Flying Requires the Right Keys

The airplane had just landed in Chicago from St. Louis Saturday morning. I witnessed a wedding ceremony the day before. Extremely exhausted from the anticipation of their union and the festivities surrounding it, I sat on an airplane waiting to head back to Alabama.

When the aircraft landed in Chicago (my hometown), everyone who’d made it to their destination exited the plane. The flight attendants instructed everyone who was traveling to Atlanta to remain seated as they conducted a headcount and boarded the flight with new passengers. I sat in my seat watching people board as I prepared for the remaining two hours of my travel. Once everyone was seated, a surprising announcement was made by the pilot.

“Ladies and gentlemen, the plane will be airborne as soon as we find the keys.”

Was I the only one who didn’t know that planes operated similar to the ways in which vehicles are started? Yes, an airplane is a vehicle, but because I never inspected the cockpit, I just figured it started a different way. Perhaps with the push of a button.

After about 15 minutes, the pilot announced that the right keys were located and that we were cleared for take off. What was interesting to me about the whole ordeal was that the aircraft had just landed. The previous pilot just used the keys in the cockpit to fly from St. Louis, so why didn’t they work now?

I asked the stewardess about the likelihood of the keys being taken by the former pilot, and she said that the old keys were still there, but something was wrong with them. Meaning, while the keys had just worked 40 minutes prior, they weren’t suitable for the remainder of the flight.

It was then that I realized why so many of us make it halfway through the journey and are unable to continue. So many of us assume that because the keys worked in the last situation then they will surely work now. Sadly, we are mistaken.

See, just because a strategy worked with one relationship doesn’t mean it will work in a new one. Just because your form of communication was successful with one friend, doesn’t mean it is transferrable to another. And, because we aren’t habitual in checking on the movability of our lives, we stagnate or just stay in one place.

Have you recently checked your keys? Have you ensured that you’re still on the right track? Moving?

Having keys that won’t advance your life is like having no keys at all. Your former keys won’t open the door of your future, but in many respects hold you captive to your present, and remind you of your past.

If we’re going to fly from one place to another…If we’re going to embody the will of God for our lives…If we are going to be intentional about the path we take, and the timing in which we get there, then we have to check our keys.

Your spiritual keys, I mean. You need your feet shined with the preparation of peace, the sword of the spirit, the shield of faith, the breastplate of righteousness, the helmet of salvation, and the belt of truth. You must pray and fast. You must take inventory of the things that you’ll need for the journey, and all of this is to ensure that you aren’t late for your arrival in another place.

One thing I learned from my frequent air travels is that if you are late to leave one place, it throws off the order of your final destination. Sometimes the pilot will try to make up for the lost time in the air by increasing speed, but he cannot foresee any turbulence or other issues that may arise once in the air.

The same is true for us. Don’t wait to inspect and account for the necessary tools needed for the journey. Don’t wait until it is time to for takeoff to search for the God of the journey. Instead, prepare yourself and that requires that you become so intimate with Him that you gain the insight (inward sight) for the trip.

While the pilots were in charge of the airplane, they could not move without the keys that unlocked the engine. In the same way, while we are steering our own lives, we cannot get to certain places without God unlocking the doors of opportunity. With this in mind, I ask you,

“DO you have the correct keys for your journey?”

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We Can Break Our Own Hearts

I asked God not to request this blog. In fact, I had another idea for a write-up for this week and it didn’t contain any of my secrets. It was an encouraging one that everyone might relate to. It was one filled with inspiration that allowed me to withhold parts of my story from the world. From myself.

I was laying in bed when He gave me the topic of this post. He asked me to write a post on how we break our own hearts. Namely, he wanted me to write about how I break mine and know that I’m doing it. He asked me to reveal to my readers a truth that I’ve tried to hide from myself for a long time, but somehow it keeps surfacing. The truth is that the way that I break my own heart is how I’ve always done it. Putting myself on sale for the highest bidder then settling for the grey area.

I don’t believe we are designed for the area between where we are and where we want to be when it comes to relational ties. I don’t believe that people are really ok with getting a fraction of what they desire either. However, sometimes we do settle. We do put ourselves on sale. We do break our own hearts. And, it has less to do with the other person and more to do with our insecurities.

