Are You My Identity?

fullsizeoutput_682In 1960, P.D. Eastman wrote a children’s book entitled Are You My Mother? The narrative tells the story of a young bird that is left in the nest alone because his mother goes to find him food. The bird is unhatched before the mother leaves but as soon as she flies away he breaks the shell. As a result of being alone the bird purposes to go find his mother. He falls out of the tree because he cannot fly but learns to walk on ground. He comes across a cat and he asks, “Are you my mother?” The cat wasn’t his mother so he keeps walking and runs into a hen. The little bird asks, “Are you my mother?” but the hen says no so he keeps walking. He then comes across and dog and cow and discovers that neither are his mother. A little discouraged, but still intent on finding his mother the bird keeps walking. He sees an old car and thinks that it’s his mother but he reasons that surely his mother doesn’t look like that! He then sees a boat in the water and yells out to it because he thinks that’s the way his mother moves. However, the boat doesn’t respond so the bird keeps going. He sees a plane and surely, he thinks, this is his mother. The plane flies in the sky but it doesn’t respond to the little bird. He keeps walking and sees a big machine called a snork and says you are my mother, but the noise that the machine makes doesn’t correlate with what the way the bird thinks his mother should sound. He says no you aren’t my mother but before he could get off the machine it starts moving. Eventually the machine drops the bird back off in his nest right in time for his mother to return. The mother asks the bird, “Do you know who I am?” and the bird responds ‘Yes, you are my mother.”

This children’s story resonates with me on so many levels. I was once like the little bird searching for my identity in the people I came across in my life. I once searched for my identity in the things I accomplished only to be left empty. Like the little bird in the story, I entered into certain relationships searching. While the bird was open about his quest, I didn’t know that it was identity that I was in search of. I thought I wanted love, respect, and patience but I was looking for my identity.

What’s funny is that the people who I once entertained at various stages of my life knew that they couldn’t provide me with the things I was looking for. They would often say, “Bri, you deserve better!” or “Bri, you don’t look like you would date someone like me.” In my brokenness, in my blindness I would plead with them to understand that they could give me what I was looking for. I wanted them to understand that I wasn’t stuck up or bougie and I went for the common person. I didn’t know when I begged certain people to stay in my life, in spite of their ability to see that they  could not fulfill my needs, was me letting myself down. I was silently giving up on myself because I didn’t think that I deserved better. I didn’t know who I was.

Can you lead me to my identity? I would secretly question when I met men. Can I find my purpose and my worth in our relationship? Can you lead me to someone who knows who I am?

A lack of understanding about my identity put me in some very tough situations. Ones that I never wanted to be in, and others that I struggled to leave. When we start to settle. When we start to forfeit the destiny and the awareness that God places inside of us, it becomes increasingly difficult to see the best version of ourselves.

Like the little bird, I moved from people to objects and things looking for my identity. In the children’s story the little bird started talking to the car, boat, plane and machine. I, on the other hand started talking to education. I threw myself at the books, the degrees, the publications because I thought those would give me my identity. If I can be honest, I went into a doctoral program because I was searching. Maybe the high-level theories could help me understand who I was. Maybe if I achieved more than I would feel fulfilled. Maybe if I worked hard then I would discover who I was. Are you my identity?

Thankfully, like the bird, I landed back into the place where I could find what I was searching for. It was only through God that I found my identity. I didn’t plan to discover it in him but I didn’t have anywhere else to go. I exhausted all of my options long ago. The relationships didn’t seem right. The talks didn’t fit. The accolades didn’t fill the void. Nothing.

However, when I found the reason that I was created, when I heard the familiar voice that only my spirit recognized I knew that I found it. I didn’t ask “Are you the reason I was created?” I didn’t have to investigate the matter. I just knew with every fiber of my being that I had finally arrived just as the little bird recognized the voice of his mother.

While the journey wasn’t easy and it required hard work, it was worth it. I know who I am now. I love myself more than I ever did. I no longer put the value others placed on me over what I know to be true.

I’ve found my mother. My destiny. My purpose. My identity.

I found me. Not the me who I pretended to be but the me who I was destined to become.


O B E D I E N C E – T R A I N I N G

Have you ever had a parent warn you about something but you did it anyway? Like don’t touch that stove because it’s hot. Or, don’t date that boy because he is bad news. How about the command to come straight home after school? While you may not have broken these simple rules or suggestions you get the point.

