a war outside…

People are hurting. I’m seeing it more and more everyday. Honestly don’t know why, maybe they feel unfulfilled. Not living in their purpose? Something just ain’t right.

I spent my undergrad years at Western Michigan University. I have some truly fond memories of a place I called home; Kalamazoo.

2006, My best friend/pusha at Waldo's on Western Michigan's campus.  The best mixed grilled wings!
2006, My best friend/pusha at Waldo’s on Western Michigan’s campus. The best wings!

When I heard about someone randomly shooting people on Saturday night in Kalamazoo, I thought it was a nightmare. Or, maybe a story on one of those fake gossip sites that reports false stories. It was indeed true. The victims went from enjoying dinner at Cracker Barrel or being at a car lot to being gunned down in an act of senseless violence.

I will say it again, the people are HURTING! There’s a war going on outside of my front door. What can we do? Pray? Prayer without work is dead! Prayer changes a lot but I’m sure God wants us to put some action behind those prayers. Ya think?

We aren’t doing what God designed us to do. You see I said “we” right? I know I’m not the only person. We are scared of the unknown, and that fear can lead to some unfortunate circumstances. Where did our mustard seed go?

What transpired on Saturday has reminded me that we have to get about our business. I know that I’ve been called to work with my people in such a way that it continues to blow my mind DAILY. YES, DAILY! Instead of being afraid to face the war that is going on outside, I need to reassure myself that I have a hedge of protection around me in order to carry out the plan. God’s plan.

What can you do today in order to live in your purpose? It’s time to put some action behind our words. The people are hurting, the people are lost, and they aren’t always coming to church when they’re broken. They’re outside the double doors. How can we change someone’s life today? There’s a war going on outside. What are you gonna do about it?

#Pray4Kalamazoo

Why did I go to GRAD SCHOOL? **REAL TALK ALERT**

Why did I go to GRAD SCHOOL? **REAL TALK ALERT**

Looking at debt accrued after undergrad and the amount I racked up in grad school I can’t help but ask myself one question. “Why did I take out so much in loans?”  To live? Well, I had a full-time job, but shoot I wasn’t making NO MONEY!

The only time I get upset about my student loan balance is when I receive that dreaded letter that states that my debt to income ratio is too high.  I get it! I should have been more responsible in grad school.  Thanks for the constant reminder!

My advice to you when it comes to graduate school, be sure it’s really what you want to do.  Don’t waste time or money.  Research scholarships, paid internships, fellowships, and you don’t have to accept all of the loan money that is offered.  In grad school there is no option of Pell grants, so don’t bank on that money!

Do I regret anything?  I don’t regret the education. I will admit that I definitely mismanaged that money.   Whew! I can say I learned so much in my 20s!  Lessons…Learned!

One of the best decisions I made with that money was investing in my education, and neighborhood.  When I was laid off from my full-time job while in grad school, I had to use the remainder of my refund check to live.  It was important that I lived in a safe neighborhood, because every single woman should invest more in their living situation vs clothes!

Even though I paid the price for grad school there is one thing I must remember.  No one, I mean no one can take the education, experience, and relationships that were formed during that journey.

White House of the Confederacy.  Without grad school I would have never experienced this amazing internship.
White House of the Confederacy. Without grad school I would have never experienced this amazing internship.

I may complain or joke about what in the world did I do with all of that money, but at the end of the day it was one of the best decisionsI could have ever made.  Graduate school taught me the meaning of perseverance (to learn more about the journey check out my first post).  Do I have to work a little harder to pay those loans off?  Absolutely.  Do I stress about them anymore?  Nope.  As my dad would say, “hey you pay them somethin’ and don’t worry about it.”  The money will come, and they will be paid off soon enough!

Are you thinking about college?  Grad school?  As I stated before be sure to do your research, and have a plan in place.  The plan may change so write everything in pencil instead of pen! 😉

Until next time!

 

Don’t forget, I’m just an email away (info@steelelens.com)!  To connect with me or share your feedback you can tweet me @Steelelens

 

 

Breaking Curses: Jumpin’ Like Jordan!

Breaking Curses: Jumpin’ Like Jordan!

Curses are real.  One bad decision has the potential to haunt you for years!  One decision that was made in 2004 nearly ruined my life.

I was an undergraduate student, and I thought I was living the life.  I had my own apartment, car, and to some it appeared as if I wanted for nothing.  That was not the case.  I was secretly racking up personal student loan debt because I was too ashamed to say that I was in over my head.  Wait, let me be honest, I wasn’t budgeting properly.

I was constantly reminded of bad decisions from college via my credit report. I had over 700+ credit score in 2008 but when these loans were charged off my score plummeted. I was in grad school, working a full time job making less than 30k, and I felt defeated.

