An Open Book with Many Chapters

Anyone who knows me now knows I believe in the power of testimony. The following is an update of an older post called Darkest Days. I’m not going to lie, I’ve got some boney skeletons knocking around in my closet. Much of my life is shared in this blog space, but there are more chapters to come. I am not perfect, but I am honest and open. I’ve lived a lot of life so I have good chapters and bad chapters and chapters where I’ve had to recreate myself. I’ve been accused of sharing too much of being an open book. To some extent that’s true, however, only the people I trust the most get the unedited version of my story.

Photo: Mircosoft Clifpart - a candle burns in the dark
A light unto the darkness

I recently read that experience without sharing leaves no room for growth. Instead, bad experiences turned inward make you bitter and isolated. Wow! Been there, done that, brought home a whole crate of T-shirts. So here I am opening myself up, exposing the dark. I am not a fan of bitter and isolated.

I will be honest, at times I have had an ungrateful heart. I think at one time or another we tend to want things now, instead of later. We ask, “Why me?” or “Will this ever end?” Jumping into a big ole’ pity pool, wallowing in it, and never looking to the future. Sometimes I have to look at where I have been to appreciate what I have now. This is a lesson, I have to remind myself often. 

Everyone has to suffer through hard times and dark periods in their lives. I have often heard it said, “It is not the situation, but how you handle the situation that matters.” I suppose that is true to some extent, but what about those situations that you don’t handle with grace?

In those times, when you don’t make the best decisions, you end up on the wrong side of things. Somehow you make it out alive. Do you hold on to that shame and hurt, hoping no one will ever see the darkness that lives inside you? Are you bitterly ashamed of your past and pray no one will ever know the true you?

That hurt and shame keeps you from being the best version of yourself, you are bogged down in mire of your mind and everything that has gone wrong in your past. But God has created you for more than that, you are not your past, you are not what has happened to you. You are a new creation, it is time to wipe the slate clean, start fresh. We are to learn from our mistakes, not live in them. But, it is so easy to take on that role. 

I am certainly no stranger to dark times. As a matter of fact, if you had asked me in the early 90s where I would be now, my answer would have been, “Dead.” After the death of my young husband when I was 19, I descended a dark and treacherous path.

You see, I had convinced myself that it was my fault, and I felt like those closest to me blamed me and hated me for his death. Beyond that, I convinced myself I didn’t deserve anything or anyone good in my life. I sought out dangerous people and compromising situations. I dated all the wrong people for all the wrong reasons. I just couldn’t buy into the premise that I was worth it, so I treated nice guys horribly and kicked them to the curb. Being abused, became my normal because I thought I deserved it.

I battled with my worth and my past for years. It haunted me. More than once, it almost killed me. I felt alone, isolated, and scared of the person I had become.

I didn’t have the strength to walk away from the things that had beaten me down. It took a series of unfortunate circumstances (isn’t that always the case) for me to seek a counselor. Many see counseling as a sign of weakness. I see it as the strongest moment of my life. It’s where I began to see past the darkness.

I had spent so much time railing at God. Screaming. Crying. Why? Why? Why? For me, coming back to a faith I had lost, saved me physically, emotionally, and spiritually.

Everyone wants the quick fix. There isn’t one; there is no pill, no magic bean, and no physical interaction that can take away the pain you try to hide, medicate, or abuse out of view. Counseling takes time and work, hard work. Faith takes believing. God never said life would be easy. He never said bad things wouldn’t happen. By surviving your worst situation, you can encourage someone else. But God can’t use your story unless you are willing to tell it. 

The rest of the story is that 35 years after losing my first love, I lost my greatest love. A person who knew the darkest secrets of my soul and loved me anyway. A person I shared everything with, someone I could be myself with and they could be themselves, a best friend, a lover, and a confidant. Someone who enjoyed being around me and me being around them. It wasn’t perfect, but it was priceless.

The hole he left in my heart, I thought could never be filled. Once again I found myself feeling unworthy, alone, and unloved and making poor choices because I felt there was nothing better for me out there. I had been through it before, I knew the path.