Can you remember a time when you said to yourself “I should have listened” or “If I knew then what I know now…” These statements signal something interesting. What they relay is the fact that somewhere in your life you got off track, you went against something that you shouldn’t have, you bucked the system. While today we might glorify those individuals who are “radicals” or “free spirits,” I wonder the cost that they pay. Some of their punishments are visible. Maybe people slander their names. Perhaps their reputations are run through the mud. Maybe they are left ashamed, but what about you?

Are you tuned into your mind, body, and spirit enough to catalogue the ticks or tally marks due to disobedience. Maybe you thought something was cool to indulge in, but it left you broken with pieces of yourself scattered all across America. What people don’t tell you is that every time you engage in an inappropriate relationship with others a piece of you leaves with them. They don’t just exit your life without taking souvenirs. Just ask your emotions.

I learned this lesson the hard way honestly. I was hellbent on doing things the way I wanted to do them. I was hard of heart and hard of hearing. I didn’t heed the advice that people offered me because of course what happened to them never will happen to me. This toxic thinking, the feeling that I’m an anomaly got me into some tough situations. It taught me resilience but also challenged me in the areas of my brokenness.

Through my pain, struggles with identity and hardship, I entered into obedience training. I didn’t know that my pain was a training ground for God to work. I didn’t know that the wavering in my spirit was him strengthening my yes to him. I was being trained long before I knew it. Training is tough if I can be honest. It is that thing that we don’t like to talk about. It’s that thing that we like to paint our cutesy smile over. But it’s real and it will find you out.

Somethings can be avoided if we heed to the voice of God the first time. Yet, if something doesn’t make sense to us, we want to go investigate the matter which only entangles us more. I’ve learned a lot of hard lessons in life like don’t play with fire. Like don’t give the benefit of the doubt if it doesn’t sit right with you. Like don’t leave God for a person. Like don’t try to evangelize him to make him the one. Like don’t say you’re trying to help someone with something that you’re still struggling with.

Obedience training encompasses lots of things. It cuts different areas in your life. It challenges you to be better. It makes you better. I don’t think you can become a better person without yielding to the one who makes you better.

Believing in Yourself Before Others

I think one of the most heartbreaking things is to have an idea, concept, or desire and have no one validate it. You know, you go to someone excited and expect them to share your enthusiasm only to walk away discouraged. Their eyes didn’t light up when you told them. They didn’t seem to believe in your idea in seed form, but you know without a shadow of a doubt that this is something BIG!

It’s not the typical “big” that everyone talks about…the money making big, but it’s something that you’re passionate about. It’s something that you can’t go a day without thinking on. It’s what you were created to do.

But where do you find the courage to keep going and birth your vision when it makes the people around you uncomfortable? When you know that your success will remind them of their missed opportunities. When you know that they will only be genuinely interested if someone else validates your thoughts.

Your dreams are not a democracy. You don’t need the hand claps that fade away after you walk away. You don’t need the nods of approval if you believe. It’s difficult to get others to believe in something in your head. It’s hard because they might not have the capacity to hold the idea long enough. Even more, they might not be able to cope with their comfort. Interestingly, comfort rapes us of opportunities daily. No one ever became wealthy or fulfilled being comfortable. You have to get out of the box, the family chain, or whatever else hinders you from being your best self.

You have to work hard and know with every fiber in your being that you are doing something great. What we don’t always realize is that success and happiness are relative. What may be one way for me will not necessarily translate into that for you.

You cannot measure yourself by someone else and expect to be fulfilled.

Your vision does not rest on the intellectual or moral capacity of others. Your dreams are yours and you will be responsible if they do not come to pass. Therefore, I encourage you to believe in your thoughts and your ideas long before others affirm them because they may never come into agreement with you!


