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.

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