Flying in 2016

I’ve traveled every month in 2016, and 6 times this year I’ve boarded a plane heading to various locations. Each time I boarded for a flight it was with expectancy that I would land in another space. Of course, I booked the flight with an ending destination in mind.

For instance, I boarded a plane in Alabama with the intent of landing in Pennsylvania. There was another time when I boarded the plane in Atlanta with the intent of landing in Europe 8 hours later.

Despite the start location and the ending point, the thing that is constant is the vehicle that I use to get to my destination. However, the pilot is in control of how slow or fast we go, and how high we fly. As a paying passenger, I surrender the limited knowledge of what I know about aircrafts to him, and fully trust that he will get me to my location safely.

Largely, the plane analogy is significant to me because it signals a space between two points. When flying, I’m no longer in the place that I started, but I’m not at my final destination either. I’m totally dependent on someone outside of myself who has a knowledge base that I don’t.

This is similar to my walk with God. The starting is always the toughest part. Wheels on the ground, speeding toward takeoff, it gets a bit bumpy. But, in the sky it’s usually smooth sailing. Granted, there are times when we hit turbulence and it threatens to end the journey, but more times than not, there is an alternate route.

When the air gets bumpy on the airplane, the pilot comes on the intercom to inform the passengers about the journey ahead. His voice, always calm, highlights the forecast, and issues additional safety precautions such as staying in one’s seat with seat belts fastened. And, the passengers obey. The significance is that the pilot, though out of sight, is on the plane as well.

The same is true with God! When on a journey with him, he gives clear instructions when needed. Like the pilot of the aircraft, he only speaks when necessary. When I hit turbulence on my flight with God, he comes on the intercom of my spirit, and offers clear instructions on how to survive the flight. He generally  discourages the panic that make arise as a result of my uncertainty. He reminds me of the plans that he has for me, and more importantly he tells me not to fear.

The turbulence in my life generally subsides after a while, and the flight resumes in a smooth manner. Like the pilot, God then resumes the flight in silence, as I am reminded of the final destination.

I’ve been on several spiritual flights this year, and some threatened my existence. There were those that threatened to expose my flaws, and insecurities. But, despite the momentary discomfort of my time in the air, I’ve landed safely

I don’t think that it’s happenstance that I’ve travelled so much this year, and the significance surrounding each flight varies. But one thing that is certain, my time in uncertainty (i.e. in the air) is not as long as my tim

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Your Excuses Will Give Up on You!

With less than 10 days left in 2016, I started to reflect on the year. Generally, I like to compare myself by the previous year to measure the growth in my life. This journey prompted me to look back over the goals I set at the beginning of the year to see just how intentional I’ve been with my actions. Surprisingly, 9 of the 10 goals were completed, but one, perhaps the most important was still there. Personal health.

Earlier this year I started out strong in my attempt to get physically in shape. As a matter of fact, I lost 10 pounds within a couple of months, and started to see muscle definition. I was well on my way to being in the best shape of my life. However, school started in August and naturally, I turned majority of my attention to it. For 16 weeks I probably hit the gym 7 of them, and slowly but surely my body began to take on a familiar form. The results from the previous months of being in the gym 6 days a week started to fade, and one day I realized that I was back in the same place that I was in at the beginning of the year.

How did I get here? I mean, I’m vegetarian now and I don’t eat the trash that I used to consume. How did I gain the weight back? My questioning pointed back to the 16 weeks of school that I allowed stress to deter me from my physical goal. Yes, it was school! That’s it. I had to focus on school; therefore, I couldn’t workout as much. I was so satisfied with blaming it on school until the semester ended.

It wasn’t just that I had to focus on teaching, my academic work, and everything else that goes into being successful, but that I failed to plan. As a natural planner, I was appalled at my negligence. I always knew the amount of energy that it took to be successful in school, because it comes around the same time every year. I also know how I operate during academic years, and when those years end. But, my excuse that school was tough failed me.

