Breathe

It has been an inexcusable amount of time since I have last written in this blog, but I’m new to this, so cut me some slack, eh? I really have thought about blogging quite frequently, but with every passing day that I didn’t, I became more and more reluctant to get back to this space that I created to expose myself and open my heart to being shaped, nurtured, and deepened by those who read and interact with my thoughts. And so, here I am. Starting again, and hoping that I will be more diligent, more disciplined in being faithful to this blogging adventure that I was so enthused about months ago.

Since the last time I blogged, I have changed. My heart feels different, my mind feels renewed, and for the first time in quite a while, I have a beautiful, unwavering hope confidence that my life, my marriage, my future, will be filled with purpose, growth, times of celebration, joy, and most importantly (for me) peace, because of the faithfulness and power of Jesus and his grace over my life. The realization and acceptance of this truth has left me feeling like I finally exhaled. So, yes, I am different. I am breathing again; trusting more in the power God, accepting the love and kindness of my husband’s heart, and I am more willingly engaging with the often times ,painful healing process that the Lord is walking me through.

I am a ridiculously reflective person. It comes quite naturally for me to journal and make self assessments for just about any experience in my life. A little over a month ago, while reading the book of Philippians,  a book that I have read numerous times, this verse seemed to clamp on to my mind:

“Do nothing from rivalry or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves.”

Philippians 2:3

As I reflected on this verse, and prayed, asking the Lord to make it my default mode, I began to become overwhelmed with sadness. It took me a while to put words to this sorrow, but I soon realized that this verse would be an instrumental component of my healing process. (I realize that using the terms ‘healing’/’healing process’ repeatedly on a blog makes one wonder,”What are you healing from?” For now, I will simply say that I am learning to come to right understandings of myself, humanity, and the true character of God. Vague enough? lol). This verse took 18 years  of my life and said that it was all wrong. Everything that I had been taught, implicitly and explicitly, every motive that led my actions, it was all wrong.

I was taught to fight for myself. I was taught to never let anyone run over me, over-speak me, cheat me, disrespect me, touch my hair (it’s a black girl thing), take advantage of me, or hit me without me knocking them out.

I was taught to think about myself first and maybe others second.

I was taught to protect my belongings because they were…well…mine. My money, my food, my car, my clothes, my home, my cell phone minutes, mine, mine mine. I was taught to give to appear to be polite, but behind closed doors, I learned to scoff at those who dared to ask for MY things.

Reflecting on this verse brought me to tears as I grappled with just another radical lifestyle change that the Lord calls us to and the Holy Spirit makes possible for us to submit to. I cried for days, meditating on that verse. In the beginning, it was out of anger. I was angry that the common sense of the kingdom of God was so far from my experience and still takes so much effort to do on a daily basis. I was angry that I was not privileged to learn these things when I learned how to read, or how to multiply. And then I cried as I confessed and repented. I reflected on the ways that the Lord had/has been a Father to me since I began following Jesus 9 years ago, and the ways that he has been patient with me as I learn to spell my new names, “Chosen”, “Loved”, “Worthy”, “Forgiven”, “Precious”, and the ways that he has caught me every time as I transitioned from crawling in safe spaces to learning how to walk in right paths. And as I reflected on the grace of the Lord, and the ways that he has transformed my mind, my heart, my ‘default mode’, I confessed my brokenness, my selfishness for often times choosing to return to the lifestyle that I was taught as a ‘child’.

And then, I cried in celebration. (Can you tell that I’m an emotional creature?!) I cried in thankfulness that 9 years ago, I did not know or want to know how pouring myself out for the sake of others could bring so much life, fruit, joy, peace, and fullness. I cried and laughed (and probably would’ve looked and sounded like a dang fool) because I was in awe of Jesus and his crazy self (we’re tight. He knows what I mean), and how his insane, backwards ways actually bring beautiful redemption and restoration.