365 days of Purification–Thoughts on the Matter

hair3I was standing in the restroom of my part-time job when I told my ex boyfriend that we couldn’t be friends anymore. Though we had separated a year prior, we both wanted to hold on to a piece of each other at any cost. It didn’t matter that we weren’t happy, it didn’t matter that we were prolonging the healing process. All that mattered was that we allowed each other not to feel the pain of being separated. We both knew that it was something that we needed to do but were too afraid to do it. We grew complacent in our dysfunction, in our love, in our hopes for each other. We knew that we loved each other but the imperfection of our love caused us to hurt one another far more than we ever thought. We were giving up eight years of love, of memories, of pain, of happiness, of secrets. Who would fill these voids that we both rested in? Who would love us? Who would dare date a broken man and a broken woman who didn’t know what wholeness looked like. We convened on many things, on many levels, on many mindsets, but we both knew that our relationship with God was at risk and if we didn’t surrender now we might not ever.

I didn’t know that I created victims because of my brokenness, my inability to forgive, to heal.

Well this is what I knew deep down but I didn’t know what it would look like or how the conversation would go. Though I was a Christian at this point I didn’t know how to choose myself or how to intentionally choose God. I was a go with the flow type of woman who reasoned that if she stayed around long enough she would reap the benefits of the lifestyle in her mind. I was in error and this is the mindset that the enemy banked on me settling for, but my conviction this time stronger. Before I made the decision to stop being friends with my then friend, we had a conversation and he said something that scared me. He told me that if God required our relationship he would say “no.” At that point I knew we were both in trouble. He didn’t want to let go just as much as I didn’t, he had the courage to voice his thoughts, and my actions expressed the same.

How would we ever make it work if God called for it? Who were we to disobey God and deny him what he asked? We were wrong and we both knew it, but who would make the first move? Who would have the courage to understand that the lack of decision-making in this relationship may cost one of us our lives? How would the other deal with that? Our purposes would be frustrated. Our lives would stutter. Our hearts would break over and over again. I couldn’t bear think of what our lives would be like if we continued in the cycle we marinated in for almost 8 years. I couldn’t bear the fact that we were hindering each other from actually living because we were just trying to survive one another. I had to do something even if I had to hurt.

In our conversation on May 6, 2016 at noon, I told the person whom I thought I would spend the rest of my life with that we couldn’t be friends. I told him that I wanted something more and that we deserved better. As my voice trembled to say “I choose me” I wondered if I was making a mistake. If I would allow another to reap the benefits of being with someone whom I had grown familiar. How would this look since no one had ever modeled it for me? I didn’t know the answer then, but I know that we both knew that this was it. As we got off the phone I pulled myself together enough to work my shift and I questioned within myself “How?”

On that day, May 6, 2016, I told God that if I didn’t trust him now then I never would and vowed to give him a full year of my attention. Whew! Yes, a year of not entertaining men, not dating, not reaching back to the past, but dealing with me and all my drama. I must be honest that I wasn’t prepared at all for the journey. I didn’t think I needed as much work, healing, processing, and love as I received. I didn’t know how deep my wounds went; many long before my boyfriend and I dated. I didn’t know that I created victims because of my brokenness, my inability to forgive, to heal. I didn’t know that it was I who had given up and lost respect for myself long before my breakup.

For 365 days I was in the fire. Every impurity that could surfaced, every heartache bared its ugly pain, memories that I buried rose, tears that I refused to cry flooded the canvas of my face. I was broken in so many areas and didn’t realize that I was living on life support. I was surviving only because I was hooked up to a respirator breathing short breaths. I was dying and didn’t realize it until I started living.

This past year has been a trying one. In fact, when I made the commitment to God my decision over and over again came under a test. People from my past started to reach out… “Hey stranger.” Suddenly people wanted to make my acquaintance. Others attempted to discourage me telling me that I needed someone to help me through the process. But, I knew what I needed. I needed to face the truth about myself and all of my dysfunction for the first time. So many times we get caught up on the ways in which others heal. We think that our process will look like theirs. We truly believe in the strength of our hands as opposed to the God who created us.

The process has always been about me. It was to get me to see things that I never considered. It was to help me understand my life, calling, and purpose. It was to challenge me to live better, love better, do better. It hurt because it felt as if I were ripping the band-aid off of old wounds that never healed but sweated. The pressure of confronting yourself for the first time, your systems, thought processes, or truth is daunting and I thought I wouldn’t survive. But I did.

Doing my work and taking the time to invest in myself was worth it. I was able to challenge my limited perspective of life, on pain, and love. I was also able to hone my gifts to do some pretty amazing things.