My message to you all is to hang in there cause it truly gets better!  If I can bounce back from the seven year cloud that was over my head, so can you!  As of today, the accounts have been resolved and removed.  I’m on the road to my credit score increase, and financial stability.  This is the second year that I’ve participated in the Live Richer  Challenge with the Budgetnista (Tiffany Aliche) and I must say it works.  It challenges you to make better decisions with your finances, and I’m utilizing my accountability partner.  She’s closing on a house, and I’m just trying to live richer this year!

Don’t let any curses have control over your life.  Grab an accountability partner, stay focused, and pray for guidance everyday because it can be done!

 

The Fat Kid Nobody Wants to Play With…

The Fat Kid Nobody Wants to Play With…

First Monday in 2016. Do you have your gym membership, yet? Brushed off your workout gear? Started eating right? Stopped drinking after the 1st? Yeah, me neither.

I started before the new year. To be honest, I started a 5:30 am workout routine two weeks before 2015 concluded. Why?! I was tired of my clothes not fitting.  I’m not buying a new wardrobe (especially when I own classic pieces), and I had to realize I was depressed.

I had to finally sit down and figure out where the problem began.  I was heartbroken after losing my father, and for three months sat in the lower level of my sister’s house putting together a plan for my life, and eating.  I gained a few pounds, but I was still active with friends.  The positive thing that came from those ninety days was deciding to return to Virginia for an internship, and finish my last year of graduate school.

I maintained my weight through graduate school, and even connected with classmates that were quite active.  Even though I was active, it still wasn’t enough.  Two months after graduating I moved to Dallas for a job.  I was excited about the new start, and how everything came together for the opportunity.  Three months into the new position, I began to think, “what in the world did I sign up for?”

I was working crazy hours, filming for my own project (I began a doc studies program a month after graduating), and working with an illustrator for my children’s book.  I would eat, drink a glass of wine, and go to sleep.  That was my routine.  Even though I was pursuing my purpose, and passion I was extremely depressed at my current job.  I was surrounded by unhappy people, and it began to weigh heavily on me.  I saw a change in myself, and I didn’t like it.  It was hard to get out of bed in the morning, I wasn’t sleeping at night, and my clothes became tighter, and tighter.

I had to make a decision, will I stay or will I go?  I put together a plan to vacate my office by August 31.  God had a better plan.  I was a week away from “celebrating” being employed for a year in July, and I was called into the office.  I was given my walking papers, and how to apply for unemployment.  I was elated! I could focus on my purpose.  God did that!

Now, I’m sitting here thinking, “God did that for me, what can I do for myself?” I was still unhappy because my clothes were still tight.  Winter coats don’t fit, and my jeans are producing a muffin top! My mindset needed to shift.  My sister has been working with a trainer since April or May.  She’s down thirty pounds, and she looks GREAT! I want the same results.  I’m beginning week 3 with my trainer, and I’m ready to KILL IT!  I want everything that God has in store for me this year, and a healthier lifestyle will keep me energized to get there.  Happy New Year all, let’s crush it this year!

Be Aware of the Signs…Write it Down or Take a Pic!

Be Aware of the Signs…Write it Down or Take a Pic!

I currently have over 1,200 photos/videos stored on my external memory drive.  I’m able to relive moments from 2007 to the present.  The photos that I choose not to share on my social media sites are more than likely there.  Well, I should probably say that I have not shared them, yet.

I spent three wonderful summers in Richmond, Virginia as an Intern/Intern Supervisor at the Museum of the Confederacy (American Civil War Museum).  My last summer in Virginia was very eye-opening.  I was going back to North Carolina to complete my final year of grad school, and I was still attempting to process the passing of my father four months prior.

One of my favorite board games of all time is “The Game of Life.”  So, when the interns decided to have a game night, I insisted that we played that game.  It’s changed quite a bit over the years, but necessary improvements, and many enhanced spaces.  One thing remains the same, no one’s path is ever the same!

It was my turn to spin the wheel, and I landed on a space to pull a card.  I pulled a card from the stack, and this is the card I pulled.The Game of Life

I couldn’t believe it!  Ninety days before pulling this card, I wrote the idea for my children’s book in my journal.  My plan before arriving to Virginia were to spend my Sunday afternoons working on my outline.  Realistically, I began the internship spending my days off either sightseeing or sleeping.  I wasn’t motivated to focus on the book, and then God sent a friendly reminder.  I knew it was the confirmation that I needed, but I was scared.

You know God will send you reminders, or some people say, “signs.”  However you decide to refer to them is between you and God.   It is important that you are in the right place/space to receive the message that God is delivering to you.  I was clearly missing the messages because I was not in the space to receive them, so He made it very plain through one of my favorite board games.  Fast forward to this moment with my Alleykats!

The Missing President - Book Cover
The Missing President – Book Cover 

 When God speaks to us, it’s best to listen.  It will change the entire course of your life.  I’ve told you before that I wrote two scriptures (Matthew 7:7-8) at the top of a sheet of paper, taped it to my wall, and read it every day.  When God is speaking to you, are you listening?  

So many reasons to keep going!  I’m #SteeleThankful…