And now, after the crying (though more is surely on the way!) I am breathing. Inhaling the grace of Jesus, and exhaling, to the best of my abilities, an extension of that grace. I am clinging to Jesus, and accepting and reveling in his provision; in the tenderness and selflessness of my husband, in Mochi dates with those who have cried the tears that I now cry, in laughing long and hard with close friends, and in quiet moments of peace, I can now breathe.

 

 

Batter My Heart

Batter my heart, three person’d God; for you

As yet but knock; breath, shine, and seek to mend;

That I may rise, and stand, o’erthrow me, and bend

Your force, to break, blow, burn, and make me new.

I, like an usurp’d town, to another due,

Labour to admit you, but O, to no end.

Reason, your viceroy in me, me should defend,

But is captived, and proves weak or untrue.

Yet dearly I love you, and would be loved fain,

But am betrothed unto your enemy.

Divorce me, untie or break that knot again;

Take me to you, imprison me, for I,

Except you enthrall me, never shall be free,

Nor even chaste, except you ravish me.

Holy Sonnet 14, John Donne

Is there enough time?

Between tabling to meet new students, student meetings, planning talks (InterVarsity’s slang for sermons), and sometimes sleeping, I discovered a new talent today! Speed eating! I ate a huge bowl of piping hot lentil soup in 5 minutes! 5 minutes! I am also blogging with a time limit of 2 minutes, as I’m meeting a student in approximately 5 minutes. That will give me enough time to floss and stick a piece of gum in my mouth. Beat that, readers!

No Shame

I am exhausted. Mentally, physically, and emotionally, I am extremely fatigued, yet spiritually, I feel renewed.  Days like today make me so grateful that I have a job that encourages me to bring transformation to the university campus, and the world. As a part of my work with InterVarsity, I began a project for women at the University of Florida called Rahab. Rahab focuses on the unique struggles of women, while using the art of dance to bring freedom, confidence, and joy in identity.  The vision behind Rahab is to use the universal struggles of womanhood and the universal appreciation of dance to draw women near to the true Redeemer and Reconciler.  Today, in a discussion on body image,  13 women took a stand against conformity and  instead, chose to be transformed by the renewing of their minds. This is a glimpse of what it looked like:

“I will affirm the beauty of mankind.


“I will eat right to feel and be healthy, not to look right.”

“I will not call myself ugly. I will exercise to protect my temple”.

Other commitments included : “I will stop judging others.”

“I will not look for my beauty in males.”

“EAT!”

As I talked with my students about this very painful issue in our society and culture, I shared with them some of the stances that I have had to take in my own life:

  • I will not buy padded bras.
  • I will not buy magazines that exploit my fears and insecurities
  • I will not buy music or support artists that degrade women
  • I will not hide my femininity
  • I will speak kindly to myself
  • I will not critique the bodies of other women, including celebrities
  • I will stop dieting
  • I will go natural
  • I will not compare myself to other women
  • I will affirm other women in their beauty
  • I will eat in freedom
  • I will aim to be happy, not sexy
  • I will laugh more than I exercise
  • I will not be ashamed.

Women, as you go through your journey of embracing your bodies, stretch marks and all, what stances have you taken, if any?

“Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.”-Romans 12:2

Born in the Ghetto, Raised in the Hood

Undoubtedly, this post will make you either uncomfortable, or feel completely understood. I can only think of 3 of my readers who would certainly feel at ease reading this, so, beware. I warned you.

I was born and raised in Liberty City, a ghetto in Miami that is known for its high crime and lack of tourists. (Trust me, you won’t see buddy boy with his Hawaiian shirt and camera walking down 79th street unless he’s trying to get a lil somethin’ somethin’ that he ain’t getting at home.) I never really knew that I lived in the ‘hood’ until I went to middle school. It’s something about driving 30 minutes from your house to the ‘good school’ that grows you up real fast. Hearing my peers discuss what they heard on the news or what happened to their cousins who lived in ‘The City’ (an affectionate term for Liberty City), created a deep, painful sense of shame within me. I didn’t want my friends, and definitely not my teachers to associate me with ‘that place’. I wanted people to think that I came from a place that was free from struggle and pain and most importantly, poverty.