It all boils down to how bad you want a thing. In the beginning of the year, I badly wanted to be in good shape, and I threw my efforts into physical activity. What’s interesting is that I was still in school when I set the goal to become better. My mentality changed during the latter part of the year and I became complacent. Yes, school was in. Yes, I was under stress. Yes, a lot has happened this year, but those things came and went. My excuses gave up on me!

What never left was my promise to myself that I somehow stuffed under the bed until a better time. Well, there’s no better time than the time right now. Don’t tell yourself, “I’m going to wait 9 more days then I’m going to get in shape.” Don’t put off that thing that you know you should have done months ago. Do it now! The road will not get easier, and there will never be an ideal time to do anything. The difference between champions and failures is that champions do it in spite of the current circumstance.

So, I encourage you to be a champion, and start the end of the year strong!

I was Conditionally Admitted

In 2014, I started the last phase of my academic career—the PhD program. While I was excited to embark upon this new journey there was only one stipulation, I was conditionally admitted into the program! I don’t know if you’ve ever been told or made to believe that you weren’t good enough to do something, but the feeling sucks. In fact, it can be a major blow to your self-esteem if left unchecked and this is definitely true for me.

Being conditionally admitted meant that I was on academic probation the first year of my professional school career. As a result of a low GRE score, the institution felt that I was a possible risk to the university. While they recognized that I had the potential to do great things—evidence from the rest of my application packet—my profile did not check every box on their checklist. Have you ever been given an opportunity with strings attached? How did it make you feel? Did it cause you to grow or shrink back?

I struggled with the reality of my admittance for a long time. In fact, it haunted me for the first 2.5 years of my stay at the school. Why? Because the decision of the school meant to me that I wasn’t good enough. Granted, I wasn’t waitlisted, but by labeling me as something less than, as a risk, caused some trauma to my psyche. There were times when I would compare my seat in the classroom to my classmates’. When I heard them speak, I heard them in a way that “proved” they deserved to be there and I didn’t.

When we adopt or adapt to the labels placed on us by other people it has the potential to have damaging effects. I can attest that my mind started playing tricks on me once I entered the program. I had a lot of self-deprecating thoughts as well. How do I get over this? I mean I’m only on probation for the first year, right? It wasn’t like they completely rejected you like the other 3 schools, right? In fact, the institution half accepted you! Do you know that rejection is rejection no matter how it presents itself? Half acceptance is rejection!

In order to put our reality into the proper perspective, we have to be able to discern the times and the path for our lives. We have to have a strong understanding of our identity and what God called us to do. We have to be able to push through the bad to get to the good. This process is perhaps the most challenging but it is one of the most fruitful.

While I openly rejected their perception of me outwardly, inwardly I believed them. I believed the lie that they offered by placing a conditional label on me. I secretly resolved to prove them wrong, and in seeking to prove something to “the powers that be” I volunteered to play their game. It is important to realize that you cannot seek to “prove” someone wrong without agreeing to play on their turf. While you may reason that you don’t have anything to prove, that is not the truth. Since people thrive on validation and approval—human needs—it is unlikely that you will move on without momentarily internalizing the expectations of others.

For me, there were times when their grouping of my profile into the possible risk category played on my mind. If I can be honest, it hurt to not have the full support of my school. Yes, it was my own fault that I didn’t earn the high score on the GRE, but I worked hard, and there are so many factors to taking that exam. Arguably, I worked harder than some of my peers and I wanted desperately to add to the academic world. But what would that mean for me?

I’ve learned that in trying to prove “them” wrong, I slightly succumbed to their perception of me long before they met me. In essence, I couldn’t seek to prove them wrong because I believed what they said about me. Being rejected admittance from several other schools prior, I was discouraged because it felt that no one believed in me. Let me be clear, I had a steady support group, but the people who were making decisions about me at other schools didn’t believe I was good enough. They judged me not based on my character, but on their needs.

So what door did their decision open up? It opened the door of insecurity—which I was already battling—restlessness, depression, anxiety, and self-doubt. On the outside I worked hard, and I produced a lot of academic work, but on the inside I deteriorated rapidly. The stress of their decision and the demand I placed on myself to prove them wrong worked against me until I learned the valuable lesson about my identity in Christ. I stopped trying to prove them wrong and decided to get into alignment with Christ.

