Fighting Wounded

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I killed a giant today!

Not a metaphorical giant, but one that has threatened to kill me for over 6 years. Do you know what it’s like to live in fear? Do you know what it’s like to try to outrun, outlive, outmaneuver something chasing you? It’s tough, if you don’t know, and the mental unrest that accompanies your fight is even more unsettling.

I became a doctor today. YAY! While I am not a medical doctor, I did obtain a Ph.D. And, the road has been anything but pretty.

While on the outside, many saw me smiling today, what few understood was that I won wounded. There were numerous times within my program that caused me to absorb spiritual, mental, and emotional hits. These experiences, more times than not, threatened to harden me. They left small ticks on the canvas of my body that are only traceable through my moodiness. But, I made it, right? Of course, that’s all that should matter but it’s not.

When we get these degrees, we leave changed. And, while change can be seen as a good thing, we cannot overlook the negative impacts of certain experiences. More times than not, if you’re ever able to listen to graduate students talk, you will hear about the horrors of their experiences as they pass stories that are as common as initiation rituals.

But, that is not the point of this piece. Today I killed a giant, but I had to kill it wounded. I don’t know if you’ve ever fought wounded before, but it takes more energy to fight when your body is struggling to recover as opposed to if you were well.

For 10 days, I’ve been struggling to recover. Not from the fight with anxiety that I had a few years ago. Not from the emotional wounds that I acquired when I felt marginalized in a classroom. Not even from the consistent critiquing while in school, but from the wound made by my brother’s death.

In my previous post, I scratched the surface about how I felt about my brother’s death. While I didn’t go into detail at the time, I did express my unrest with the situation. But, for the last 10 days, I’ve been battling wounded.

See, I could not drop the weight of my responsibility because I was grieving. I could not set aside my commitments, deadlines, goals or dreams because the breath had been knocked out of me. I was already fighting to maintain my breathing.

The world kept going. People kept smiling. My phone kept ringing. People still needed me. I still had to defend my dissertation. I still have to graduate.

I know now what it means to fight wounded. I know how it feels to hold the wound with one hand, and fend off attackers with another. I know the feeling of helplessness and weakness. I also know what it is like to feel satisfaction.

I defended my dissertation wounded. Every 15 minutes I found myself checking the clock because I felt myself coming undone. Can you imagine coming undone in the last hour of your career as a student?

I was under a pressure that I’d never felt before. I was dealing (avoiding) grief, finishing a degree, and breaking the glass ceiling off of my family. I was under pressure and people were counting on me. I was counting on me. But, I was hurt deeply.

I killed the giant though. I killed the thing that was standing in the way of my promotion. I shattered the glass ceiling and created a new floor on the next level. I fought the good fight of faith, and I fought hard.

I write this post to let you know that it will never be a perfect time for you to live on purpose. It will never be the right time for you to overcome. But, you have to stay the course. You have to do it even when you don’t want to. You have to push even when you feel like wallowing in self-pity. You have to stand even when you don’t desire to.

…even if it means fighting wounded.

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Healing Does Not Always Happen in the Church

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I was driving on the back roads of Alabama when I realized the danger of my body. As an African-American woman living in the South, I’m prompted to think about my body more readily than when I lived in Chicago.

Perhaps it’s the legacies of oppression attached to blackness. While I’m not completely sure, I do know that  my awareness is real and my experience still sticks out in the front of my mind.

Let me explain:

In 2015, I was headed to teach in African-American literature in a maximum security prison in Birmingham, Alabama. My trip required that I exit the main expressway and drive through some unknown territory where I usually lost cellular service. On one particular morning, I was stopped by a police officer who asked me, “What are you doing here?” By “here” he meant in the white community that I was driving through. In that moment, for the first time in my life, I knew what it felt like to fear my body.

I told the police officer that I was headed to the prison to teach–my active duty as a responsible citizen committed to social justice. The officer asked for my license and insurance information and went to his vehicle to run my info through the system. When he left, I noticed that my hands were shaking. Just a few weeks prior, Sandra Bland was killed.

Now, as a Chicagoan from the inner city, I thought that I was accustomed to policing. However, I realized that I was used to black men being policed, and now that women were being targeted and killed it caused me to be unsettled even more.

When the officer came back, he must’ve noticed my parking decal in the rearview mirror because he asked if I were a student. “Yes, I go to UA,” I responded. He then asked if I could produce my ID as proof (ultimately, I need to show my “freedom” papers). After he saw my ID, he handed me all of my identifiers and asked me two disturbing questions:

Will you be traveling this way often?

Do you need an escort?

Whether the officer was showing concern or extending protection, I do not know, but what I do know is that I was made hyperaware of the fragility of my black body.

As a Christian, I struggled with the moment, and if I’m honest there are times that I still do. See, I was taught that if I got an education, stayed out of trouble, pursued God, and was a responsible citizen, certain things would not happen to me. I was told that I wouldn’t be subjected to certain treatments, but that is a lie!

And, I didn’t know where to turn because in that moment, the church house was the last thing on my mind.

