Stay True to Yourself While in Relationship with Others

Loving other people does not mean losing yourself in relationship. Relationships are meant to help you find out more about yourself not give up who you are for another person. 

Through e-mail, I agreed to pick up and return my friend Katherine to the airport. Two weeks before her arrival, something came up requiring me to change plans for transporting her back. Still through e-mail, I assured her I would find someone to give her a ride back.

She arrived and I was there to greet her. After some time together, I confirmed I was unable to give her a ride back to the airport. The news came as a shock. Nothing I said could convince my friend I had sent a second e-mail two weeks earlier; she thought I was lying.

It was not easy, but the truth was no matter how much I wanted validation from Katherine, there was absolutely nothing to be gained by arguing with her. Leading with the heart is caring more for friendship than pride, so I chose to let go of my ego’s need to be recognized as right. I did not want to be angry with her, nor did I want our time together to be uncomfortable. The only option I saw to ensure peace of mind was to be patient, accept what was, and allow the situation to resolve itself.

A few weeks after my friend returned home, she was having repairs made to her computer when several mysteriously lost e-mails arrived in her in-box. Among them was the one I had sent.

My friend was distant and embarrassed for not giving me the benefit of the doubt. She was upset at herself for allowing hurt feelings to invent all sorts of reasons to justify turning her back on me. She was also angry at herself for discounting my history of honest and loyal behavior. Throughout the entire exchange I stood strong knowing I had done the right thing and I was telling the truth.

I learned when we place more importance on what other people think of us than what we know of ourselves we in essence don flowing silk robes and place ourselves in the middle of a dense rose garden. Life situations and interactions with other people become masses of twisted thorns, ripping and tearing at our fragile self-image. No matter how painful the thorns are or how deeply they tear at us, we are uncomfortable standing on our own two feet in our own truth. Without someone to validate us and boost our confidence, who will we be?

Today, I am confident in who I am, what my values are and what behaviors I want to share in my relationships. Yet I know what it is like to lose myself in relationship. There was a time I let the opinions and behaviors of others overrule what I knew was right and best for me. But, every time I went against my values in order to fit in with the crowd or endured and ignored abusive treatment, I suffered.

My low self-esteem caused me to look outside myself in an attempt to make me feel better. I ignored other people’s negative behavior, preferring to create a fantasy of who I thought they could be. Too often I went along with the crowd, even if it meant putting myself in danger. I repressed my own needs to please other people, and allowed myself to be treated like a doormat. Not standing up for myself showed a lack of self-respect and made me an easy target for abuse. And, I attempted to love others while not knowing how to love myself.

To break the pattern of losing my individuality in relationship I had to learn how to be a strong half of a healthy relationship. By focusing on my behavior in the unsuccessful relationships I’d had, I realized to have any chance of creating the fulfilling, positive relationships I wanted, I first had to determine who I am. I needed to figure out what type of character I wanted in a life-partner. I had to determine what it means to be a good friend and partner. I needed to know what it really means to love and be loved. And, I had to accept I cannot control or change anyone but me.

 

Question the Path You Are On

Self-love, respect, and inner peace come from learning how to travel through life in the easiest and most fulfilling manner. Finding the path of least resistance requires accepting it is your actions that create your life. Through self-assessment, you identify those aspects of your behavior, beliefs, judgments, and fears that are preventing you from creating the life you truly want.

Confronting your behavior is not nearly as difficult a process as you may believe. Yes, it takes time to be comfortable looking candidly at yourself. At first, what you consider faults stand out under the bright lights of self-evaluation. So you may tell yourself it is easier not to look. Yet, if you do not look at yourself, it is impossible to see what you do like about you. Without self-assessment it is also impossible to identify those aspects of yourself that you do not like but can change.

Getting to the heart of the matter of self-change requires shifting your ego’s focus from the laundry list of what everyone else needs to do to make your life easier to concentrating on what you can change about yourself. To begin moving past your ego’s resistance to change, ask yourself these questions:

  • Do you own your behavior, or do you pass the buck for your actions?
  • Do you evaluate yourself and others based on seeking facts, or do you allow reactive ego to jump to judgment?
  • Are you blindly following the beliefs of others, or do you seek to establish your own?
  • Does fear keep you tied up in knots, or have you chosen to walk in faith?

Don’t be upset or judgmental if what you discover is disappointing. There was a time I was not the person I told myself I was. Today I am the person I always wanted to be only because I took time to determine what was not right about me.

Only when you know what needs changing can you change your path, so your life changes for the better. Positive change begins by being truthful with you, about you. Intentionally looking within, you reach the understanding of who you are, what you value, what about yourself is going right, what is not going right, and what wounds need to heal.

Questioning the path you are on allows you to become aware of and eventually break free from unconscious behavior patterns. By honestly looking at yourself, your heart begins to take the lead in creating your life.

I Want That Bumper Sticker

 

My children are going to the dogs.

