FJ Smith

I was tasked with writing something about you to share with the group today. As one of your more introverted grandchildren and a frequently reminded, non-member of the “Original 5”, I didn’t really expect to be here… But, since I am, what could I write to truly convey the man you were to everybody?

As I think back on my moments with you:

My oldest memory is one of your many attempts to cheer up the incredibly bratty child version of me one hot afternoon. Your peculiar blue-green eyes lit up even brighter as you shuffled across the floor with your signature tube socks pulled over the bottom of your khaki pants. You danced and sang your heart out about a small girl from Minnesota named Elon Nadeen… Just to put a smile back on my face.

My most visited memory is only a few seconds long, but I often replay it in my mind. It’s the quick flash of my Grandma’s shy smile as you sat at the table talking about courting a pretty brown-skinned girl with a coke-bottle shape. I’ve always secretly hoped to smile that same smile one day.

My most cherished memory is sitting on the couch watching my Mom listen to your stories for what felt like hours at a time. It was as if she was memorizing not only the words you said, but the way you spoke, because she knew that uncorroborated or not, those stories were filled with decades and decades of wisdom that no one else had… I’m glad you get to enjoy each other’s company once again.

Reflecting with others on what to say today made me realize that all of our favorite memories are quite different. Your actions and words stuck with each one of us here in a unique way and impacted the most important parts of our individual lives.

Regardless of the memory it’s evident that you were RESPECTED – there is one seat in the kitchen that we all knew better than to try and take.

You embodied what it means to LOVE – you unapologetically loved your wife for all of us to see and replicate in our future relationships, and no matter how full your house was we always knew there was room for one more of us…. But if we were gunna eat somewhere other than the table we had better put some paper towel or newspaper down…

You showed us how to WORK HARD – and although some of us only knew you after you were retired, that front porch was swept to perfection every single day, before you shared stories of your journeys years before.

And that you left a LEGACY – just look around. 9 children, 23 grandchildren, 20 great-grandchildren, 7 great-great-grandchildren, and counting. Doctors, business owners, pastors, chemists, teachers, engineers, artists, lawyers, nurses, and more.

It goes without saying, but we will miss you, Granddaddy. We will always remember that you love us, that you’re proud of us, and to “stay with the group.”

– Elon Nadeen

Frequent Flyer 

Being on a plane every week makes it very easy to spot the nervous flyers. Honestly, I enjoy watching them. My personal favorites are the people that grab the armrest (and/or your actual arm) with the slightest hint of turbulence, and those that mutter a quick prayer under their breath with every noticeable change in altitude as we takeoff and land. 

It’s nothing to be embarrassed of, I totally get it. We’ve all seen Flight. You’re putting your life in someone else’s hands, and if things go bad there’s no guarantee the pilot will have Denzel’s plane landing ability. However, what makes me smile through my encounters with these passengers isn’t their obvious discomfort (I’m not that mean). It’s the thought that despite their uneasiness, they got on a plane anyways.

Observing people face their fears pretty publicly makes me reflect on where I could be now if I chose to do the same earlier in life. There were many times when I failed to take on a challenge, or took a more “comfortable” route, because of my own anxieties. Looking back now, I truthfully don’t know how those situations could have gone, but at the time I let the risk, uncomfortableness, and uncertainty outweigh the potential reward.

There’s a saying that “a comfort zone is a beautiful place, but nothing ever grows there.” It’s true, I’ve lived it. That will never be the case again. I’ve made the decision that the temporary sting of rejection and failure is not nearly as bad as the feeling you carry in the pit of your stomach while living with regret. 

We all have goals in life – in the case of the nervous guy next to me, a destination – and we all have something pushing us towards inaction. Your life can move down a completely different path in the slightest, but (often deceptively) crucial, moment. Once it’s gone there’s no guarantee of another… So what will do you do in this moment? Take the flight or watch the other planes from the safety of the ground? 

-Loni

Insecure: Part 2

The most frequent question I’ve received from Part 1 was, “How were you able to move past your insecurities?” Well, what if I told you 20-something years of insecurity were unraveled in one afternoon… would you believe me?