Yet, as a student of African-American literature, I had an arsenal of books at my disposal. I needed validation and quick so I looked to the authors who readily spoke to this struggle–this policing of black bodies. The words of Angela Davis, Octavia Butler, James Baldwin, Martin Later King Jr., and Malcolm X brought my solace. Their words confirmed that what I experienced was traumatizing and that I wasn’t alone. In essence, their words helped me cope.

Now, this is not to say that I couldn’t have found this in the church, but this is an admittance that I’ve discovered that healing is not a linear process but takes place in multiple forms. And, more times than not, my access to education has helped me in more ways than I willingly admit. In essence, education has caused me to create community with individuals that I may never meet. It has helped me learn from their experiences, and in using discernment, I am able to figuratively take the meat and leave the bones.

I’m able to stand on the shoulders of the people who fought before me, while still being rooted in God. What I noticed in that moment, and what many Christians don’t like to admit, is that God called me to a mountain of influence and not just a pew. He gave me an experience to which many can relate, but equally put me at the intersection of christianity and social justice.

Ultimately, the words of the activists before me performed a sense of textual healing, and my personally cultivated relationship with God helped me to not grow bitter.

 

 

How I Found My Identity in 2016, How You Can Find Yours in 2018

cropped-fullsizeoutput_682.jpeg“New Year, New Me!” is the anthem that millions around the world chant at the beginning of a new year. We hear this phrase leave the mouths of teenagers, women, men, those seeking to get into a healthier state, singles wanting to get married, or those who are looking to be single. However, rarely, if ever, do I hear people utter the phrase “I’m going to find my identity in the New Year!”

If we are honest, more times than not, the condition of our lives is reflective of the understanding, or the lack thereof, of our identity during a time of decision making. If we sit for a moment and do the introspective work that this requires, we can trace some of the most critical turns in life to a choice that either lead us astray or pushed us into destiny.

With this in mind, I think it’s safe to say that you cannot have a “New Me” if the “Old Me” is still competing for its time on the stage of your life. Sadly, we really believe that we can change the trajectory of our lives without coming into a firm understanding of who we are and why we were created. This flawed understanding guarantees another year of bad choices and disappointment but it doesn’t have to be this way.

In 2016, I was a train wreck of a person. I seemed to be drifting about through life though I had it all together on the outside. In fact, no one heard the silent screams as I smiled and pretended to be okay day after day. I wasn’t happy then and as I look back at my previous state, I can’t believe that I measured happiness based on the lie that I once built my life upon. I was searching for something tangible then, but I didn’t know that what I was looking for was the reason why I was created.

Now, identity discovery isn’t as glamorous as many pretend that it is. I would be lying if I didn’t tell you that I had some restless nights, some silent mornings, and some very intense crying sessions, but once I got through the initial shock pertaining to the condition of my soul, I was fine.

Do you want to really have a “New Year, New Me” mantra this year? Are you tired of being stuck in a place that seems to disappoint you year after year? Well you have to do the hard work of discovering your identity.

Here are a few ways to help you along the journey:

  1. Be Honest: Honesty was my hardest lesson. I was a woman who was hell-bent on masking. In fact, I masked so much that I didn’t know who I was once I started the process. Ultimately, I had to admit to myself that I believed and lived a lie that never worked for me.
  2. Face the truth: Naturally, when things go wrong in our lives we look for someone to blame. “If my mom would’ve been around more then I would be prepared,” “If my dad would’ve loved me then I wouldn’t have given my body to that guy,” “If I had money then I would go to college.” When we blame people we strip ourselves of the very power that is needed to live our best lives. While this doesn’t mean that what they did didn’t have some bearing on your life, but if you continue to give them the authority over you then you can never come from under their influence. The truth of the matter is that your life is a sum total of the decisions you made or didn’t make. It is a direct reflection of the fears and the desires you let fuel you or grip your heart. Therefore, if you are to discover your identity then you must face your truth.
  3. Include God: Since God gives us our identity, it would be silly not to ask him for guidance or even to reveal why you were created. Now, I hear several people say that they ask God things but they don’t receive an answer. It is then that I ask them were they actually listening. This may seem like a foolish question but there is a difference between hearing and listening. When you hear something it could be done unintentionally. We hear things all the time and sometimes they don’t register in our minds. However, when we want to learn information then we have to intentionally listen. Listening is an active action and not a passive one. Ultimately, we have to be tuned into God to really understand what he is saying.
  4. Spend regular time with God: This one goes hand in hand with the previous point. However, it is a bit more work on your end. And, I recommend that you do it! The reason why many don’t know why they were created is because they don’t spend quality time with the Creator. Any relationship that will change your life is cultivated through one on one time. I often hear people lament that they don’t have time to spend with God, but they spend time scrolling on social media, reading magazines, and talking to friends. It baffles me because it is ONLY in the face of the Father that you will change your life.
  5. Spend time with yourself: I actually despised doing this one! When you really think about it, many of us try to avoid this very crucial action because it can be antagonizing. When you don’t know who you are and you finally begin taking inventory of the things that you let into your soul, you will soon realize that your life is quite cluttered. And, if you hope to ever find out who you are then you must declutter the areas of your life including your soul that prevent you from living authentically you.

In essence, in order to have a “New Me” in the New Year, you must make different decisions that lead to success and recklessly abandon your former ways.