But God puts people on your path, people who speak life and not death, who remind you that you know a better way. People who tell you it is ok to love yourself, that you have worth and a purpose, to make you remember who you are, and why you are here. 

Looking back on my past now, I am more grateful than ever, not only for where I am now but that I made it through. I may not have the nicest house, or drive a new car. I may never find someone who loves and shares everything with me again. But I have love, abundant love. The people who pour into my life love me and care about me. So, I have riches beyond gold and silver. God told me that I am beautifully and wonderfully made and that He loves me in spite of myself.

Isaiah 61:3 (KJV) says this:
To appoint unto them that mourn in Zion, to give unto them beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning, the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness; that they might be called trees of righteousness, the planting of the Lord that he might be glorified.

God gave me beauty from the ashes of my life and gave me joy for my mourning. I exchanged my heavy heart for a garment of praise.

I am no expert and I can’t wave a magic wand and fix problems. If you are hurting, I strongly suggest finding a counselor, someone who won’t try to fix you with a pill. Find someone who will listen and lead you on the right path. Know that you are NEVER alone, God always walks with you, even in the dark times.

Now you know a little about my darkest times and how it has made me grateful for the light. So, will my journey into dark places help you? I hope it does. I don’t believe in beating people over the head with my Bible, I believe in sharing what God brought me through. We don’t have to have the same belief system for someone to see and empathize with what someone else has endured, overcome, and survived. We all need hope. I pray you have hope for a better tomorrow. 

Republished and edited from June 2013.

I Did a Thing…

The Knoxville Poetry Slam is a fun, welcoming environment for poets and lovers of poetry to gather and support each other.

I have been attending the monthly gatherings at Central Cinema for about six months. I have friends who write and like me love the written word, so I have encouraged them to come out and participate. Their bravery in sharing their work and the supportive folks who attend the poetry readings inspired me to share my work. I have never considered myself a writer or a poet, yet I am always writing.

Writing is how I process, it brings memories to life and it gives me a creative outlet for my thoughts when other mediums are not available to me. Before braving the stage’s bright lights, I tested out a few of my written pieces on my co-workers who encouraged me to sign up at the poetry slam and read. I was both nervous and excited. I think the pieces I chose came across well, so I will share them with you and also the video from the night’s performance. I did mess up a bit but I think it still flowed ok. I am proud of myself for stepping out and doing something out of my comfort zone.

My first piece was my introduction.

Who Am I

Hey, My name is Charmin
Yes, it is just like the tissue
Yeah, and if you really want to know
It has always been an issue

From the playground
Throughout my whole life
All around

People asking me 
Are you squeezable
Thinking it is so cute
To be teasable

When most of the time
I find it highly unreasonable

I learned to take it in stride
To stand out 
Not to hide

To be me
Fun, happy 
And free

I live my life 
by one rule
Don't do to me
What you wouldn't want
done to you

Be honest
Be true
I'll be me
And you, just be you

Treat me right, with quality time
And I can be teasable
And baby, if you've got me 
You better believe I'm squeezable

Trear me wrong, 
And I'll just say
So long

I have no time 
for drama, hate or discontent
Life is to precious
To waste a single moment

So find the good
and grab ahold
Life's an adventure
Let's be bold

Yes, my name is Charmin
Just like the tissue
But you know what
It's no longer an issue

The second piece I read was an introspective bit called All I See.
All I See

So I look at you
And all I see
Is the magnificence
Of what could be

Not as a we,
A you and a me
But as just you
Being truly you

I get the feel 
No one has ever
Let you be really REAL
Truly free

It's not too late
God didn't give 
You an exipration date

So say what you need 
No matter the time of day
You don't have to bleed
From what's been cut away

It is time to be the true
and unfiltered you
Time to shine
Just lay it all on the line

No apologies, or I'm sorry
No regrets, no worries
Pull yourself off the shelf
It's time to show your true self

No judgment awaits
I am a safe space
I long for you to be free
From your chains you have grace

My only hope is
That I am around to see
The magnificence of what
I know YOU will be.

If you are interested in attending or reading at the Knoxville Poetry Slam you can find them on Facebook here.