I don’t know about your part of the country, but in the South it is the “in thing” to advertise a child’s good citizenship in school on the family automobile.  When Justin and Sara, Miles and Deborah make the list, they rush home, bumper stickers in hand, to assault their parents with the good news.

The other day, while I was reading about hundreds of the latest bumper-sticker honorees, Milo, my biggest dog and the one tardiest to anything but a meal, looked at me with an expression that clearly asked, Why don’t you have a sticker announcing my greatest accomplishment?

I began to laugh, and then stopped.

Then laughed again, and stopped.

He was serious.  You know the serious look of a dog in thought.  Direct eye contact — the I-can-take-down-a-cockroach-in-total-silence-if-I-want-to-so-you’d-better-listen-with-interest-and-respond-appropriately look.

“‘My Dog Does Not Pee on the Carpet’ does not flow off people’s lips quite the same as ‘My Child is an Outstanding Student at Bluff Park Elementary,’” I said, snickering.

I disagree, he said inside my head, growling belligerently — obviously hurt by my lack of support.

You think a human can hold it all day? We’re talking straight 10hour shifts, minimum. You leave at 7:30 a.m. and return at 5:30 p.m., he said, thrusting a paw toward the radio and the faint orange glow of the clock.

I’d like to see Johnny hold it 10 hours, he barked. Then he turned his back and looked out the window, pouting.

Poor guy. He had a point.  I am proud to return home each day to a dry carpet, an intact sofa, and wouldbe ne’er-do-wells at bay.

As you can tell, I have dog children.  One of the benefits of having dogs for children is you have an instant entourage of adoring fans regardless of the time, date, or condition of the house or your hair, breath, skin, nails, face, diet, or mood.  Unconditional love — truly.

“Is that a zit that has attached itself to your nose?” a voice asks with blunt nonchalance.

The last one of my dogs to think anything so brazen was Charles.  He was genuinely concerned that the tightness of my jeans would adversely effect the circulation in my lower body.

Dogs are honest.  Hey, what do they have to lose?  To punish the directness of a dog would be to refuse one of the greatest gifts they give humans.

Anyway, how would you punish their directness — by withholding treats?  Then how in the world would you deal with the constant whining and the I’ve-got-to-have-a-cookie-right-this-very-instant-or-I’m-going-to-faint looks?

My dogs have perfected the look.  They have also perfected their human-manipulation skills.  Experts note communicating with our pets — and people, for that matter — involves both nonverbal and verbal interaction.  Just the other day my own mate growled, grunted, and resorted to loud yapping before I passed the cookies.

This form of communication does have benefits, especially when someone representing the newest long-distance carrier calls with the latest incentive to switch.

“How much is your current monthly long distance bill?” he or she says. “I personally guarantee our plan will save you.”

“Ruff, bark, yap, yap, snort,” I reply.

“Excuse me?” a shocked voice responds.

“Yap, yap, yap, bark, snort.”

Click.

Works every time, and is more polite than hanging up on someone doing a job.

My dogs’ communication skills are highly refined. They know exactly what they are saying with their thoughts.

The other evening I was watching a documentary on Egypt.  Suddenly I had an overwhelming desire to leave the comfort of the couch, go to the kitchen, and get . . . dog cookies.  I wasn’t hungry.  And when I am, even the Three Dog Bakery Scotty Biscotti that smell like Grandmother’s special cinnamon cookies aren’t on my snack list.

I have yet to determine which of my dogs is most talented at invading my mind. I suspect it is Charles. His observance of my tight pants gives away the breadth of his abilities.

Lucky and Zoey are neck and neck for second.  Milo is dead last, since most often he is satisfied getting treats and other basic needs the old fashioned way — blatant, shameless begging.

In addition to treats, my dogs get other things they want through the subtle manipulation of my mind. Often I feel overwhelmed by doggie psychic energy, although I’m not always aware of the particular source of my mental agitation.  When two, three, or all four have the same thing on their minds at once, I begin to itch.

Most often one lone dog talks silently to me, forcing me to do his or her bidding.  Got to go out now.  I’ve waited until I’m bursting!  Anyone listening?  Get up, now.  Open the back door, now.  Don’t wait another second.  You must do this, now!  To look at Charles peacefully resting on the sofa, paws thrust skyward, I do not believe the urgency of his need.

Hey, human!  Look over here, his little doggie mind screams at me.  Charles flops lazily onto his side and opens his eyelids a slit.  He’s a water dog mix with two eyelids on each eye. One is soft and furry.  The other is a blood-red transparent thing he uses for the sole purpose of grossing out his human.  That was the lid with which he chose to spy on me at this very moment.

See, my legs are crossed, my eyes are bulging.  Hello, is anybody in there? he thinks, with his eyes opened a bit more and head thrown casually back in my direction. As if posing for famed dog photographer William Wegman, he looks cute, not like a pup experiencing imminent bladder explosion.

Unaware, I shift in my seat.  He believes his thoughts have finally made contact.  He leaps off the sofa, runs to the door, and begins circling, while keeping his eyes glued to my every move.

“Why didn’t you let me know you had to go out?” I ask, opening the door.