10 things I did while in the process (not an exhaustive list):

  1. Traveled to Europe twice–This was very unexpected and I didn’t even ask to do it. In July of 2016 I spent two weeks in Amsterdam and nine months later (April 2017) I spent a week in England. In additon, in 2016 I was able to travel every month of the year–some business and others personal
  2. Created a literary library in a Men’s maximum security prison–This is one of the things I am most proud of. In 2015 I taught literature in a max security prison. While I was there under contract of being a pedagogical facilitator, God had another assignment for me. I was able to minister the love and forgiveness of Jesus to the incarcerated men and show them that God did no forget about them. As a result of their eagerness to continue learning I donated 600 books for the initial start of the library. I hear that the books are being put to good use and are being used as alternative strategies to save people’s lives. Literally, save as in stopping people from killing others because of aggression and boredom.
  3. Lead 3 people to Christ–Again, I didn’t plan on doing this, but God positioned me around some hurting people to minister to them in the midst of my pain. As a result, they gave their lives to Christ and have positively changed their walks.
  4. Wrote a book–Now listen!!!! This was the last thing on my mind. I was still hurting all over the place. But, when I got back from Amsterdam in July I heard God whisper “Esther” to me while trying to recover from jet lag. Esther?? Um, God no one reads Esther sir. Anywho, I read it for the first time along with my concordance and the book came alive. I mean literally started talking to me and the first lesson I learned from Esther was obedience. This text is now with my editor and should be on the way to publishers by August so be on the look out for that gem: Unmasking Women of Royalty
  5. PhD candidate–This was already going to happen because I’m committed to finishing school but the ease in which it happened was amazing. I successfully completed 2.5 years of doctoral course work in December 2016,  sat for my comprehensive exams that I passed with distinction (the highest pass you can obtain), and defended my dissertation prospectus (dissertation idea). The PhD generally takes people 5-7 years to complete but I’m on track to finish in 4 years.
  6. Authored 2 encyclopedia entries and 2 scholarly articles that are scheduled for release in 2018. Now listen, this is major business in academia. Generally, graduate students are only expected to have one article published by the time they graduate, but these 4 writings are being added to the 3 that I’ve already published. You do not have to settle for the expectations!!!
  7. Wrote a think piece for the Huffington Post on why my natural hair is spiritual. This  opportunity I stumbled across last summer as I was doing research for one of the encyclopedia entries on African-American hair. I submitted my story and it was featured on the Huff Post. At the time, I didn’t think anyone would really read it because I was writing about God, but I received so many emails from women thanking me for sharing.
  8. Conducted a National Public Radio (NPR) interview–Now wait a hot minute! God just showed out! The post that I wrote about my hair for Huff Post drew the attention of a radio host–in Canada–who then wanted to interview me about the story. This happened when I got back from England this year! A radio interview was never in my thoughts or even vocabulary. I just thought that I was writing blindly but God had another thing in mind.  Be on the lookout for this unexpected opportunity in a couple weeks.
  9. Became a mentor–I kind of knew this one was coming. I am a college instructor of literature and when I stand in front of a room at 24 (the age I first started teaching college) but now 27, my presence means something to my students. As minorities, at Predominantly White Institutions (PWIs), having black instructors are rare. Even more, having a black woman instructor who is less than 10 years older than you is unique. However, when I enter into a room with expectations for my students they rise to the occasion, especially the black women. Some of my students liked me so much that they asked me to mentor them, allow them to follow me on social media, and pour into them outside of the classroom. I’m always shocked when people come to seek my wisdom but am always willing to share.
  10. I became a better friend. Now this one is huge! So many times we take friendship for granted and we think that people are disposable. However, we don’t realize that our circles are teaching arenas, and oftentimes preparation for marriage and other people focused things. I had to realize that I was not a good friend even though I showed up when they needed me. In essence, I was giving my friends what I needed from them and not what they needed from me. As a result, I allowed my friends to cut me–not literally. But I asked them the hard question…”Tell me the truth about me!” Whew. I cried for days after those conversations, but I needed them. I needed to be better and in every area. I needed to do something new and that required vulnerability. While there are things that I need to keep working on, I am intentional about being better, being present and being open. Beforehand, I didn’t think that my friends had the capability to handle my pain and mess, but I was terribly mistaken. I had to learnt hat I couldn’t delegate their friendship with me to them, but I had to trust that they could handle the weight of who  I am. They could handle it!!!