Thanks for hanging out with me today. 

Building Bridges

Sharing your story can be one of the most powerful tools to cross the divide that seems too vast to navigate. It builds a bridge that crosses the divide and encourages reconciliation. I believe it is the building block of any good relationship. Be intentional. Listen. Treat people with love and respect. I love to hear other people’s stories. I need that in my life. When we share our stories and find commonality we lay that cornerstone for true connection.

So how does my story build a bridge? I think by being vulnerable and sharing you help others. Someone who needs to know they are not alone, someone who needs to know you can overcome. It will resonate with some and not with others. The people it strikes a chord with may have a similar story, or they may have empathy or are just curious about who I am now. I think the Divine Master puts it before the people who need it and those that don’t scroll on by, and that’s ok. I know I’m not everyone’s cup of tea, you can’t take yourself too seriously.

So here’s a glimpse of my story, I hope it resonates with someone out there.

My younger years were pretty tough, by the time I graduated high school, I had moved 16 times. I lived in a town with no diversity from the time I was 7 until I was 17, I am the illegitimate daughter of a divorcee. I was born in the 1960s before divorce was as common. Coupled with my family issues, my childhood was unstable at best. At times I was considered too good for my raisin’ and other times I was white trash who came from the trailer park. I had a sprinkling of middle class, depending on who I was living with at the time, but those experiences were short-lived. I didn’t have a lot of stability.

Moving all the time as a kid prepared me for life with a military man. My husband served 15 years in the Army. Military life exposed me to a diverse community. The inclusion in the neighborhoods I lived in was beautiful. When spouses deploy, you band together to help each other. Struggle tends to bring people together.

When my husband separated from the Army, we moved to Knoxville. It is now the place I have lived the longest in my entire life. I have been here 21 years. I love it here. When we first moved here I intentionally looked for a community that was diverse. I struggled. I was disheartened. It is said that 11am Sunday is the most segregated time in America. I believe that.

When we moved to our little country house in east Knox County, we visited a black church just down the road, they were so open and welcoming. They showed us so much love. We were “fostered” by a family that now almost 20 years later, still loves me. They have been with me through the good, the bad, and the heartbreaking. There are only a chosen few from my own family that have done that.

Sitting across the kitchen table every Sunday with our newly found “foster family” we shared our stories, who we are, we talked about life, religion, fears, hopes, and dreams. We found we weren’t so different at all.

I found out that poor white food is the same as soul food. I think soul food is a great description of the relationship-building that happens around a kitchen table. It fills your soul in so many ways. Sharing a meal creates a bond. One of the greatest gifts I ever received was when Mama Lee gave me her recipe for mac and cheese. That’s an honor ya’ll. It’s family.

Daddy Lee before he passed away would take my skinny, very white late husband to other churches and introduce him as his son. Both he and my late husband got such a kick out of it. As someone who didn’t have a good family life, this space became sacred. It filled a need that we didn’t even know we had. At Thanksgiving, Easter, Christmas, weddings, and sadly funerals we were always included. They know our story, we know theirs. We built a bridge together in our community. It is a beautiful thing. Even today, I try to spend some quality Sunday time with this family that loves me, even though I am not their blood.

I struggle with the modern church right now, too often I see them building barriers rather than building bridges and it hurts my heart. The church isn’t the only place you can build a bridge. During COVID I think community-built bridges became overgrown and underused and need a little revitalizing. We all need to work on our bridge-building skills.

A study by Michigan State University found that living in isolation can be dangerous for individual health and maintaining diverse relationships is just as important, if not more, than having a large number of relationships. Specifically, we found that individuals with more diverse relationships had a lower risk of mortality and experienced less cognitive and physical decline. Socially isolated adults have a 29 percent higher risk of death compared to those not living alone.

So think about the people you know, do they all look just like you? Do you know people of other ethnicities, other cultures? Do you know people in varying age ranges? Do you know their story? Have you asked? Be observant, ask questions and apologize when you don’t understand something. Be respectful and loving. Be inviting, have lunch with someone new and just get to know them, be genuine, be intentional, and spend some time really listening. You will be amazed at how much you have in common.

Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving each other just as God in Christ also has forgiven you, (Ephesians 4:31-32)

Worst Typo Ever

As often happens my mind picks up small threads and weaves them into something I wasn’t expecting. God has a way of working on me like that. Sometimes the strangest thing will set my wheels in motion and then it gets scribbled down in a journal somewhere and during prayer and meditation, it turns into something else. Eventually, it ends up here for my fine readers to ponder upon.

Recently a friend of mine told a joke, he was then told it was racist. The joke, while maybe in questionable taste, was never intended to be racist. I would never think of this person in that light. His actions do not match the words, I’ll unpack that more as we go.

This is the thread my mind picked up…Has it become so easy for us to judge one another based on a poorly phrased, misspoken, errored, or unwitting statement? Do we discount and discard the person altogether because of something they said? As my boss likes to say, we often throw the baby out with the bathwater.

For 25 years I had a career as a graphic artist. It was a lifetime or two ago before I delved into managing a newspaper or working as a marketing manager or working for a nonprofit. If you could put a logo on something I did the artwork for it, from billboard-sized signs to golf tees.

Creating art for someone else gives you a pretty thick skin. You have to be able to take someone else’s vision and make it come to life. You also have to be able to take their criticism and feedback to give them the design they want, oftentimes leaving your preferences on the cutting room floor. Things happen, instructions get can lost in translation or words get missed in proofreading. When this happens there is usually a conversation where someone has to eat a little crow. And since the customer is always right, it is usually the designer.

I had one such episode. At the time, I worked for a very large printing company in Nashville. We produced ad specialties and had an extensive calendar line for customers to choose from and customize.

I had worked on a very large wall calendar that had multiple advertisements on it for a veterinarian. They ordered 10,000 calendars to be distributed. It was very copy-heavy and graphic-intensive. The piece went through proofreading multiple times, went to the plate maker for printing prep, and finally to the press. Everyone in the company had laid eyes on this piece before it went out the door. And yet….

Two weeks later, I get called into the CEO’s office. The question, “Are you anti-Semitic?” Stunned and dumbfounded, I could only answer, “No, not at all.” My boss, who was Jewish, said “I didn’t think so but I just had to ask.”

At a loss for words, all I could say was, “Why?” He tells me he had a very good customer call him ranting that they couldn’t believe a Jewish company (they were also a Jewish company) would let such slanderous material leave their shop and that we should be ashamed.

My face lost all of its color when I saw the large calendar laid out behind his desk. He pointed to the area and said, “How did this happen?”

In VERY LARGE, very bold type was the name, address, and phone number of the veterinarian. Instead of the state being New Jersey, it said Jew Jersey. I was mortified. I wanted the floor to open up and swallow me.

My boss, being the kind gentle soul that he was, put his hand on my shoulder and said, “I know you did not do this on purpose, the words do not match your actions, you are kind and caring, this is not who you are. But, I have to tell the client what happened and the company will have to reprint all of these calendars at no charge.”

I knew exactly what happened. I had been interrupted and when my hands went back to the keyboard, my right hand was one row higher on the keyboard and not on the home keys. I showed him on his keyboard how it happened and he was relieved it was such a simple mistake.

I have never forgotten that mistake, nor the words he spoke to me about the mistake. My words did not match my actions, it was not who I was. There have been many times I have misspoken, and said the wrong thing at the wrong time, my words came from ignorance. However, as I have lived, I have learned. We all have lessons to learn. I am so thankful that the people who were willing to walk alongside me did not discard me because of my ignorance and allowed me to learn from them.

Too often, we are not willing to meet someone where they are and spend time learning who they are and realizing we can learn from them. We throw out quick judgments and cut people off before giving them a chance. We cast blame, and tell them what they should be doing, or how they should be thinking. Pressing forward without listening or learning. We think we have all the answers or know what’s best without truly understanding the situation. That behavior gets you nowhere and builds walls rather than tearing them down and making progress.

It is not until we know a person and are willing to walk alongside them without judgment that can we see if their actions and words align. Leading child psychiatrist, Dr. James Comer said, “No significant learning occurs without significant relationship.”