In 7th grade, I was given an assignment by my English teacher, Mrs. Serio, to compose an autobiography. I vividly remember sitting on my grandma’s faded purple carpet, back propped up on the couch, trapper keeper on my knees, erasing and rewriting the words ‘Liberty City’ on my college ruled paper. It just looked wrong. I’d practically worn a hole into my manuscript when I finally decided to re-name my neighborhood for the sake of this assignment. The nearby medical center, ‘North Shore’ was the fanciest establishment in the neighborhood that I knew of, so, I re-named Liberty City to ‘North Shore’. “I live in the North Shore area of Miami.” I wrote.

Fortunately, over time, the shame and regret faded away. I’m not sure what the series of events were, but I do know that InterVarsity had a huge voice in the change. I would hear older students in my chapter talking about their excitement to go to the ‘inner city’, not to be charitable, but to learn. “What on earth were these people smoking?” I often wondered. To me, learning anything from the hood meant that you wised up about a couple of things:

1. Don’t carry your money in your purse, wallet, or pockets. You stuff your dollar bills and quarters either in your socks, or, if you had enough to secure it, in your bra. That was never an option for me.

2. Move large, valuable items in your house at night. Moving that plasma t.v. into your house in the daytime is understood as ‘I REALLY don’t want this T.V.! First one who can make it through the obstacle of a locked house can have it!’

3. When you hear loud sounds, you fall to the floor. It doesn’t matter where you’re at. I don’t care if you are in the sanctuary, without hesitation, you drop to the floor.

So, hearing these older students and even more so, staff, talk about learning about Jesus from hoods like mine were mind boggling. The more they talked, the more I reflected, and the more gracious Jesus was to me. I began to see things with fresh sight.  The community that exists in ghettos are unlike anything that I’ve ever seen or experienced. I remember playing for hours with all the neighborhood kids on the street, and at times, getting disciplined by all the neighborhood mamas on the street. No matter the amount of crime that polluted our city, as a child, I remember feeling safe and secure. I knew that as long as I was in hollering distance of any of our neighbors, someone would come out to defend me. I remember dancing in the street with the neighborhood little girls, having dance contests, and not being afraid of the neighborhood cars. I knew that they’d slow down and sometimes yell out ‘Alright lil mama! Y’all gettin it!” I remember those times with an unexplainable fondness, but somehow, along the way, those things escaped my mind.

I believe that one strong force in my self -inflicted distance from the hood has been the evolution of the word ‘ghetto’. If you ever want to make me skeptical of your character, compassion, and sometimes intelligence, you should use the word ‘ghetto’ as an adjective. Really, try it. You will instantly see my jaw clench, my eyes look up to the heavens, and if my husband is around, you will see him whip his arm around my shoulders. It is his affectionate way of saying “Do not beat down that person! Yes, you’ll feel great in the moment, but we don’t have enough money to bail you out!”

Recently, I don’t know when it started, perhaps the last ten years, young people have began to use the word ‘ghetto’ interchangeably with the words: bad, bootlegged, trashy, inappropriate, tacky. The use of the term in this manner is not only demeaning, it assaults one’s identity. While at an InterVarsity Conference for Black students, 2 years ago, a meek, tender young woman stood up to speak in front of about 200 of her peers, and spoke words that will forever grip my heart. “ Sticks and stones will break my bones, and words will kill my soul.” It is true. We are people who were created with rich and beautiful identities, and I believe, that a large part of our journeys on earth is to discover over and over and over again who and what we are. We are unique and beautiful creations created by the Un-created.

When I hear the word ‘ghetto’ being used as an adjective by those whom I know are not from a ghetto, or from White Americans (I’m just being honest. I’ve got my junk too!), many times, I don’t hear ‘ghetto’. I hear ‘Black’. For instance:

“Wow! Look at all that bling! That is so black.

“Wow, look at that tricked out car! That is so black.”