That’s exactly what happened. I have trouble believing it sometimes too. 

One Sunday, I was sitting in church just minding my own business. You know, taking notes, highlighting some scripture… And, all of a sudden I heard, “You’re insecure because you think too highly of yourself.” 

I froze. What did that even mean? My face felt so hot, as if my biggest secret had just been found out. Like I was naked in the middle of the sanctuary. Did that just really happen? I looked around to see everyone else paying attention to the sermon, unaware of whatever it was that was going on in my area. I thought God supposed to be sweet and gentle. He just read my whole life… Do I even still have edges? I proceeded to freak out the remainder of the service and when it was over I practically ran to my car.

As soon I got home, I closed my door and sat on the floor (that’s where I think, everyone has something like this I’m sure), thinking about it for a while. I had never thought those things about myself before. I hated myself most of the time, so how could I also think too highly of myself? But, the more that I thought about it, the more it made sense…

I was putting up a front of perfection and struggled to admit that I had faults. 

What’s wrong with trying to be perfect? Well, for starters, in order to pursue perfection, you are constantly comparing yourself to the world around you. Measuring yourself against everyone else in just about every aspect of life. And, you know what’s even crazier? Perfect people do not exist, meaning there will always be someone skinnier, fatter, prettier, more rich, more eloquent, and/or smarter than you… So, how exactly can you be happy trying to live up to a new standard every day?

Wow.

Immediately the haziness of that illogical, insecure mindset I mentioned in Part 1 began to clear. But, what was I going to do about it? 
The first thing I did was unfollow every IG model and perfectly airbrushed celebrity I ever followed on social media. No joke. They had to go. 

After that, I made peace with every single “flaw” I felt that I had. Every time I had something to say, I replaced it with something positive. 

No boobs – I never had to spend money on bras.

Skinny – Hello, Popeyes and crop tops.

Big forehead – You’ve been blessed with beautiful hair and a comb for that left side part. #whatforehead

 You get the point.

Lastly, I said a prayer asking to never feel that low again. For the strength to stop looking to others for validation. For the removal of jealousy and comparison from my spirit. For the ability to grow my gifts daily. And, for the courage to pursue my unique purpose. 

Despite what I felt to years, I truly understood for the first time that I was perfectly equipped for my journey and none of my flaws mattered. I had everything I needed. 

That was it.

I can’t explain it any better than that, that’s really all there was. A complete shift of mindset that seemed to happen in an afternoon. I’m sure some people won’t believe that it was God or anything other than my subconscious finally getting frustrated enough to straighten itself out, but that’s not what I believe. I’m not the best or the wisest Christian by any means, but I know that there’s some things we just can’t do on our own. 

– Loni

Psalm 30:6-7

Insecure: Part 1

Walking around the streets of Toronto in a bikini isn’t something I ever thought I would do (I didn’t even like going to the pool in a bikini). But, that’s exactly what I did this past weekend. Actually, when I think about it, there are quite a few things I never thought I would do and plenty of experiences I would frequently hold myself back from due to twenty-something years of being ridiculously insecure.

Insecurity is an interesting thing in the sense that it can take on completely different extremes from person to person. Even the most confident people are insecure about something, and sometimes it’s hard to identify the most insecure people of those among us. I know I definitely faked it. So, when I tell people just how bad I felt for years, they think I’m exaggerating. But, it’s true. What was going on in my head wasn’t anywhere close to the girl I was portraying every day, and if insecurity was indeed measurable, my readings would have been off the charts. I’m talking major records broken here people! In fact, thinking back (I cannot believe that I am writing this and putting it on the internet), I can’t think of a single thing I liked about myself. Not one. I won’t go into detail at this moment (which is why I will go ahead and determine this to be Part 1 of quite a few posts), but being uncomfortable with my body type quickly grew into a mindset I just couldn’t shake. 

Now, before you read anymore, you have to understand a few points, that (1) insecurity isn’t necessarily logical, (2) when it’s allowed to grow unchecked it will consume every aspect of your life, and (3) when you can’t find the validation you’re looking for in yourself, you will go somewhere else to get it. The third point is why you’re reading this today.