I’ve been telling you for the past five minutes, he says to me over his shoulder as he searches for the least urine-tortured bush upon which to relieve himself.

“I didn’t hear you,” I respond.

You’ve really got to improve your skills, he quips, satisfied in having manipulated me once more with his superior telepathic abilities.

Frustrated by my lack of extrasensory communication skills, my dogs often resort to less subtle, more physical methods of expressing themselves.

The other day I was vacuuming, carefully avoiding the minefield of toys belonging to my three-month-old puppy, Zoey, when she threw herself on me.

“Well, hello sweetie,” I cooed.  “What a cute little angel wanting a hug.  Is the big bad vacuum scaring my little darling?” I asked, bending down to pet her.

“Let me finish vacuuming, my precious.” I gave her a final pat and gently pushed her down.

Finishing the living room, I moved to the kitchen with Zoey hot on my heels.  I had barely plugged the vacuum in when she again threw herself on me.  “What is it, little Zoeilla?” I asked.

With ears back flat against her head, she danced in front of me, demanding my attention. “We’ll play in a minute when I’m finished here,” I assured her.

For the next ten minutes I vacuumed, while she danced, threw herself on me, and was, I thought, irresistibly adorable.

I moved the vacuum to the bathroom and was about to begin there when Zoey came flying into the room.  I plugged in the cord and was about to give her another hug when a human voice came from the direction of the bathtub.

“She’s teaching you a lesson,” my partner said flatly.

“What lesson?” I smugly volleyed back.

“Zoey is trying to teach you a lesson,” my partner shared again, more patronizingly.

“Yea, right,” I quipped. And then I got it.

Zoey was finding relief in the middle of the bathroom floor. Lost in complete bliss, she was smiling the smile of comfort, the kind we smile with a mug of hot chocolate on a cold snowy day.

I stared in disbelief.  She was in heaven.  How could I scold her for going in the house?  She had spent the past twenty minutes trying to communicate.   Unlike Charles, Zoey had literally thrown herself at me to get my attention. She had tried everything she knew to make contact, and I had been oblivious.

Often subtle, many times overt, at least dogs attempt to communicate with us. Making successful contact requires humans to stretch the boundaries of their imagination to accept that dogs really can talk — if still at too sophisticated a level for our hearing.

Got to go now!

Please, please, please don’t make me spoil my record.

I want that bumper sticker!  Milo thought as he lifted a threatening leg.  I leapt to my feet, stumbled over Zoey, the vacuum, and the rug, and raced to open the door.  I stubbed my toe.  Hopping up and down in anguish, mumbling under my breath, I let him out — in time.

Thanks.  He acknowledged my efforts with a smile. You know the smile of a dog — a tight-lipped gesture, a silent snicker that acknowledges the disruption of your life because he wanted to sniff around the yard . . .  for chipmunks.

You Are a Success When You Say You Are Successful

What does being a success mean to you? Have you thought about it?

For many years I went along with the idea of success other people tried to impose on me. I went to junior college and got an associate’s degree. Then on to a university for my bachelor’s. I continued my education and got a master’s degree.

Today I can honestly say I am grateful for my formal education. On this side, I can see how pursuing knowledge has made me a well-rounded person. But a formal education alone did not ever make me feel like a success.

I had great jobs, and with some of the jobs came a big corner office. But my life was so busy with work my relationships suffered. I had no time to play or spend quality time with my partner, friends, and pets.

I got the nice house, fancy car, and stylish wardrobe. Even though I had a good well-paying job, I spent way beyond my means. What I wore, what I drove, where I lived became more important than being financially responsible.

I grew up with family, television, and advertisers telling me surrounding myself with things is what it means to be successful. So I blindly followed the crowd. I attempted to keep up with an unrealistic standard of what it means to be successful, as defined by other people.

Honestly, would you consider someone a success who is $35,000 in credit card debt? Someone who could not afford regular health check-ups, dental examinations, or visits to the vet for her pets? Would you think I was successful when I could not afford to take a vacation? Someone who lay awake at night in a panic from fear of how I was going to pay off all the debt?

I am now debt free. I paid all of the $35,000 back. It was important for me to do so, because assuming responsibility for my actions taught me what it really means to be successful.

We live in a consumerist world that deems us successful when we attain wealth, honors, notoriety, a big house, big car, excellent education, and other things. If we wear a certain size, drive a certain model luxury car, live in a certain neighborhood, etc., we are considered a success. But things, titles, and neighborhoods are not who we are.

Things do not feel. Things do not provide genuine validation of who we are. Things do not establish us as people who are truly admirable. Things are sold to us by people who are in the business of selling things. Merchants attempt to dictate what we think it means to be successful based on the items they sell.

The same is true of fashion and what size we are supposed to be. But what if we do not fit the mold or model of their standard? Are we a failure? We are led to believe so.

Defining what success means to me was one of the most important acts of self-love and respect I undertook. Why? Because it helped me understand loving and respecting myself have nothing to do with what other people think of me. It took time to realize it was a lack of self-love and self-acceptance that caused me a great amount of suffering.