“Why are you talking soo loud?! Stop being so black.”

Sigh. It used to kill my soul. Now it just gets me damned angry. My bestie and I often chanted to each other “Born in the ghetto, raised in the hood!” a song made by Miami locals about their life experiences. We would chant it when were being especially resourceful, when we made a way out of no way (and trust, me that has to happen in college). We chanted this when we were feeling particularly proud of ourselves for being independent women. This is what I think of when I think of the ghetto. Now, I’m no idiot. Ghettos desperately need the love and redemption of Christ. Everything ain’t peachy keen in the hood. But what the ghetto doesn’t need, is more people creating institutionalized racism. The ghetto doesn’t need more onlookers and outsiders to deem it bad, and the ghetto surely doesn’t need the weight of society’s voice aiding in the crippling and crushing of its children.

I am a child of the ghetto. I have been hurt, like many others, by the ignorant, humor-intended words of others. My prayer, as I minister to students, just like me, and as I think and dream about being the mama of little biracial babies, who may end up living in the hood, is that more people would undergo the transformation that those older InterVarsity students went through. That more and more, this generation would see and strive to see Jesus in the most unexpected of places.

Culturally Christian, yet Spiritually Agnostic

Every Black person ‘knows the Lord’. It’s true. Go grab the first dark hued person that you see and ask them, very seriously “Have you accepted Jesus to be your Lord and Savior?” Odds are, sister girl or brotha man * will cut their eyes at you, dumbfounded by your bizarre, ignorant question. Of COURSE he/she has! God is as much a part of the average African-American’s identity as the gorgeous array of browns that we bear either in pride or shame. The Christian Post agrees with my observation, that African-Americans are notorious for being religious, and more specifically, Protestant (the belief that justification (or salvation) is achieved through faith alone in Jesus Christ, not works, and that The Holy Bible is THE authoritative source for life). What the Christian Post doesn’t do, however, is define what the term ‘religious’ actually means.

Cultural religiosity (oooh, wanna coin that term soo badly! I’m sure it’s been done…I probably read it from some amazing scholar) is not synonymous with authentic spirituality. Now, this may be one of those ‘a rectangle is a square, but a square is not a rectangle’ kinda things, but hear me out. Cultural religiosity looks like traditions. It looks like laws that are passed down from generation to generation like grandma’s fried chicken recipe. You do it because you were told that ‘it works’. You also do it because you have no choice (at least for the first 18 years of your life). Authentic spirituality, however, looks like traditions, that you do, not because you were told that ‘it works’, but because you have hope that it ‘can work’. Authentic spirituality has traditions that morph and transform over time to aid in the maturation of each unique person and generation. They are reformed traditions that change for the sake of creating genuine relationships and connectedness with God.  Authentic spirituality is freedom in the purest, most truest sense. Can authentic spirituality look like cultural religiosity? Of course it can, and vice versa, but ohh, how different these two concepts are.

I grew up, for instance, in a culturally Christian home (ummm….I’m a Black girl living in the South. That’s a no brainer). I can still see the ceramic, yellow plaque that hung on my living room wall with The Lord’s Prayer etched in brown paint. In King James English, of course. Every Saturday night, I’d get my hair pressed and curled in my kitchen, by my mama, for Sunday morning service. Until I was nine, my mom was pretty much a church lady. Often times, we’d spend half of our Sunday at church, as my mom was in the choir, and during the week, I’d spend a good couple of hours crawling under the pews of the sanctuary, as my mom rehearsed with the gospel choir. (In fact, I remember being at church for so long, and with so much rehearsing going on, that we didn’t even hear our car being stolen in the church parking lot. (IN THE CHURCH PARKING LOT!!!)