I don’t look much different than I did a couple of years ago (the change was completely in my mindset), but back then I hated what I saw in the mirror. Just the thought of showing off my legs/chest was still very stressful for me. In fact, I would often tell myself no guy would pick me if they ever had a choice. However, despite how unattractive I felt, I found my validation in “situationships” (I use this word because I’ve only had one actual boyfriend in my 25 years of life). That makes no sense at all, right? Well, refer to my first point in the paragraph above. 

In these “situationships”, I often found myself tolerating all kinds of lies and disrespect from guys I shouldn’t have been dealing with in the first place, but out of fear of the inability to find something better, I was left trying to fix things that weren’t worth my time. Even when I encountered a good guy, my own jealousy, doubts, and anxiety would tear the situation apart from the start (yes, women can hurt men… we can talk about this later, Part 1 remember?). Either way, as someone who didn’t love herself, I had no business trying to create love with someone else. It was selfish. There’s really no other word for it… How else would you describe an empty vessel hoping to get full from someone else’s supply?

I write all of this to say that I think this is the freedom I enjoy most now that the weight of all of the insecurity is off of me. Actually, I know it is. The freedom from validation. Sure, it’s nice to love my body, talents, and super-weird-introverted-nerd personality, but it’s even nicer not having to go to someone else to help me do that. For the first time I’m truly “single”, and I don’t feel empty or lost. For the first time I’m not franticly trying to fill a void with anyone who gives me attention. For the first time I’m not pretending to be someone that I’m not.

It’s hard to describe and may even sound dumb to you, but I wake up and the sun shines brighter than I’ve ever seen it. I’m happy. I look in the mirror, still happy. I pick up my (dry) phone, still happy… 

-Loni

Black Girl, White-Collar

I didn’t think I’d have this issue when I got older. I’ve always been the token (or one of few), after all. I grew up in a Minnesota suburb, I attended private school, I studied engineering at a PWI… I should be used to it by now, right?

Not quite.

I was always able to create my own community within another. Although I may have attended Georgia Tech, my friend group didn’t exactly resemble the demographics of the school. However, as a traveling consultant, I no longer have the privilege to ignore my “token-ness”. I’m reminded daily of that fact that I’ve been at my company over two years, and I’ve only been staffed on a project with another black person once. To make the gravity of this a bit more clear, that means that the majority of my interactions with an employee that looks like me have been virtual… So, maybe you can begin to sense why I might be in need of some community.

And, no, it’s not that I can’t have friends of other races, but you need to understand that there are just some things that come with being a black woman (or a person of color, but I will only speak on my experiences) in a space dominated by the opposite that others just won’t experience. There are some conversations that begin to add up after a while. Some comments that really start to get under your skin… And, it would feel amazing to be able to look into someone’s eyes and receive immediate understanding in those moments rather than awkwardly smiling and searching the floor for a way out.

There’s a constant explanation that I didn’t cut my hair, but that it can be a million different lengths and textures depending on something as minor as humidity.

A feeling of frustration from seeing half of my life screaming the names of black men turned hashtags, while the other half goes about its normal Tuesday routine.

The constant assumption that I know the latest dance craze (and the joke’s actually on you because I can’t dance).

Subjugation to the blatant use of “nigga” (and other words like “ghetto”) by people who have apparently deemed me “less black” and therefore a safe place…

And then, of course, the responsibility to explain why that word is like a punch in the gut when it’s used by a someone who isn’t black.

Fear of gaining the “angry black woman” label, even when I know that those same words would sound completely different coming from a man of another race.

Constant wonder around if receiving comments about how articulate I am come purely from the fact that I actually speak well, or because you might not expect me to.

Witnessing the fetishing of black men (especially mixed-race men, because… well, you know… that’s more acceptable).

Fighting back the urge to scream every time someone mentions that they “don’t see color”, because they have the privilege to live in a colorless world while I’m constantly being reminded of mine.

Knowing that the higher I climb, the darker my rose-colored shades will need to be just to cope.

And, an understanding that it’s just not good enough to be great at my job (My Dad taught us this before we were even old enough to have jobs). I also need to possess armor for skin, incredible poise, and expert word choice to navigate each day.