There was a time I was codependent and craved the validation of other people. But never once did I feel validated by other people. They could shower me with praise, but as long as I doubted my own worthiness, all the praise and validation in the world did not make a lasting difference. Only when I began to feel worthy could I accept the praise of others. Meaning, I had earned feeling worthy.

Success is a term with no real meaning until we take time to determine what it means to us. Today I am successful, not because other people tell me I am or because I have attained wealth, honors, degrees, etc. I now know lasting feelings of satisfaction and worthiness are based on what I offer, who I am, what character values motivate my behavior, and what I leave as my legacy.  It is certainly okay to have money and to purchase things, but true success cannot be purchased. True success comes from feeling worthy for simply being ourselves. Feeling successful comes from being responsible for each area of our life and working to achieve the goals we set for ourselves.

Love yourself by taking time to define success for yourself. Refuse to believe anyone who says you are a success only when you have achieved their idea of accomplishment. You will not be fulfilled working for the goals of someone else. You find inner peace and self-respect when you set your own standard of success.

Healthy Competition Is Good for Your Soul

Do you compare yourself to other people? Do you compete with them?

I used to, until I had a life-changing awareness when I was looking through a fashion magazine while waiting for a doctor’s appointment. I flipped through the pages looking at the thin models with seemingly perfect skin. For a brief moment, I thought how wonderful it would be to be young again with a perfect body, skin, hair, nails, teeth, and gorgeous looks.

Then I woke up and realized what I was doing. What in the world are you thinking, I sort of half-screamed to myself, inside my head, of course. Old patterns die hard, don’t they?

When we realize we are each born unique we wake up to what a joke it is to even entertain the notion we should be like another person. Although you have heard this before we are indeed like a fingerprint or snowflake. We were designed to be individuals unlike any other person on earth. At no time in the past or future will there be another Regina. At no time in the past or future will there be another you. So what in the world would you and I be doing to ourselves if we bought the lie we should be like other people, should look a certain way, or wear a certain size, or marry a certain person, or make a certain amount of money – or, fill in the blank.

I think we grow up comparing ourselves to and competing with others. Was I as pretty as the other girls? No. Was I as smart as other people? No. Was I as clever, funny, popular? No. It seemed in every area where I compared myself to others, I fell short.

Even though I was taught to compare myself to others through television advertising, peer pressure, teachers, and my parents comparing me to my sister, it did not feel good. Was life really supposed to be a competition with other people? How could this be the goal of life when I was not like other people? I am me, a unique individual.

Looking at those rail-thin models in a fashion magazine, comparing myself to them, felt bad. I felt less than some ideal height, weight, and look. I felt unattractive which led me to feel unworthy. Comparing myself to anyone always leaves me feeling negative. Even when the comparison makes me think I am better, more attractive, smarter, it still leaves me feeling bad. Maybe I am smarter than another person, but my intelligence does not make me better.

One of the most empowering actions I take is refusing to compare myself to or compete with others in the unhealthy ways. Today I work hard to only compare and compete with myself in a healthy way: to be a better person today than I was yesterday. I am focused on supporting people to be their unique selves and to achieve their individual goals, just as I want to be supported in achieving my goals and to be accepted for who I am.

Imagine how our lives will change, and those of our children, friends, family, co-workers, when you and I refuse to compare or compete with one another. Sure, team sports can help build self-respect, cooperation, good sportsmanship, motivation to excel, and the drive to be better through practice and hard work. But placing ourselves up against other people as a way to gauge our worth and value is unhealthy and only leads to feelings of inadequacy and frustration.

Refuse to compete with anyone on looks. You and I are beautiful as we were born to be. We can take care of our looks through rest, diet, and exercise. We can take good care of our skin through vitamins, moisturizers, sunscreen, and not eating sugar and processed foods. We can look our best as we were born to be. So it is healthy to compete with ourselves to take good care of ourselves to honor our individual looks.

The same is true of competing with anyone on weight. The goal is to feel good in your body. The goal is to be healthy. You and I are not meant to be the same size. We are meant to respect and honor our bodies through eating healthfully, exercising, not using food as an excuse to stuff our emotions, or feelings of unworthiness or shame, or to reduce boredom. We are to compete with ourselves to find the healthy weight for us, to maintain our desired weight, and to do whatever it takes to keep our body in optimum condition.

Also, refuse to compete with anyone on money. Set your financial goals based on what you deem successful. Some of the richest people I know are the poorest as far as integrity and fulfillment. And, some of the poorest people I know are the richest in terms of satisfaction, generosity, and joy. Being true to you requires you to compete with yourself to be financially responsible by refusing to surround yourself with stuff in an attempt to make you feel whole. Things do not ever fill the holes within our heart. Only self-love and respect do.

When you refuse to compete with anyone on anything you are honoring the truth:  you are distinctive among all other human beings. You are respecting the fact you have been specifically designed to be yourself.