Situationships are one of the most common ways that we self-destruct. I’ve had a lot of them in my life. Situations where the individual would pursue me so intensely until I was finally interested. After a while, they would switch on me. Lose interest. Change their minds. Say they weren’t ready. Realize my weaknesses.

Those moments were never easy for me. Internally I would beg the person to see that I was worthy of their time and their love, and that I would be an asset to them. I would raise them up on my shoulders to prove myself. I would hurt every time they didn’t call, text, or reach out.

But, I couldn’t get mad at their negligence because “we weren’t together,” right? I shouldn’t have expectations for the person if we never established clear boundaries for our interactions. The seduction of love can be so lethal that it can destabilize you.

I was a willing participant in these interactions and every situationship that I entertained pushed me further and further away from God. I knew that God called me to be a wife and not someone’s stand in. I was called to permanently occupy a space and not just keep a seat warm until they found another…someone better. But even knowing these things I stayed. I stayed because feeling something, anything, let me know that my heart still worked. Even if it worked against me. Their lack of commitment to me reflected my inability to commit to myself.

Having someone to talk to everyday became important to me until it wasn’t. Until I saw my own disappointment surfacing in the conversations. Until I took inventory of my emotions. Until I saw my smile fade. See, there are things that we can’t settle comfortably in, and there are things that we tolerate for a small amount of time; however, when the time is up we leave casualties of war who once had good intentions for us. The road to hell is paved with people with good intentions.

Even my intentions turn on me without notice. This is why situationships were so easy to fall into even if we know the outcome. Walking away from them can be even harder, but at some point we have to stop building the person in front of us and return to building ourselves. We have to make the decision to stop tearing ourselves down for the hypothetical love of another. For the thoughts of how our lives could be, and accept our reality. Even if we break our own hearts in the process.

I know what’s it’s like to have to choose yourself and the pain of doing that is perhaps one of the greatest hurts that I’ve experienced. Yet, each time that I’ve looked back on a decision to choose me–no matter how hard–I’ve been grateful. No matter the pain of the process.

If you’re going to break your own heart, do it in an upward way.

XOXO

 

Building While Waiting

Last week I had a conversation with a friend over dinner. I was talking about new projects that I’m starting and the vision that I have for my life. While explaining my ideas, I’m sure I had that goofy look on my face that happens when I’m excited about something. The look does not surface often, but when it does it is forreal. I noticed my friend looking at me puzzled as I was speaking, but I was too caught up in my vision to address it. When I finished, perhaps a bit out of breath, he looked at me intently and asked, “Briana, if you’re doing all this now, what will your husband do?”

I was shocked. There it was. The question that I’d hoped no one would muster up the courage to ask. Was I doing too much? Truth be told I thought about it earlier that day.

My response to my friend was simple, “I don’t know!” Honestly, I don’t. I wasn’t being smart mouthed or defensive either. I really can’t afford to wonder about that at this moment. The truth is that I am not dating and don’t have any prospects right now; therefore, I choose to think about myself. It’s not selfish!

Unfortunately, so many women get caught up in the hype of “building with someone” that they refuse to build with themselves. I am not talking about in the context of marriage, but in your singleness.

We have a purpose before God brings anyone into our lives. We are responsible for the gifts that he’s entrusted unto us. We have to live the life that he has designed for us whether he sends someone or not.

While thinking about the ways in which we and our spouses will one day mesh is great, we cannot afford to trouble ourselves with false imaginations. In essence, we have to live in our present reality and move as God leads us to move. We cannot afford to waste time not bearing fruit because we waiting on a man.

No honey!! Whether I get married or not, I will walk in my purpose. You should adopt this mentality if you haven’t already. If you know who you are called to now,  why would waste time waiting on someone who isn’t here? This is what the enemy wants us to do. He wants us to get so caught up in our emotions and the possibility of your lives that we forget to make the necessary decisions to get us there.

Women, we have a plan to fulfill in the earth. We have to be intentional about building while single. We have to take up our burdens and be confident in the things that God has called us to do. The enemy is after your life and the lives of everyone connected to you.

Please hear me, do not put your life on hold attempting to run after a Hollywood fairytale. Do not take the risk of not living up to your full potential because you don’t have anyone to cheer you on. You must be intentional about your growth and build while you can.