Before you ask, yes, I love my job. No, everyone I’ve encountered at work has not made me feel this way. But, yes, every single one of those scenarios has happened to me countless times. And, no, I’m not angry…  I’m just cluing you in to my daily reality. Why is it that you expect me (or anyone) to be OK with ignorance just because it’s not racism?

-Loni

 

Monday Thoughts

“If you love something, set it free.

If it comes back it’s yours.

If not, it was never meant to be.”

I always thought this quote was dumb to be completely honest. If you love something why would you ever let it go? Well I guess that’s the beauty of getting older. Finding yourself in these weird adult situations. Although it’s a lot easier to picture the kinds of scenarios that were the inspiration for this quote playing out in my own life now, it still doesn’t resolve the dilemma for me. Is a well-known saying enough to convince me to let go? I mean this isn’t the Titanic, and unlike Rose I am dealing with a living, breathing human here. I need to know, was this something that was proven like the law of universal gravitation? Is it somehow related to the science that makes boomerangs work? Or, is it just another one of those sayings that help push people to make difficult and/or very necessary decisions…

If it is true, why am I the one thinking these thoughts? How did I draw the short straw? What about my current happiness? How long does it take for “the return”? Will you even know that there will be a return, or do you feel empty every single day until it happens?

On the other hand, what if it’s not true, and they never come back? What if I never find this again? What if it’s all a huge mistake? Will the lightening of the weight on their shoulders due to freedom from all of this anxiety provide me with enough joy to mask my pain? Do we really want to see someone happy if it’s not with us, or do we just tell ourselves that to feel better… to put up a front that is less for other people, but mostly to convince ourselves that we’re strong enough to handle it? Am I really crazy enough to (possibly) forfeit this?

I’m sure it’s easy to determine what to do from the outside looking in… whether to let go or to hold on for as long as you have strength. But, I’m not on the outside, am I? And, although I could rid myself of this constant emptiness in the pit of my stomach, I’m certain that missing all of their subtleties would bring it right back… like how they squeeze my first two fingers when I reach for a hand, or how they always attempt to hold back their smile a couple of seconds before it happens (if you blink you could miss it completely)…

There’s just no guarantee here, and in life you don’t get a re-do. This is like jumping off of a cliff without checking whether there’s water or rocks below. So, what would you do?  Comply or create your own rules? Release control or hold on for dear life?

– Loni

25.

A quarter century. If I had the choice, I wouldn’t change anything about my life to this point. I’ve grown a lot from all of the ups, downs, and mess-ups (mostly from these), but I see room for improvements. Slight adjustments. Not a changing of the overall essence of what/who I am, but moving forward as a smarter, stronger, more mature and more confident me. 

25 things to reflect on during this year and going forward.

  1. Stop “sleeping on myself”
  2. Speak up more
  3. Stop overthinking – especially to the point of inaction
  4.  Stop tolerating situations I shouldn’t
  5. Smile more
  6. Stop comparing myself to others
  7. Say “no” more
  8. Read my Bible daily
  9. Write daily
  10. Pray in good times too 
  11. Take time to rest
  12. Be more spontaneous
  13. Drink more water
  14. Turn off my GPS more
  15. Be direct 
  16. Embrace my emotions
  17. Call/see my family more
  18. Seek wise counsel 
  19. Forgive
  20. Do what makes me happy
  21. Worry less
  22. Be healthier
  23. Don’t be afraid to love
  24. Find the beauty in everything and everyone
  25. “Guard your heart”

– Loni

Law & Order 

You would think since I had a sister only “2 years 2 days and 2 hours” older than me, we’d be super inseparable. Not necessarily true. Growing up we weren’t actually that close. During my early life she was always the girl who was responsible for my missing front tooth in every school picture until 3rd grade due to a fateful game of Ring Around the Rosie, or the girl who caused me to split my head open on the kitchen counter in an effort to avoid the microwave door she swung at my face. Looking back now I think these were all secret plots to get rid of me.