When you allow your uniqueness to shine without comparison or competition, you will be most fulfilled. Be proud to be you! Appreciate you are the only one of you there is or ever will be. Work to be a better person today than you were yesterday; a healthy competition that is good for your soul.

Start now by learning to pay attention to how you compare yourself to others. Each time you find yourself going down the “I am not as good as,” or “I am not as pretty (or smart, or funny) as” road, stop yourself. Intentionally end your ego’s competition and comparison. Turn your attention to how you are unique and valuable as you are. If there are negative aspects about your behavior you want to change, get busy competing with yourself to stop smoking, overeating, being codependent, spending without responsibility — whatever makes you feel less than.

You have the power to change anything about yourself you want to. First, make a list of what you want to change. Second, choose one item from the list. Third, make the decision to do whatever it takes to accomplish your goal. Fourth, do not give up and refuse to compare yourself or compete with anyone – even if you have a friend who is doing the same thing, like losing weight or quitting smoking.

You are an individual. Your body, metabolism, or addiction level is different than your friends’. Do not go down the “she is losing faster, stopping faster, etc.,” road. Support one another so you both accomplish your goals. Refuse to compete with one another. Compete with yourself and support her. Healthy competition is good for your soul. When you only compete with yourself, you can define what success truly means to you.

Four Ways to Avoid Disappointment and Frustration in Relationship

Our greatest joy and deepest fulfillment in life comes from the relationships we have. While we want harmonious and fulfilling relationships, ideally with everyone, it is healthy and realistic to acknowledge that even in the best friendships and partnerships there will be challenges. And, it is truthful to admit we cannot have an agreeable and satisfying relationship with everyone.

For instance, you will not be peaceful if you attempt to establish a relationship with someone who has aspects of her or himself that go against your core beliefs and values. Maybe someone you know thinks it is okay to talk about you behind your back. You know gossip wounds hearts and causes relationships to fail. If you go against yourself and stoop to his or her level of behavior, and you accept gossiping is okay, you will become frustrated and disappointed with yourself. Eventually you will also be upset and dissatisfied by the person’s lack of sensitivity to other people’s feelings.

Moral conflict arises in relationships when there is empathetic incompatibility. Meaning, one person is more emotionally mature than the other. Such as in the case where you have the principled awareness to appreciate the pitfalls of gossip and the other person does not. Therefore, having shared moral values is paramount to establishing healthy relationships. When two people are mismatched on the fundamental values of trust, honesty, respect, and personal responsibility, the relationship cannot survive.

To help prevent the frustration and disappointment that arises from being mismatched in your relationships, first take time to really know yourself. Look at yourself honestly to determine your strengths and weaknesses. This is necessary because you may not have been taught how important respect, trust, honesty, and clear communication are to the success of relationships. And, if you were raised in an abusive or dishonest environment you may mistake abuse and dishonesty for love. Neither of these are behaviors are love so it is essential to know what motivates you and what wounds you need to heal in order to have successful and loving relationships.

Second, learn to appreciate the saying, “You can lead a horse to water but you cannot make him drink,” applies to each of us when it comes to whether or not we choose to change ourselves for the better. You wake up to what you need to change about yourself through the process of inner deliberation. Self-assessment is the way to discover negative behavior that is preventing you from creating the best life possible. This same process of wanting to discover limitations is necessary for the people you love. So it is important to let go of the idea if I just love her (him) more, s(he) will change.

Third, loving others does not mean you lose yourself in relationship. Relationships are meant to help you find out more about yourself, not give up who you are for another person. Avoid frustration by going into a relationship wanting someone to live life with you, not for you.

Fourth, know people will not respect you if you do not respect yourself. Part of self-respect is setting boundaries, to say no to things you are uncomfortable with. Being a doormat is not attractive, satisfying, or healthy. Going against what you know is true and right for you does not allow you to bring your best to the relationship. Realize it is healthy to say no.

Download my free guide here, which goes into more detail on how to avoid disappointment and frustration in relationship: https://www.romancingyoursoul.com/solutions-for-everyday-problems/

 

I’m Gay, and That’s Okay with God

I was born different. Weren’t we all? Some of us have green eyes, some brown. Some are light skinned, some dark. We have red hair, brown hair, kinky hair, curly hair.

Human beings are a beautiful weave of colors and cultures, different branches of the same family tree. We are unique by design, just as no two snowflakes or fingerprints are the same. And yet, we still have a difficult time accepting, honoring, and nurturing our differences.

Around age four or five, I knew I was “gay.” I don’t know how I knew, when I didn’t even understand what that meant, but I did. It was not a choice I made, but an understanding deep within my heart that growing up and finding a man to marry was just not for me. Yet from the first time I stepped into a church, I was taught to believe I was going to hell. What a lonely, depressing, and negative thing to ask someone to believe — especially a child.

Going against what was considered the norm was not some act of early-childhood rebellion on my part. There was enough schoolyard bullying, screwed-up family life, and feelings of unworthiness without adding another reason for me to feel detested. No, I did not intentionally choose to stick out in a world where I was surrounded by people who believed their God hated me for being gay, which enabled them to feel justified to hate me too.