Though I believe Deuteronomy 32:30, if you don’t have the second person now then you put the 1,000 to flight, and in due time God will bring you someone to help take the 10,000.

October’s Booklist

Each month I try to read a spiritual book to further encourage spiritual growth. This month, I was so anxious to read Tim Sheets’ Angel Armies and Matthew Stevenson’s Abba that I couldn’t choose between the two, so I decided to tackle both.

angel armiesSheets’ text enlightens readers about the nature and assignment of angels. It tells about their significance in the earth, why their presence is important to the believer, and how they assist with our purposes. Unfortunately, while several of us know about angels, we don’t necessarily know how to partner with them to help bring the plans of God to the natural realm. In essence, we could be missing out on instructions as well as opportunities to partner with angels. Now, I’ve heard many people talk about seeing angels materialize in church services, or relay instances when they’ve entertained angels unaware, but I’ve never studied them. And, I can admit that Sheet’s book is helping me not only understand the angelic realm, but also the protocols and nature of heaven. I would definitely recommend this book to anyone interested in learning about how angel armies are designed with humankind in mind.

Now this next book is taking me a little longer to work through and for obvious reasons.

Stevenson’s book directly confronts our perception of God. Now, until fairly recently I didn’t have the best relationship with my father because I was raised in a single parent home. However, as God started to mend our relationship, I noticed that there were areas abbaof myself that I reserved as “off limits” for my father. These were the areas in my emotions. In guarding against my natural father, God began to show me how I also guarded my heart from him. Because of my fear of the new relationship with my dad, largely due to our broken past, I transferred those feelings to my interaction with God. Ultimately, I didn’t have the courage to see God as Father, but rather as Lord and King. This broken relationship with my dad seriously impacted my ability to be vulnerable with God even in private. I had trouble seeing him as Father who loved me because I once didn’t believe that my dad did. I was sadly mistaken. As I work through Stevenson’s text, I notice that layers are falling off of my heart. I am aware that my callousness is dissolving, and that I am more willing to try to open my heart to receive both of my Father’s love.

In essence, I believe that it is important that we feed our spiritual selves just as much as we feed our physical bodies. We must continue to educate and stretch our spirits if we ever hope to FULLY become who God created us to be.

-B

When You Feel Like Your Work Is Not Enough

The Day of Small Beginnings-2
Sometimes I have moments where I feel like my voice isn’t loud enough. I’m not talking about the 3 octaves that my voice climb when I’m in a heated debate, or the outburst I have when someone does something unsafe in the middle of the road (pray for me). What I’m talking about is my work in the kingdom and the unique position that I occupy.

People who know me know that I’m not the most churchiest Christian. While I do believe in the assembly of believers, I don’t spend majority of my time in its walls. In fact, most of my time is spent on a college campus, or in front of a computer. I am a researcher and an emerging scholar in academia, but I am also a believer.

Due to the intersectionality of my position at the crossroads of scholar, Phd candidate, Christian, and activist, I often feel a bit insecure about my voice. Sometimes in academic settings I have the potential to come off as churchy. When I’m in church, there are moments that my critical lens turns on the congregation. These things happen without effort. They intertwine with my personality so seamlessly that I wonder about my effectiveness.

I, of course, have never seen a prophetic academic. Now, this doesn’t mean that there aren’t any, but just means that I haven’t made their acquaintance. This reminds me of the prophet Elijah who laments to God that he’s the only one who hasn’t bowed to Jezebel in 1 Kings. The Lord responds to him that there are hundreds of prophets in caves who haven’t bowed.

Honestly, God’s response to Elijah is convicting for me. It shows me that because of  limited knowledge that I reason immaturely. See, I don’t know who my work is impacting. I don’t know who my positioning encourages, but what I know is that no matter how insecure I may feel about the my assignment, I must remain faithful.

God uses who he will, how he will. He decides our destinies and our paths. He knows who we were before the foundations of the world. And, while I may think that the work I’m doing is insignificant, he does not.

Ultimately, this is where we have to find our grounding. We cannot measure our duty by someone else’s notoriety. We cannot decide through emotionalism our worth, but we must stand on the truth of God.