We just didn’t get along. Not that it was really a problem… All siblings go through their ups, downs, and moments of “torture” from the bigger/older sibling. We were just two very different girls. She was a bubbly extrovert who always had a smile ready for anyone passing by. She always had more friends than me and had a date to all the school dances – both our school and those she didn’t attend. The only thing we had in common was playing on the same Varsity Tennis team my freshman and sophomore year of high school (the years we overlapped in school).

(Taking a slight detour here, but we could have been a dream team in all honesty. The Smith Girls. A dynamic duo. Imagine the things they would say! “Who all the girls wanted to be friends with and all the guys wanted to date.” Sorry girl, I kinda ruined that considering I only got attractive 30 minutes ago. Ha. Ok… back to the post.)

Despite all of this, she became a rock for me when our Mom died. How did that happen? I’m not really sure, considering she wanted to return me to the hospital years earlier. I’ve never said this publicly in an attempt to be as nice to those who tried to help me as possible, but I just appreciate (unlike most people) that she never tried to forcefully fill the void in my life. She never tried to be “a mom”. She just kept the law and order.

Imagine all the things your mom does or has done for you and your family. Now, take it all away. Crazy to think about right? It’s like a black hole appears in the middle of your household. Thank goodness that while I was mid-downward spiral into the nothingness, my Sister was calming the chaos for herself, for me, for our Brother, for our Dad… for all of us really. She was always doing the dishes or laundry, kindly suggesting (yelling at) us kids to pick up after ourselves, and reminding us of all the family events and birthdays. Her goal was simply to restore the closest feeling of “normal” as possible.

Everyone always talks about how much my Mom is seen in me. From her looks to her mannerisms, it’s all there. But, they don’t give enough credit to what she left behind with my Sister. She got my Mom’s law (it only makes sense that she’s a lawyer now). It’s like she wrote everything down on her little kid heart; detailing the instructions on how to keep things running. To be the same big sister she always was (I also appreciate that we never got “fake close” because “that’s what should happen”… News flash, that’s not how it works people!), to constantly be thinking of our dad and his happiness when the rest of us may not have been, to maybe worry a little too much, and to keep things in order. So, she did.

Why is this even on my mind? 

It’s random, I’ll admit. But, I was thinking that sometimes I forget you’re only in your mid-twenties… I actually think sometimes you forget it too. I find myself holding you to this super adult standard, which isn’t fair. Even though you may have been a person who grew up fast and spent years holding things together for others, doesn’t mean that you should have everything in your life figured out. There’s still time to grow towards all of your goals. You’ll get there. Don’t give up on them.

I also think we get caught up in measuring ourselves by our degrees and salaries that we forget to look at the other parts… The parts that matter. The impact we’ve had on the world around us. The example we’ve set for others. The care we have shown. I’m pretty sure you have me beat on all of that.

…Well, now you do. For a minute there I was questioning if I’d make it to college without some permanent reminder of your dominance.

– Loni

Pangea

I haven’t had the time or clear headspace to write for awhile… and now here I am up at 1:45AM. Dark room. Macbook on 30%. I feel the magic about to happen (Update – I overslept 9am service at church).

All the way through college (if you choose to attend), we’re all on the same supercontinent. There may be some natural disasters that shake our individual countries to the core, but life goes on about the same as before. You and your classmates wake up every day, go to school, study, pass your classes and ultimately the only thing left to do is graduate. If you stay on course, that’s your outcome. That’s life on Pangea. And, while we live out life surrounded by all this structure and certainty, the dream of how life will go is developing within it. Everyone is chasing something. Their picket fence and 2.53 person household. Their happiness…

Then world starts to shift and break apart.

Instantly, you have a handful of paths to take when there only used to be one flat land to walk across. One step into the direction you thought was straight ahead could leave the husband and children in the complete opposite direction. The next direction could be fame or overnight success. The third might leave you knee deep in water where there once was dry land. So, which path is right?

Call it a quarter-life crisis if you’d like or blame it on the deliriousness from my lack of sleep, but as I sit in this dark room I feel my world shifting. In fact, it is so quiet, I can almost hear the tectonic plates of my lithosphere making their tiny adjustments. All of my constants aren’t feeling very constant and my “for sures” are more like maybes. And, the personal life events of this past week and a half created a mixture of hurt, worry and confusion; the kind that buries itself so deep inside you and leaves you unsure if you should just vomit or cry…

But would you even feel like this if you weren’t focused on a perfect path? 