The judgment I encountered based on one aspect of who I am didn’t make sense in my heart of hearts. Even as a young child I questioned how, when the basic message of all faith is to “treat others as you want to be treated,” could I not be worthy? How was it possible that spirituality was intended to be an exclusive, criteria-based membership, a contest of me against other people, or a practice based on fearing some unseen, angry, condemnatory presence? Wasn’t spirituality the individual quest to connect with the spark of loving kindness within my heart and behave motivated by that spark? Didn’t that mean supporting others as I wanted to be supported, loving as I wanted to be loved, accepting others as I wanted to be accepted, and being the best person possible?

No, I was not straight. But my actions were good-hearted. I once took a dying chrysanthemum from my aunt’s porch and replanted it next to her driveway, where it thrived for many years. Another time, while on vacation with my family, rather than poke around a roadside trinket shop, I spent time giving water to a donkey tied up in the hot sun.

No, I was not a girly girl waiting to meet Prince Charming. But as a little girl I asked my mom to buy shoes for a shoeless classmate, and I asked my dad for baseball equipment for the children at the orphanage.

No, I was not “right” in the eyes of those who find it easy to judge and hate difference in the name of their God. But I loved animals, flowers, the outdoors, and sports. I fantacized about being a superhero, defending the planet from evil villains bent on world domination. As a superhero, I would carry an extra sandwich to school for a friend who didn’t bring a lunch, rescue moths from spider webs, and dry off little birds that had been caught in torrential thunderstorms.

All I ever wanted was to be accepted for just being me. But no matter how well-behaved, or kind, or friendly I was, I remained doomed for not falling in line and adopting the fearful, judgmental beliefs that were being shoved on me. Attempting to accept the limited, disparaging idea that I needed to be straight caused me such anxiety, suffering, and feelings of unworthiness and shame that I lived in constant fear. It felt as if I were slowly being crushed beneath the oppressive weight of powerlessness and hopelessness. I thought life was too painful to continue, but I did not give up. Instead, I questioned why there was such hatred of my being gay. It was just not right, or loving, or Godlike.

To survive, I learned that challenging my beliefs was imperative. The people who teach us what to believe, answer our questions, and mirror society’s behaviors are passing along what they’ve been exposed to. Love, support, and acceptance are learned, as are injustice, hate, and bigotry. So just because we’ve been taught to believe something doesn’t necessarily make it true. Likewise, just because we’re taught not to believe something doesn’t necessarily make it false. One of our most important spiritual responsibilities is to courageously question beliefs that don’t align with the positive, loving, inclusive behaviors of our heart.

Only through assessment did I come to realize that being gay is not a punishment from a divine source. Doctors, psychologists, and educators have concluded that sexual orientation is not a choice. Although there is no simple, single cause, research suggests that a combination of genetic, hormonal, and environmental influences determines it.

As far as religious references, I found that only six or seven of the one million–plus verses in the Bible address same-sex relationships. None of those verses refers to homosexual orientation as it is understood today. Modern scholars advise us that the biblical verses regarding same-sex relationships, as well as others throughout ancient religious texts, need to be understood within the context of the ancient societies that produced them. Science now offers tangible proof of why those antiquated beliefs no longer apply to our modern times.

Today I understand that growing up, I didn’t stick out at all. Born an average-looking, conventional, learning-challenged, jeans-wearing, gay tomboy, I was only uncomfortable being myself, as billions of us are. I, too, was brainwashed into believing I was not good enough unless I lived up to other people’s ideals and values.

The truth is, I did try to change, to be “normal.” And I suffered more. Regardless of how hard I tried to fit the mold other people had for me, I failed. Until one day I realized I’m not meant to live another person’s life. I’m only meant to live mine. That was the day I became free to simply be me.

The bottom line is that even if being gay were my choice, we must question how responsible it is to use thousand-year-old texts to rationalize the condemnation of those whose sexuality, religion, ethnicity, political beliefs, or socioeconomic status are different from our own.

If we’re going to create lives of love, compassion, and purpose, we have the charge to question what we believe. It is only by asking questions of ourselves and the world that we can improve from generation to generation.

Imagine life without the vast medical advancements of the past couple hundred years. Research and evaluation are how theories and formulas are adapted, adjusted, and made more reliable and applicable or wisely abandoned.

At first we thought the atom was the smallest particle of matter. Then we discovered even smaller particles: electrons, protons, and neutrons. And with particle accelerators, we discovered smaller things yet, called quarks.

Until the mid-twentieth century, we had no idea of the vastness of outer space. Then we discovered that the Earth resides in a galaxy among billions of others.

We are part of a continuous chain of civilizations asking questions and wanting answers. We come to conclusions and pass them on to the next generation. Advancing the complexity of the questions we ask, and making positive adjustments based on our findings, are part of the natural process of change.