His word says that he called you. It says that he ordained you. It says that he knew you. Do not despise the day of small beginnings. I know that seems cliché especially in our hyper saturated world, but it isn’t impossible.

In essence, we must keep our eyes upward if we hope to have the victory.

Social Justice and Christianity

social justice
I wish that I could say that I do social justice work because I am a Christian but that’s not the case. The truth is that I grew up in the inner city on Chicago’s South side, and I’ve seen a lot of black people die by our hands and others. When I was around the age of 6, I recall one night when some gangsters ran into my house searching for a family friend who supposedly stole money from one of their family members. They beat him in the head  with an iron on my aunt’s bed. There was blood. His nickname was Meatball. He left the house stumbling and I don’t think he made it to the corner before he died on that summer night. I was eating dinner at the kitchen table when this happened and the scene has not left the margins of my mind.

When I stayed on 76th and Stony Island as an elementary school student I remember living across the street from the Black Stones. From what I recall they were a local street gang that occupied that section of the Eastside but they were always nice. They stayed in a yellow house filled with people and everyone knew they cherished their grandmother.

My graduating year in 2008, 34 Chicago Public school teenagers were killed. Though this is a low number today, this was an all time high and some of those students were my classmates. And, one time while visiting my friend in the projects I saw a gun for the first time being toted across the street in broad daylight. The gunman fired into a crowd of people after warning me to go back into the house.

I was not a professed Christian then but did believe in God.

In 2014, I packed my life in a moving truck headed to Alabama from Missouri just days before Michael Brown was killed. I frequented lots of those places that were destroyed due to riots. In fact, I lived a couple blocks over from the scene of the murder. I wondered if Mike Brown could’ve been my brother. At the time, one of them could’ve easily fit his description. As I contemplate the war zones that I’ve frequented, the things that I’ve seen and been silent about, and the thoughts that I struggle to articulate, I can’t help but wonder has this made me believe in God more or less?

So why did I volunteer to teach men inside a prison? Because who else would? I volunteered because I have 5 black brothers who could be any one of the men behind bars. Two of which can easily be targeted because of their build as they migrate in the world. I often hear my mother tell them to be cautious of their size as they wear it like a badge of terror. Their only crime is being big and black. But we are Christians. We even pray in the Holy Ghost.

Just recently I realized that my black body can be taken from me. Yes, me. Educated and Christian. I’ll tell you a story:

One day I was headed to the prison  around 7a.m.  I had to exit the main expressway and travel along the back roads of Alabama to get to the facility. I always lost cellular service on the way there, which made me nervous because there were lots of Confederate flags. I saw my first real one when I moved South.

One morning, in the midst of the Sandra Bland case, I was stopped by an officer in one of those white towns. I went through a speed trap–one of those things where the speed limit suddenly decreases and if you aren’t paying attention then you’re in trouble. Well, I wasn’t paying attention. In fact, I was thinking about the lesson that I would teach that day, Richard Wright’s Native Son (1940).

When I saw the lights of the police car, I pulled over and prepared to hand over my license and car insurance card. Remember it’s 7a.m. My hands started to shake violently and for the first time I knew what fear of the police felt like. I was unarmed, didn’t have cellular service, and was in a foreign territory though I was an American.

The last thing on my mind was to pray.

The officer’s words shocked me when I rolled down my window. “What are you doing here?,” he asked. To make sure I heard him correctly I hesitated to respond because for the first time I had to account for why my black body was in a white space. Silence.

Silence.

Silence.

Silence. Echoing loudly like the time that I didn’t call my white classmate out for saying “Nigger” followed by a giggle. We were talking about William Faulkner’s Absalom, Absalom. 

I regretted being silent in the classroom just like I regretted being silent with the officer, but he had power and I did not. My white classmate had a power that I did not, and a recognition of that caused my tongue to stick to the roof of my mouth. Because, as we know, the spectacle would not have been what either of them did to me but how I responded.

Silence.

How many times have black people been silent?

I told the officer that I was headed to the prison to teach, which was evident in my bright orange 2x men’s shirt printed with Prison instructor. My hair was braided into two braids and I wore my glasses with no makeup. He asked if I were a student then requested to see my school identification card. He needed more proof that justified my existence.

