The G.I.F.T.S Lens:
Finding Your Strength in Strife

By S.P. Brown, Author of Gifts in Brown Paper Packages

Gifts in Brown Paper Packages (Gifts) is a coming-of-age story commencing the night New York City teenager Kyrie Graves impulsively flees the verbal and physical abuse prevalent in her childhood home to tackle life and adulthood with no plan except survival. Kyrie’s story derives from a personal journey of growth, strength, insight, and truth. Through Kyrie’s lens, the reader is led through vivid episodic flashbacks from childhood to emerging adulthood where each scene is ripe with experiences that are equal parts funny, shocking, painful, and genuine. Kyrie’s voice is borne of struggle and fear. Ultimately, Kyrie’s acceptance of her story in its entirety, enables her to embrace the lessons, or “gifts”, that strife and challenges offer despite their unpalatable aspects. Ultimately, Kyrie recognizes and accepts all the gifts, even the ones that come wrapped in brown paper packages.

Gifts is a fictional story based on real-life experiences, many from my own life. I began to write this story several years ago after my therapist encouraged me to utilize my knack for writing and storytelling to process difficult experiences and feelings from my adolescence. While I had courageously embarked upon the self-work journey that therapy is predicated upon, I spent the majority of my sessions regularly pontificating three things: (1) the burden of being a black female attorney combatting the ills of systemic racism in corporate America, (2) the stress of being a working mom of three children, and (3) the responsibility attached to being the wife of a black man facing his own challenges. All of this was suitable clinical fodder, yet, week after week I avoided the family of origin wounds that informed the black, female, mother, sister, wife, friend, and attorney that I had become. Although adept at synthesizing information, analyzing facts, and providing well-thought-out advice as a skilled attorney with twenty years of experience, I was far less adept at analyzing the facts of my life and connecting how those occurrences impacted me. This was seemingly beyond my psychological bandwidth. Writing Gifts changed that.

I am struck by how encumbered we all feel by the day-to-day vicissitudes of our lives. The text threads and phone conversations within my girlfriend tribe are replete with tales lamenting the weight of our respective struggles, blunders, and strife. From parenting our children AND ourselves, while simultaneously caring for aging parents, and showing up for extended family and friends – we often feel at risk of collapsing beneath the weight of it all.

The unwelcome shows up on our doorsteps in varying forms; the job that feels untenable complete with the manager that is either suffocating or ignoring us. Or worse yet, the career that we’ve worked tirelessly to attain, only to discover that it does not fulfill us. Perhaps it’s the relationship that repeatedly reveals itself to be toxic despite our valiant attempts to convince ourselves that the good days (or the mind-blowing nights), make the overall dysfunction acceptable. At times, it’s the searing pain of hurt and regret, an illness or medical condition that debilitates the body, or a devastating personal loss that feels unbearable. We’ve all been somewhere on that spectrum at some point in our lives. Some of us are dealing with one or more cogs in that wheel even as we read these words.

If we had known that our life’s journey would have traversed the minefields it did, we probably would have opted to avoid that path altogether. If we had the opportunity to choose, most of us would have chosen a life minus the strife. Yet, where would we be without the tribulations? How prepared would we be to handle each new experience, without the insight and resilience garnered from encountering the last one?

Alternatively, we view life’s triumphs as blessings; the conception and birth of healthy children, an engagement to a suitable partner, weddings, anniversaries, milestone birthdays, academic and professional wins, a favorable annual checkup. All of these are characterized and fervently so, as gifts from God, documented for all to see on our social media pages. I proffer that life’s trauma, the tragedies that can impale the heart and crush the spirit birthing unimaginable pain and sorrow, are valuable and worth more than the tears and heartache they elicit. The irony is that sometimes, gifts do not arrive beautifully adorned with silk ribbons. Instead, some of the best gifts arrive in brown paper packages, tied with string.

It is the latter unappealing delivery that we avert our eyes from, not realizing that we have to dig through the distasteful exterior, to identify the gift. What did I learn from this horrendous experience? What did it leave behind that I did not possess before its arrival? What can I glean from it that makes me better equipped to handle what is sure to come tomorrow? Identifying a gift as a gift is predicated upon perspective. It is also perspective that differentiates surviving from thriving. This is the crux of Kyrie’s journey in Gifts in Brown Paper Packages.

Writing Gifts and dialoging with readers about its messaging and purpose, has fostered an assessment of the “gifts” delivered to me during my fifty revolutions around the sun. In doing so, I’ve developed a self-check-in which has been helpful for me as I continue to evolve and grow. The G.I.F.T.S Lens is my proactive check-in for whenever I am reflecting on the ugly that life has to offer. It is the perspective-shifting tool that equips us to examine those undesirable experiences through a lens that identifies the gift.

The G.I.F.T.S Lens:







Are you extending yourself enough grace?