Everything is designed to change and progress — the seasons, our planet, nature; scientific, technological, and cosmological discoveries; even ourselves. This means our spiritual beliefs, texts, and practices are meant to change and advance as well. Spiritual advancement ensures that we bring accountability, compassion, and principled excellence to the table when addressing challenges and opportunities.

No matter what is written in ancient texts, we can change what is deemed spiritually responsible as our world changes. Pushing against the status quo is exactly what each enlightened messenger has done and continues to do. Questioning beliefs, including those that hold homosexuality as sinful, is spiritually prudent, particularly since science now provides evidence for biological and environmental causes.

Emerging on the other side of such a painful journey, I learned that the divine power I believe in manifests itself as love. Love does not judge others; not by sexual orientation, skin color, size, or any of the countless ways we are different.

What matters is how responsibly we behave as people of good, compassionate, and kind character. We honor, respect, and nurture individuality. We help make the world a better place by our being alive. We spread acceptance by treating others as we want to be treated. That is something God is very okay with, whether we are gay or not.

Make time to play. Give yourself permission to be a child again.

“Regina, wake up! Pay attention.”

Growing up I heard these words often. School was exceedingly boring in contrast to the world beyond the classroom. When the recess bell rang, I was the first one out the door. I raced into an environment where my attention was heightened and everything was vibrant and captivating.

It did not matter what activity was planned for the day. From kickball and baseball to board games, play released me from the captivity of the classroom routine. It gave me the delightful freedom to move and be amused.

On weekends I went wild for play. Piling into the car on Sunday afternoons, we took off with my best friend, his brother, my sister, and our moms. The winding road to the park reminded me of a snake weaving in and out of tall grass. Passing duck ponds, a golf course, and a rodeo arena, we arrived at a place without swings, slides, or merry-go-rounds, yet it was a playground full of adventure.

The unspoiled Guadalupe riverbank was teaming with opportunity. Thick vines cascaded from sturdy live oaks that lined the river’s edge. Run-off channels rose from the river up to the street.

“I’m a pioneer!” my best friend exclaimed, scurrying up the gully on a mission to discover uncharted territory. Following quickly behind, I searched for wildlife.

It seemed only moments had passed when a car honk signaled the roundup to return home. Taking a final glance as our car reached the top of the hill, I realized it was going to be at least six days before we returned to the wonder of that playful place.

As a child, I was expected and encouraged to spend time entertaining myself in activities. Play remained a big part of my life as I grew into young adulthood, with softball, basketball, and other team sports. When I entered college, I continued recreational activities like tennis and volleyball.

As I moved into the world of work, home, and adult responsibilities, the activities of my youth were replaced with gardening and amateur landscape design. I enjoyed riding my mountain bike along wilderness trails, canoeing down the rivers of Alabama, and holding marathon card games with friends.

Then I got caught up in the race of life. Working too long and too hard to create what I thought was a successful life took its toll. Overworked, I was tired all the time, stressed, and consistently cranky. My relationships suffered because I was not budgeting any regular periods of recreational time.

One day I made myself take a break from the “all work and no play” routine. Taking my dogs on a long walk along the lake in a nearby national forest took me back to the days along the river with my friend. Memories of how it felt to be a child, regularly engrossed in playful activities, made me smile.

It was then I realized the time I took off from my busy life was not a waste at all. During the “down times” I get some of my most creative inspiration, renew my spirit, and feel relaxed and peaceful.

Today play is an important part of my life. I gather friends for cookouts and board games. I also enjoy gardening and birdwatching. Once a month I join friends for an outing to a museum or botanical garden. Three or four times a week I exercise at the gym. Each day around noon I take a walk through our neighborhood and spend time in the natural world.

Too often we get so caught up in the adult responsibilities of life that we dismiss the idea of recreational time with the belief that play is for children. Not true. Research suggests play is an important part of life, whether we are children or adults.

According to the National Institute for Play, “Play can dramatically transform our personal health and relationships, generate optimism, give our immune system a boost, relieve depression, foster empathy, and lessen stress.”

Make time to play. Give yourself permission to be a child again. Permit yourself to return to a more innocent time in life, when doing something just for fun was encouraged and welcomed. No matter what activity you choose, do something on a regular basis to bring pleasure to your heart. Doing so is not a waste. It is a vital part of creating a joyful life.

Proud to be a descendant of “Cheddar man”.

Jean and Reagan were unable to have children of their own, so they adopted me.

Since I was adopted three days after my birth, I knew nothing about my heritage. To find out about my ancestors, I did a deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) test and discovered my genetic family dates back thousands of years. It was interesting to learn some of my ancestors were not white. They had dark skin.

In fact, I am a descendant of “Cheddar man,” a fossil unearthed in 1903 in Gough’s Cave, located in Somerset’s Cheddar Gorge, England. Thanks to leading-edge scientific analysis, we now know my very distant relative lived around 10,000 years ago and had dark brown skin and blue eyes.

In addition, I have another ancestor who lived between 1690 and 1780 who was one hundred percent West African black. And another who lived in the early1800s who was one hundred percent Native American. Rounding out my DNA ancestors are people who were Iberian, Balkan, Irish, English, French, German, and Scandinavian.

