The saying that “Life comes full circle” was my unexpected reality yesterday. I have spent time the last few days looking for a couple documents I put up “for safe keeping.” I hate it when I store or file something so securely that I can’t find it when I need it. Well, this morning while on yet another search for the documents, I found my very first journal. My first journal was a small, sky blue, square book with a hard cover and a plastic overlay. Like most who maintained a diary, my mission was to keep my thoughts secret. Clearly, my privacy standard must have been much lower then than it is now. A heavy ribbon stretched from the back cover to the front cover where it attached to a gold-colored locking system with a prominent keyhole. Looking at the journal made me chuckle because the ribbon had been cut seemingly with ease to permit the details of my childish writings to be read. I chuckled because my Big Mama used to say that “locks were made for honest people.” I guess she was right.
As I skimmed through the pages, I reminisced about some fun times I had forgotten. In this relaxed moment some old memories entered into my space. Some of the memories were those that have generally been met with restrictions and filters. Over the years, I have practiced controlling what thoughts and memories that I allow to enter the doorway to my head and heart when those memories have historically generated a plethora of emotional responses. It think my mother saw me protecting myself from certain things and came up with a plan to help me.
I established boundaries and filters at the doorway to my space for years because I knew that everything did not deserve occupancy in my head and my heart. Over the years, I learned that some of my childhood experiences not only helped to define my family’s story, but impacted my personal development and influenced aspects of my life since that time. Child psychologists and family counselors were not offered to families in my community dealing with loved ones diagnosed with a mental illness. Thankfully, it didn’t take a medical professional for my mother to know that the current state of our family unit created havoc in the world of the youngest member of the family when mental illness found my sister. In December 1977, my mother encouraged me to write about the things that occupied my eleven-year old head. She said, “Even if you can’t talk about it, you should write about it.” Mama’s heartfelt, insightful directive encouraged me to find a safe place to speak. She empowered me to convert my inside voice into the outside voice that over time brought clarity and perspective to my life. The feelings experienced by the eleven-year old me revisited me for years after December 1977. The feelings followed me into my teenage years and young adult life.
Clarity and perspective were not gifted to me. I think we earn them both as we master challenges in our lives. Mental illness taught me that Granddaddy Cooper was right when he said, “Baby, everything ain’t for you to understand.” I learned through dealing with the uncertainties of my sister’s mental illness that even if I don’t completely understand the situation I can be useful in finding resources to help bring calm and direction to the unstable and directionless. Moreover, I learned contentment with the realization that every crisis or challenge would not be solved by me nor was it my responsibility to solve every problem confronting those around me.
Reading entries in my first journal enabled me to hear my eleven-year old voice say that there were times when chaos was my normal. I am pretty sure that my family never wanted me to feel l that way, but I did. In fact, the feelings that existed in the midst of the chaos like fear, confusion, and insecurity hung out with me like playground friends throughout my childhood. I had no idea that the introduction to chaos in my youth would prepare me to persist, persevere, and figure out how to remain hopeful in chaotic situations for the rest of my life. Another consequence of surviving the chaos was finding a passion for helping others similarly situated. Additionally, I found a niche for supporting others as they learn to strategize and develop life skills to manage their own chaos. Learning to use my voice and accepting my limitations proved empowering for me and for those around me (even when they preferred to be passive bystanders in their own problem solving journeys).
My purpose became using lessons from my childhood chaos to quiet the storms of others living in crisis and chaos. I hope that each person in my audience will be inspired to identify a chaotic moment then analyze that moment to find a positive lesson that can be paid forward. The lessons received from my moments of challenge also brought awareness of my areas of giftedness. In retrospect, the years of managing chaos provided opportunities to practicing using my gifts which gave me confidence as a leader of a staff of people tasked with supporting people in moments of chaos all day every day. I hope that my audience members will evaluate at least one moment of challenge that has haunted them for years and work to change the perspective of that experience such that it empowers them to live a more spirited, passionate life. It’s crazy how chaos at one point in our lives that brings unexplainable fear, confusion, and insecurity can prepare us for blessings and leadership in places we couldn’t imagine at that time.