I had to learn that everyone wouldn’t believe in me, and be okay with that reality. I had to willingly accept the road that God designed for me even if it caused me to look weird. More importantly, I had to learn to rely on God in spite of what I saw. God didn’t design me to live based on the approval of man. He didn’t save me to live mediocre. I was challenged to ask myself the hard question, “Whose report will you believe?” I believe the report of the Lord.

When I completed course work, I looked back over my admittance condition and laughed. I laughed because for the first time I achieved my goal of earning straight A’s. It took me to get to this level of schooling, with the odds against me, to live up to my full potential. In retrospect, their labeling was good for me. It challenged me to come from under the opinions of others, and submit my will to the will of God.

Perhaps, being conditionally admitted was the best decision for me because it helped me overcome the feelings of inadequacy.

The “S” On My Chest

I can’t remember a time when I didn’t find myself at an intersection. Largely mirroring a liminal space, my life has always reflected that of a hybrid. Living in the borderlands, rifting off Gloria Anzaldúa’s mestiza concept, I think of myself as a boundary breaking being. Never fitting comfortably into any box that I attempted to limit myself to, there has always been an inability to grow comfortable. Perhaps, it’s like the baby eaglet feels when its mother stirs her nest.

The “S” in which I am referring stands for scholar. Yes, scholar. While I once thought of my school work as isolated from my personal life, I was wrong. In fact, my personal life has largely informed my academic pursuits. In essence, the two are not separate from one another, and can be used interchangeably in a lot of ways.

For instance, in order to study and understand black women’s spirituality and practices, I had to conduct research. While that is expected of one in my field, the research in which I am referring is within myself. I could not approach texts with a closed mind, acting as a voyeur in someone else’s life. I mean, I could but that would do the text injustice. Largely, in literature, we read through the lens of our experiences. Whether we realize it or not, we superimpose our lifestyles and rearing onto the characters in the text. My practice is no different.

When I read a novel or autobiography, I am prompted to search within myself to establish some form of common ground. Several texts prompt me to examine why I am the way I am. They ask me to question my beliefs and lack of decisions in most cases. The books also pose as a mirror to show a reflection that asks “where are you?”

My walk with Christ largely informs the way that I interact with books. Yes, I used the word “interact” in talking about books because the narratives are timeless. In fact, when I read close enough the characters come to life, and I find myself entangled in someone else’s life. I give the characters advise, laugh at their jokes, and feel anxious if I think something bad may happen to my favorite character. However, this is not the only reason why I love literature.

My interest and investment in my personal growth leads me to certain texts, especially the ones where women grow spiritually. I think to be stagnate in life is to first be stagnate in the spirit. If change comes from the inside out, then the physical is only manifesting what is internally present. Interestingly, I did not learn that from a literary novel, but from the bible.

While I understand the intellectual’s reservations about Christianity and its problems historically, through personal time with Christ, I’ve learned how to separate man’s actions from Christ’s. You know how they teach students to close read in school: the practice of reading things into a text that might not otherwise be there? It is called having revelation from a theological perspective. Therefore, I approach the bible as well as literary texts seeking revelation. I do not wish to simply see what others see, nor do I wish to regurgitate what they have already spoken. I do, however, seek to be original in my interpretation of both areas of my life.

If African American literature teaches us that the same time the sacred was arising, so was the secular, then why can’t we think of our academic pursuits and our spiritual walk in the same manner, especially when they inform one another? My answer is that for so long we’ve been taught to choose because no one has been able to be  vocal successfully about two areas of concentration and be great. We’ve been taught to stuff our big minds and big God into an either/or category only to be left frustrated because the box we’ve stepped into is too small.

You don’t have to choose! You don’t have to conform to the mediocrity of other people’s intellect. You don’t have to bend to occupy a space that is too low for your destiny. You can be both/and. You can defy the expectation of people in your position and set a new standard.

With that being said, I am a scholar in every sense of the word. I am an avid researcher, teacher, reader, and writer. But, more importantly, I am a student of the Word.

That is the “S” on my chest.