To love God and love one another like God desires we do, let’s recognize that having a skin color of white, black, or brown does not mean all of our ancestors were white, black, or brown. We also appreciate our skin is made up of three layers, with the color being found only in the outermost layer, the epidermis.

The job of skin pigment is to protect us from the sun’s ultraviolet rays. Dark skin is more effective at sun protection, while light skin is better at making more vitamin D using less sunlight. Our ancestors’ skin pigment changed over thousands of years due to their migration patterns and how they processed vitamin D. This is how our ancestors’ skin color adapted as they migrated out of Africa to populate the planet.

Isn’t it logical and loving to appreciate, and teach children, it is God’s design each of us—black, brown, and white—can trace our common dark-skinned ancestors back to Africa?

I am considered white, yet my DNA proves I am a combination of the colors and cultures of my ancestors. I am as proud of my dark-skinned genetic relatives as I am of my white ones.

Isn’t it logical and loving to admit we made up our race problem?

James King, author of The Biology of Race, states in the book:

Race is a concept of society that insists there is a genetic difference behind human variations in skin color that transcends outward appearance. However, race has no scientific merit outside of sociological classifications. There are no significant genetic variations within the human species to justify the division of “races.

We do not have a race problem. We have a racism problem, with rigged rules against black and brown communities. Which means we have a respect problem. Respect for one another’s experiences and life struggles. Respect for our sameness. Respect for our differences. Respect for the idea we are to look for the good in one another and treat each person as we want to be treated.

We practice the Golden Rule by associating with people of different religions, skin colors, sexual orientations, and socioeconomic groups. We expose ourselves and our children to different cultures, customs, and religions.

When we embrace all members of our human family, we will learn to have compassion for one another’s challenges. We will listen to one another in order to understand, not just respond. We will get to know one another in order to relate in intelligent and informed ways. We will appreciate our sameness and our differences.

Viewing ourselves as members of the human race, we will no longer judge or elevate ourselves, fear difference, disrespect other people, or devalue what they care for. We will focus on living with integrity in order to value compassion, responsibility, and kindness. We will teach these values to our children as important skills they need to create a peaceful, courteous, and successful life. Consequently, Jesus would ask each Christian, and follower of any religion, to remember: God looks past our outer human shell to determine the quality of our heart.

God desires we do the same, by leading with our soul to see ourselves in all people. God wants us to value the beautiful tapestry of humankind so we can create the world Jesus envisioned.

Love is who we are, when we allow ourselves to be it

In the alcove of a storefront, close to the corner of Fairfax and Wilshire in Los Angeles, California, I sobbed in a homeless man’s arms. I did not know the man. Most likely I will not see him again. But I will not forget the moment our hearts touched in the intimate dance of raw truth: He lives on the street, and I, in a warm apartment.

Our exchange began when I commented on his dog. He smiled very proudly and said, “Yeah, she’s great. I’ve got her back and she’s got mine.”

As he spoke, he gently petted the dog. I reached into my wallet and took out all the money I had. Without counting or caring what he would do with it, I handed it to him.

He hesitantly took it. As our hands touched, my tears began. The man reached out, wrapped me in his arms and said, “It’s okay. We’re okay out here. Thank you for caring.”

As I turned to leave, he said, “I love you.”

I looked him in the eyes and said, “I love you too.”

Until then I had never said “I love you,” to a complete stranger, someone I had just met and with whom I had exchanged only a few brief moments of conversation. However, when I spontaneously responded to the man with “I love you,” I meant it from the bottom of my heart and with every part of my being.

There was no judgment. My soul was simply wide open, and the pure, honest emotion of caring deeply for the man came pouring out.

Each of us experiences countless transformational moments in life. Occasions when we are given the opportunity to advance the ability we have, as soul, to let unconditional love move through us without allowing fear, judgment, or expectation to stop us.

This was one of my moments, and I took it. I saw him and his dog and could have passed them by. But I heard my heart say, See him and tell him he is seen!

My choice to listen to and act upon love’s direction opened me to a lesson I was only able to learn with the willingness to experience the sincerity of our exchange. Holding the man and allowing him to hold me birthed a deep and profound understanding of what it means to be vulnerable to caring, without expectations or conditions. The kind of affection we want to experience. The depth of intimacy we long for. The magnificent feeling of being connected to unconditional love, within ourselves and in another human being.

I remember when I was young, my mother said, “We never know if someone we meet may be one of God’s angels.” My sweet, homeless man was an angel. He was a messenger of wisdom who taught me love is more than caring and affection for those closest to us.

Certainly the close relationships we have are the most important part of life. We have a deep fondness and a personal attachment to some people and pets. They are special to us and add to our life. We definitely would miss them if they were no longer around.

Yet no matter how deeply we care for our family and friends, every exchange we have with another human being, animal, and the natural world is an opportunity to fully feel our magnificent heart-connection to all that is alive. Because love is who we are, when we allow ourselves to be it.