While there are several other things that I was able to do during this year of consecration, these were some of the highlights. Of course my prayer time increased especially since I was being broken and thought I couldn’t survive. Of course my vulnerability became visible. Of course I became a better person internally! But, as I reflect on this past year I realize that this is only the beginning of a new walk with God. I realize that I’ve laid the foundation and now it’s time to build!

In retrospect, none of this would’ve been done as successfully as it was with out the year of concentration. Without the breaking, the crying, the feelings of schizophrenia, and discomfort. Without the insecurities surfacing and challenging me to be more. Without my past life threatening my future. I couldn’t have done anything without commitment and a deep knowing that there was more to be accomplished in my life and that everything is bigger than I imagined.

I learned for the first time how to love me in the most intricate and beautiful way.

How Higher Education Helped ME Become a Better Christian

When I attended private school as a youth we started our days off with the subject of religion. We had devotion that consisted of singing a spiritual song, we would recite our memory verse, someone would pray, and we would complete an activity in our religion workbook. Afterwards, we would go on with other subjects such as spelling, reading, mathematics, and science.

When I left private school and entered into public school we did not have religion in class. It was the first time that I saw police officers on school grounds and teachers starting the day with core subjects. The public school experience was something completely different from the private school experience and rightfully so.

I’ve been in both worlds and I find them equally important. I find value in the public school sector as well as the private. They’ve both taught me valuable lessons that have shaped who I am as a person, thinker, scholar, and citizen. They both have challenged me to grow, to learn, to throw off, and to put on. I cannot choose one over the other because they are intricately linked to my being, but I can say that I’m grateful for my higher education experience. Here’s why:

I used to think of my experiences in higher education very negatively. In fact, they were some of the reasons why I didn’t want to continue in my program. However, the problem was not the experiences within themselves, but the fact that I attempted to think of them in isolation. I wanted to separate my spiritual life from my academic one and that caused a strain. Yet, when I finally embraced the fact that they both inform who I am as a woman, I was able to appreciate both for the value they added to my life.

In the academic arena, I learned the skill of close reading. I like to think of the practice as reading between the lines of the text, reading in the silences, and listening for what the text does not say openly. Close reading is a wonderful thing to master because it allows the reader to gain a deeper understanding of the text, the world the writer creates, and the characters that people the narrative. If a reader approaches the text independent of this skill they might miss the richness and revelation of the author.

In the same way, I approach the bible using the academic skills that I learned. While I’ve always heard people try to discourage me from doing so, insisting that I approach the bible for revelation, this is how I acquire it. I cannot study a text, especially the bible without looking deeper into the intentional words used, finding the Greek or Hebrew meanings, and coming to my own understanding of the bible. I’ve been able to exegete the text and learn without fully adopting someone else’s revelation of the bible and this has allowed me to become a better Christian.

While I’m sure that I would’ve come to this revelation in many ways, this is the way that I am most comfortable. Now, there are times where I have to intentionally monitor my thoughts in an attempt to stop my intellect from completely taking over, but I think it is healthy that I have those mental wars. Due to the stigma that intellectuals have a hard time accepting Christianity, I once tried to live in two worlds instead of allowing them to collide. But, this is not true for all intellectuals. My academic training has helped me come to terms with my spiritual walk, it has enhanced my desire to learn more and has brought my closer to Christ. My intellect does not cause me to fall away from the church, but it challenges me to find new ways to integrate into the culture.

I enjoy being an academic and I equally enjoy my walk with a God that is bigger than I. Do I have times of testing in both? Yes. Do I want to walk away from both in certain instances? Yes. Do I like the rules that come along with both? No. Do I keep on? Yes. Both worlds are foreign to me at times. Both worlds shift but they both hold special places in my life.

I think I’ve grown tired of the debate between the church and the academy. We need each other in my opinion. We can learn weighty lessons that enrich our experiences. Some of my most impactful conversations happen with people who are between both worlds. People who are trying to resolve within themselves what their salvation means and even looks like. People who are actively challenging themselves to believe in the God of their parents but understanding that their relationship with Christ will not fit a typical mode. And, it is in those conversations where I find the most meaning.