After he ran my information through the system, I noticed that another cop car pull up and as he exited the car I started to voice record on my phone. Why was this my first response? Why didn’t I tell him that I was a Christian and that I was just trying to do my duty to the country by educating people whom the world had forgotten?

Because in that moment, my faith only mattered to me and I left it on the passenger side of my seat as I reached for my phone.

Too long I’ve tried to separate the social activist work from my walk with God. Too long I’ve tried to silence myself because I felt that Christians were only supposed to preach a gospel that was edifying and ignore the realities of our world. Too long I’ve been blinded by fear and ignorance.

In essence, I taught in two prisons because I am black, I have black brothers, a black father and sister, a mother, and my body will produce more blackness. I do social justice work because as Christians we are called to make a change and not just stay in the pews having midnight musicals. We are called to be the light, the world changers, the history makers, but many of us have fallen asleep. Pacified by a pretty gospel, but that’s not the type of God I serve.

I believe that several of us have failed to build the necessary relationship with God that helps us understand that he is interested in justice.

My social justice pursuits don’t make me any less of a Christian but assist me in understanding why I believe in what I believe.

I think about the public intellectual Ta-Nehisi Coates and his current stance on America. If you haven’t read his latest book Between the World and Me (2015) you definitely should. But, Coates laments in several ways that he has no hope for white America. Specifically, he has no hope in change. I find his positioning very valuable and at times find myself wrestling with the same dystopian thoughts, but this is where my Christian walk works for me.

My only hope for humanity is God.

God. Not a white God or a black God, but the I AM.

And, if that means that I have to take up my cross and fight for the cause of my brother then I will. If that means that I have to pray in the schools then I will. If that means that I have to write more pieces like this to draw attention to the fact that some of us have taken the easy way to survive that isolates us from the causes and the plights of our fellow people then I will.

What I’m saying is this…My life has been far from pretty. I come from scarce means. But, I didn’t make it to where I am today without understanding that the environment that I was raised in, coupled with personal intimacy with God helped shape my political outlooks on society.

I have something to say.

In a world where the sacred and secular grow together, I must announce that I am Christian and an activist. Both of them inform the ways in which I process my journey.

-B

 

Open Heart Surgery

heartI was talking to a friend who revealed to me that someone in her family has to undergo an open heart procedure. As I sat in the living room listening to her explain to me the situation, I couldn’t help hearing the fear in her voice. My only response was, “How are you?” to which she responded “sacred.”

As the conversation drifted from my mind due to the cares of the day, I eventually remembered the fear I heard in her voice as she told me the story. Her fear mirrors mine as I see myself on God’s operating table once again.

The most common type of open heart surgery is coronary artery bypass. During the procedure, a healthy artery or vein is grafted (attached) to the person’s blocked artery. As a result, the attached artery will bypass the blocked one to bring fresh blood to the heart.

This is the process of how God purges our hearts of toxins. While in God’s operating room, he puts us on the table and opens our chest cavity. Afterwards, he attaches his word and spirit to our blockages to allow freedom to flow. Unfortunately, though, we’ve become so acquainted with our blockages that even if the surgery is for the best, it produces fear.

My friend’s emotions mirror my own as God operates on me. While I know that over time I’ve hidden things in the arteries of my heart that have caused love to stop flowing, I don’t remember what openness feels like anymore. What if I am unblocked and I don’t manage the recovery well? What if the stress of the procedure causes me to faint? What if I become better?? More willing to love? To forgive?

Yes I want to be better and experience total freedom but at what cost? Will my freedom require me to lose friends? Acquaintances? My present? Will it further separate me from my peers? Will it demand that I have a spirit of excellence?

Matthew 5:8 says that only the purpose in heart will see God, and perhaps I’ve blinded myself by the fear of my past that I’ve skewed my perception of wholeness. It’s interesting the ways in which we make allowance for our dysfunction. The way that we make accommodations for behaviors for so long that we struggle to get out of our own cages. How long are we willing to remain there?

The grafting of the Holy Spirit will cost you something. You will have to recover, but not alone. I’m learning as I undergo my spiritual surgical procedure that God puts us on the operating table for a reason. He opens our hearts to allow us to live and live freely. He will remove our heart of stone and give us a heart of flesh (Ezekiel 36:26), but we have to be willing to experience the discomfort of healing.