In the spiritual context, grace is an unmerited, unwarranted, and underserved act of kindness or compassion bestowed upon us by God.  In the temporal context, grace has a dual impact:  it requires us to bestow favor and compassion unto ourselves, and it also requires the same external-facing compassion in our interaction with others.  What a high personal standard to strive for!  It necessitates a certain degree of love, patience, and humility!

Bestowing grace upon oneself is necessary for alleviating the self-blame, self-deprecation, and shame that is often intertwined with the undesirable things that have happened to us. Are you extending yourself enough grace?  If not, then start by doing so today.


Are you intentional about what you say to yourself about yourself?

Intention is tantamount to any exercise that involves introspection.  Our words are powerful and we manifest the intention substantiating the words that we speak – that is why daily affirmations work to achieve and maintain a positive mindset.   Is it your intention to manifest post-traumatic growth and power beyond the pain?  What words are you articulating to exemplify that intention?  Start by speaking those words with intention!

Try these affirmations to practice intention:

    • I let go of what was so I can welcome what is
    • There is nothing I am not able to overcome
    • My past doesn’t equal my future
    • I am aware that struggling is part of the process
    • I will overcome this situation
    • I have the strength to become the me that I want to become


Are your extending forgiveness to those who may never ask for it?  To yourself?

Traumatic life experiences are often delivered with guilt and shame.  We also manage to figure out a way to internalize the wrongs done to us and assign blame to ourselves.  If it’s a breakup; “I could’ve treated him/her better.”  In the case of a lost job opportunity;  “I’m such a screwup.”  When navigating the relationship with an abusive partner, parent, or peer; “Maybe I deserved it.”

Forgiveness is multi-faceted.  There is forgiveness of the person or entity that has aggrieved you and there is also forgiveness of yourself. The latter is essential for identifying gifts.  If you are focused on tearing yourself down, your vision will be blurred and obstructed, precluding you from seeing and identifying the positive.

Forgiveness of others is a personal decision; whether or not it is necessary to identify the gifts through the lens will vary based on the circumstances of the hurtful experience and the parties involved. If anger, bitterness, and/or resentment characterize your feelings about the person, those are emotions you may need to work through with a licensed mental health professional and/or a spiritual advisor before being able to adequately assess any positive residual elements of the experience.   Own that as a reality, and seek the help you need to move forward.


Are you owning the truth of your circumstances? Are you owning your STORY?

Are you allowing the guilt and shame of the truth to force you to hide or live a lie?

Unpalatable experiences often drive you and I to hide. We hide behind a smiling mask of everyday life.  Many of us hide behind the false standards epitomizing the appearance of normalcy.  This is an unfortunate truth.

Trauma in life is inevitable.  The event that caused the trauma is often inconsequential; what is important is the impact of the trauma on the mind, body, and spirit.  Whether you suffered intimate partner violence, criminal violence, war violence, domestic violence or other interpersonal violence, emotional psychosocial abuse or the betrayal of a trust, the corresponding trauma response is not determined by the severity of the offending act.  Instead, trauma response in you is determined by the subjective experience of the event.  How did that event impact and ultimately change you?  The result of trauma can be significantly debilitating, even when suppressed or repressed because the body retains it.

It is for this reason that living in the truth of our circumstances is tantamount to finding your strength in strife.  The act or conduct that caused the pain must be acknowledged and owned.  The ability to work through the trauma in order get through it and to the other side of it, is predicated upon owning it – first.  Then, ideally, the trauma should be treated.  Treatment requires access to mental health care, i.e., a licensed mental health provider.  Unfortunately, lack of access is often a barrier.  Further, while the merits of therapy have been increasingly lauded in recent years, therapy continues to be culturally taboo in many communities of color.  Rebuke that narrative!   Own your truth and then, if you are able, treat the mind and body.


What is your story?

What is the strength that your story left within you?

We have reached the final step in the identification of gifts!  The S in the G.I.F.T.S Lens is STORY.  What is your story?   Who would benefit from hearing your story?

Strength is the residue of strife, that which remains when time has chipped away at the painful debris.   I am not negating the seriousness or the pain of the strife. Instead, I am honoring it.  You survived not in spite of the strife but because of the strife.  Let’s work on articulating the power that you derived from it and own the strength that has become the underpinning of your story.

We all have a story. There is not one that is identical to another, and there is not one that is better or worse than the next.  Your story IS unique.  Your story IS important.  Your story IS the ultimate gift.

Give yourself GRACE, speak to yourself with INTENTION, FORGIVE yourself, own your TRUTH, and then tell or write your STORY.

This is the work required to putting your strife through the G.I.F.T.S Lens and is to be applied, one unpalatable experience at a time.

“…a gift is a gift – whether it is one that you or I asked for, or one that was gratuitous; whether it is one that we are immediately grateful for or one that we begrudgingly or unwittingly accept.”

“Every experience, obstacle, and decision – good or bad – is a gift that manifests itself in the whole that makes me distinct, and you as well.”

Gifts in Brown Paper Packages, Epilogue,  S.P. Brown 

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