My mama gave me and my siblings a dollar each right before it was time for the offering so that we could all walk up in front of the congregation and put something in. At night, growing up, I remember saying my prayers to God, asking him to watch over my family, me and all the animals. I also remember being terrified of God, thanks to a few too many of my mom’s renditions of the book of Revelation. We said grace before every meal: “Thank you Lord for the food we’re about to receive right now for the nourishment of our bodies. Amen.” We held hands and thanked God for letting us live to see another year on New Years’ Eve.  Annnnd….that’s about it. I didn’t go to Sunday School, I don’t remember reading the Bible before age 11, and the foundations of my theology were simply that “God existed. He is powerful. He had a son named Jesus. Jesus is good, and he loves me.” I knew that Jesus died and rose on the third day (duh! I DID celebrate Easter!), but I had no idea of the significance of that. The thought of Jesus being anything more than the Son of God was outlandish.

Culturally, I was Christian, but Spiritually, I was Agnostic.

I did not follow Jesus’ teachings. Hey, I didn’t even KNOW his teachings. I believed in a mix of things: that if I were good, I would get blessed and go to heaven. I believed (as is a common trend in MY experiences with Black culture, including my own family) in Karma, that if I did something bad, God, the universe, and people, would punish me, and if I did something great, I’d be rewarded and people would be kind to me. I believed that God helps those who help themselves (You show me where that is in Scripture, and I’ll give you a pedicure for the rest of your life. Ain’t gonna happen.) I believed some crazy you know what, not because it was true, not because it was Scripturally based, but because it was this strange mix of culture and unfounded beliefs being passed off as religion.

So how did this strange incongruency end? How did I come to a place of believing in more than an all powerful deity? I wish I could say it started when I got baptized, but it didn’t. I also got baptized out of my cultural Christianity. I had no idea what I was getting myself into, but as grandma said, “it was time”. For my 12th birthday, I remember asking for a Bible. It was the only thing that I wanted. Very strange request looking back in hindsight. The Bible that my mom got me was white leather with my name engraved in gold letters. I still got that sucker sitting in the back seat of my car. Why? Because it means the Lord will follow you wherever you go, duh! (as you can see, I’m still working some things out.) Unfortunately for me, my Bible, was of course, a King James Version. Who on earth understands that? Really? But that is where my interest in Scripture grew. I would try to understand and piece things together. When I was 16, I found a ‘Living Bible’ version of Scripture. I remember inhaling The New Testament, captivated especially by the teachings of Jesus. But there was one thing that I got that has shaped all that I am to this day. It was one of the first things that I read. “The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel” (which means “God with us”).-Matthew 1:23

Reading this verse was the first time that I was presented with the truth, that Jesus, was NOT ONLY the son of God, but He is/was/will always be God. This began my journey to understanding Jesus as God incarnate. Wow! That was a frikkin paradigm shift like I’ve never experienced. I remember the relief that came in those months as I really began to read Scripture for the first time, praying for understanding, and revelation. It was like…I finally had someone to follow! I finally had someone telling me what it really looked like to believe and be obedient to God, and that person was Jesus.

Nearly three years ago, I decided to work full time in ministry for many reasons, but one reason in particular, was to be an agent of change in the Black community.  As I noticed on campus as a student, and now as an adult, there is a lukewarm epidemic amongst my people, and it makes my stomach curl. Like I said earlier, ask any sister or brother if they know the Lord, and their response will most likely be ‘yes’. 8 years ago, my answer would’ve been yes, and as truthful as that would’ve been for me, it was so very far from the truth. Maybe a better question would be, “Do you know who Jesus is?” or “Are you familiar with the teachings of Jesus? Do you follow them?”

As I reflect on my own cultural religiosity, I am both amazed at the work that the Lord has done in my life through relationships with others, and I am also deeply humbled at how he used/uses this jacked up woman to lead others to him. I am also reminded of the spiritual junk that I still need to sort through (Like seriously….WHY is the Bible in my back seat?! Lol). All in all, I am at a place now, where I can say that I’m LEARNING to know the Lord (seriously, he’s waaay too big and good to know fully), and, yes. I follow and accept Jesus as LORD and Savior, and I am trying my hardest to be both culturally, and spiritually, an African-American Christian.

*for Abbie