I grew up in a very judgmental home where there were few significant relationships. Sadly, there are times when people’s actions do match their words. People who are hurting hurt people and distance themselves to avoid more pain. It becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy of a solitary existence. They often feel they don’t measure up, so no one else can. This can make relationships impossible because there is no flexibility, no grace, no compromise, only negativity, and the need for you to bend to their will. I have found those people I have to love from a distance, they rob me of my peace and well-being. You have to find your own balance. You can not plant seeds in concrete, nothing takes root until the seed finds a crack and even then the seed struggles to grow.

Everyone has a bias of one kind or another, no one is without sin, and we all fall short. Now, the question is, can we offer the same grace that is given to us? That is a hard task to do at times and sometimes we have to do it from a distance and know that God is in control.

Now, I have to admit, I had one other terribly memorable typo in my career. I worked for a company that designed collegiate wear and I did the artwork for a women’s track team in West Virginia, I’ll let you ponder what that typo could have been and what the ensuing conversation was like.

Now, in honor of how this train of thought got started and for old time’s sake, I thought I’d close with a joke for my graphic arts and proofreading friends…

Helvetica and Times New Roman walk into a bar. “Get out of here!” Shouts the bartender, “We don’t serve your type.”

Remember to smile, you’ll brighten someone’s day.

Scarcity Mentality

How many good boxes are too many?

People in poverty often find themselves struggling with a scarcity mentality. When you are scraping by trying to provide the basic necessities of life, food, shelter, clothing, transportation, etc. you live with a scarcity mindset, it’s reality. Studies have shown that children in poverty are linked to behavioral and mental health issues arising from a scarcity mentality. 1.

A scarcity mentality can come through in a variety of ways. It could be the job you take because you are afraid you won’t find anything better. It could be buying unneeded groceries because you fear going hungry. There are a variety of things that can come from a scarcity mindset, hoarding, being overly frugal, always feeling as if you must clean your plate, making snap decisions because time is scarce, to name just a few. It is the pervasive feeling that keeps telling you, you will never have enough.

It can also happen in relationships. You date the guy, or girl, because you feel no one else will ever ask you out. Maybe, you say “yes” to the proposal because you’ve been single too long, and your mother is in your head saying “when will I get grandchildren.” You hang out with that friend that does and says “cringy” things because everyone else was busy. You find yourself operating from a place of scarcity. This mindset can go hand in hand with self esteem issues, depression and anxiety. Feeling that you are not enough, and will never be enough.

For me, I had to do the hard work of learning who I was, and what I needed versus reacting to that scarcity mindset. I had to really think about what was important to me and I had to shift my thinking to a mindset of abundance, and of gratitude.

Much like someone in Alcoholics Anonymous, I had to accept that God was in control. I also had to do a fearless moral inventory of my life (Step 4). I had to focus on what I do have in abundance, rather than what I feel I am lacking. I had to define what abundance meant to me. It can be different for everyone.

I had to remember that I am abundantly blessed with people who care about my well-being, that I am blessed to have a job, a home, a car, food and moderately good health. I have my faith, hope and love all around me. For all these things I am immensely grateful.

I remembered I am a fallible, broken, human who has the love of a God who loves me just as I am. I have to love myself as God sees me, not as I see me. Being mindful of that makes a huge difference for me. Journaling and writing helps me process my thoughts, and prayers.

I focus on this verse often:

“Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they?”
‭‭Matthew‬ ‭6‬:‭26‬ ‭NIV‬‬

Recognizing these patterns and changing your mindset is no easy feat. It may be helpful to talk to a mental health professional. What works for me may not be your path. Just know that it isn’t an overnight process or a quick fix. Sometimes it is two steps forward and one step back. Keep at it. Just know, if you are struggling, you are worth the work. You are enough.

  1. Akee RKQ, Copeland WE, Keeler G, Angold A, Costello EJ. Parents’ incomes and children’s outcomes: a quasi-experiment. American economic journal Applied economics. 2010;2(1):86. doi:10.1257/app.2.1.86