True. Currently, there is nothing wrong going on in my life. I have been grasping tightly onto all the little pieces in hopes of maintaining an environment that I think will make me happy down the road.

So, why not less of the path and more of the destination?

It would be a million times easier to move if I wasn’t trying to hold a continent together… And it can be so hard to accept when familiar people and situations float away to form something completely new and far away.

But, you shouldn’t have to force aspects of your life into future existence. What (and who) will be, will be. Worry less. Grow your gifts. Pursue your purpose. 

Thats my new focus. It’s time to confidently proceed forward (praying to God for solid, dry land with every step). The path won’t be pretty, perfect, or straight, but it will be right. Who knows what potential awaits in that distant place… what kind of peace and happiness that comes with reaching my destination.


The Word I received later this morning stuck out to me in particular, so I’m sticking it here at the end. My story has already been written, and every gift I need to fulfill my purpose I already possess. It’s amazing how you hear what you need to exactly when you need to hear it.

…And maybe my 2AM pep talks are meant to be heard by more than just me.

Storms

When I was little I was scared of storms. Little rain showers, thunderstorms, tornados, you name it – I hated them all. I never felt safe. It didn’t matter where I was, I constantly worried about what could happen to us when severe storms would hit our area. My Mom, on the other hand, was never scared of bad weather. While I was busy hiding away, you could always catch her looking out a window, somewhat mesmerized by everything happening outside.

One day, a smaller thunderstorm was starting to clear up and my Mom was standing at the front door. My (ironically) favorite smell of spring rain was in the air as the winds began to turn into a nice breeze and the sun moved out from behind the clouds. The only thing separating us from the rain was the screen door to our porch, but hugging her made me feel safe. Without taking her eyes off of what was happening outside she quietly said to me, “You know… there is no need to be afraid of storms. God is in control of the sunshine and the blue skies, but also the clouds and the rain. They may be scary and loud, but He is always there. Look Loni… Remember how beautiful everything is when the sun comes back out?”

I’ve always wondered if that was God’s way of foreshadowing. Or simply the gift of prophetic wisdom? Maybe He simply spoke through her… I don’t know. But what I do know is that it was the single most important lesson I needed to learn from the exact person that the biggest storm I would face was centered around. And, seeing as I would cry outside the bathroom if she took too long, I don’t think anyone thought I’d be able to recover from it…

Losing my Mom is the hardest thing I’ve ever had to deal with, yes. I think about her every day. I’ve written down everything I can remeber about her and our interactions multiple times by now. I’m still so easily overtaken by nostalgia, especially when people mistake me for her (to the point that I freaked out a family friend at the movie theater back home this winter), or someone tells me I’ve somehow picked up another one of her quirks that I honestly didn’t even know about. And, I pray for my salvation in hopes that one day our souls meet again so much, that I don’t even think there are enough angels in heaven to help receive my messages… But, despite the fact that I can’t say I’ll ever “move on”, I’ve matured in my outlook on the situation. 

This is the first time I’ve publicly shared this story with anyone. Probably because it’s taken me a long time to really embrace her lesson on storms. Sometimes I do still get so caught up being frustrated that I can’t call her to ask what to do, or tell her about some unimportant thing I saw, or one day completely disagree about what style wedding dress I should wear, that I can forget to take a second look at the lessons I learned from her years ago (before I fully understood them) for the answers I need now.

I understand now that we live in a broken, cursed world where bad things happen to some of the best people and there is nothing anyone can do about it. That storms are inevitable, but I shouldn’t be afraid of their potential. That I simply can’t live life worried about things that God has control over. And that sometimes I need to remind myself of the beauty around me.

You know how much I love the sunshine, but I’m happy to say that I am no longer afraid of storms, Mommy. Continue to watch over me. I love and miss you more than anyone could understand. – Love, Loni Monster

In Loving Memory of Y.D.S.S.