I am of a nontraditional generation filled with people who don’t do things as usual and that is ok. However, something that bothers me is when people attempt to force individuals into the confines and pockets of their thinking. If we serve a big God, one who is all-knowing, creative, and all-encompassing, shouldn’t we allow him to give us the way we should walk? Since God does not adhere to a mold, didn’t heal people in the same way. rebuked those who we thought he would praise, and extended compassion to those who the world deemed as unlovable, shouldn’t we allow him to set the precedent for how we approach him? Indeed, God has given standards for how we should pray, worship, and enter into his courts. He has left us with a guiding book on how to live and he has also promised to never leave nor forsake us. And, in his ever-present closeness he exposes the ways in which we will interact with him in the most intricate manner.

Not everyone learns about God in the same way. Not everyone has the childlike faith of others, and some of us needed to learn what we didn’t believe to know in who we do. I can’t say that I would be in the place to articulate these thoughts if I hadn’t practiced in school. And, I’ve learned the value of accepting the course, one that is familiar yet unfamiliar and how it is leading me into a deeper understanding of my salvation.

Romans 8:26-28 (AMP): 26 In the same way the Spirit [comes to us and] helps us in our weakness. We do not know what prayer to offer or how to offer it as we should, but the Spirit Himself [knows our need and at the right time] intercedes on our behalf with sighs and groanings too deep for words. 27 And He who searches the hearts knows what the mind of the Spirit is, because the Spirit intercedes [before God] on behalf of [c]God’s people in accordance with God’s will. 28 And we know [with great confidence] that God [who is deeply concerned about us] causes all things to work together [as a plan] for good for those who love God, to those who are called according to His plan and purpose.

God is in the beginning of what we don’t know and brings us into the knowledge of what we know. And, in this, I find confidence.

Feeling Shortchanged

I think one of the most interesting feelings to deal with and overcome is feeling shortchanged. The feeling that you didn’t get something that you deserved. The feeling that you missed out on something you worked hard to get. The feeling that someone else will reap the benefits of your hard labor. Ultimately, feeling shortchanged is a bittersweet thing. It’s the realization that there is a need but it will be fulfilled in another area, at a later time, in another space. It is a weird relationship between what you know and what you feel.

Feelings of shortchange have the ability to hinder you from progress. They have the potential to tie you to situations, people, mindsets, and pain. They are the unsettled parts of your life. Those moments that you review the reel of your mind to see if there were things that you missed. They are the areas where you question if you have the ability to see because of a blind moment. They are also the moments when you struggle through the pockets of your mind. They are those hard feelings to deal with.

So many times people struggle to get over certain things and they attribute it to their inability to “get over” the thing. But, are we really struggling to get over a thing or are we struggling to reconcile the feelings of being shortchanged? Are we stuttering to gain the language to stabilize in our emotions? Which emotions are those anyway?

I think when you feel shortchanged you are searching for intangible  compensation. No apology, or monetary gift will suffice. No shoulda, coulda, woulda will eliminate those feelings because subconsciously you feel that you are owed. You feel that you should receive a return on investment.

But I guess my question is what would that ROI look like? What type of compensation would cover the time spent, miles driven, conversations had, emotions shared? There is no way to calculate the interest on your thought life, the lines of stress on your face, the marks on your mind.

In essence, what are we really looking for?

(Thank you Khirsten and Justin for helping me realize this)

The Beginning of a Process

processIt’s May 1 and I think that it is safe to say that the majority of us are looking forward to a new start. You may have plans to change your hair (can I get an amen), change your diet, change your attitude or perspective towards someone, or even get into a new relationship, but the constant in all of these decisions is change. You cannot begin a new process without change. You cannot succeed in such a shift without altering your perspective of change and your relationship with it.

So many times we get accustomed to the ways things have always been while equally wishing for change. We want the new but not at the cost of the old. How then do we wish to move? Ultimately, I’m encouraging a shift in mentality.

At the beginning of any process or new endeavor we have to move beyond the old and the present into the future. We have to challenge our systems under use even if they seem to be working for us. We have to put in place new operating systems that have the ability and capability to carry us into the place we envision.

While we may have goals, dreams, or aspirations our former ways of reasoning, knowing, and being have to be evaluated. If we don’t evaluate the ways in which we have acquired knowledge over time we will repeat and recycle of oppression.

So you have to be intentional about your process. You have to be intentional about the things that you want. You have to be intentional about starting, enduring, and finishing the process.