How Tragedy Exposes Commitment

picI had just received news that I’d been waiting for three weeks when I learned of my younger brother’s death. Just an hour before, I was on the mountain top experiencing a feeling that words could never capture. “Joy” was not right. “Excitement” wouldn’t do. “Thankfulness” probably isn’t sufficient ether. I can only explain it this way, I was feeling the emotion that only happens when God shows you that he hasn’t forgotten about you.

After the “happy” phone call,  I walked into an opening session of a conference where I would be presenting the next day. The speaker was talking about the importance of science fiction writer Octavia Butler and her impact on society. I was happy to hear this speech because I, too felt the same way. At the end of the speech, I looked at my phone and saw that my father had called. It was odd because we generally don’t speak in the evenings and his call was out of our normal routine. I missed the call. I called him back when I made it to my car.

He said, “stuff just got funky.” This phrase is something only his children know the meaning of. It means that something terrible happened. I thought he was going to say that someone got into an altercation, or perhaps a car accident, but never what he was going to say. I asked, “what happened?” He said, “your brother is dead!” My brother? I have two: one in Kentucky and the other in Atlanta. “Which one?” Jared.

I couldn’t ask many questions because I think that I was in shock. Jared was only 24. Within a matter of minutes, I went from the mountaintop to the valley. My dad didn’t have much information to share, but told me that he was headed to Kentucky right away. “Ok,” I said and we hung up. I called my mother and cried for a few moments. I was unsure how to feel. It was the best of times and the worst of times at the same time. Literally, a tale of two cities.

On the drive back to where I was staying, I wondered if I should give my talk the next day. I’m sure people would understand if I didn’t. Grief has the power to do that. Yet, this was neither my only responsibility nor commitment. What should I do? I am a feeler. I easily feel and take on the emotions of others if I am not careful. And, knowing my process, I am one who can allow things to completely consume me. But, this was not the time for me to fall apart. I could not afford it, but I could not afford to ignore that fact that one of my younger brothers was now gone. So what should I do?

I kept my commitment for the next day. I delivered the speech  though I can’t say that I was completely focused. I showed up because subconsciously I knew that in life things will always happen that will threaten to make me a liar. I had to push through. I had to do what I said that I would do no matter what. And, this is not to say that I neglected myself and my emotional well-being, but it is a recognition of my destructive emotional patterns and my need to overcome them. This revelation happened in grief.

Not only was I responsible for that talk, but I was also commitment to the members of my book club. I’d promised them a daily email for the book that we were reading and we still had 3 days left for me to fulfill my word. No, I didn’t want to continue reading and sending the email. No, no one would blame me for checking out on the emails. Yes, I would receive the sympathy but would I become strengthened? Perhaps, but I didn’t want to speculate. I HAD to continue. I HAD to keep going. I HAD to be responsible even when I didn’t want to be.

Grief taught me that I was committed to my commitment. Grief showed me that I wanted to keep going even though I wanted to stop. Grief showed me that some commitments are bigger than my emotions. And, while I will take the adequate time to grieve, I cannot drop my commitments and other people while walking through life’s ruins.

Advertisements

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.

Trusting Your Worth

You are WORTH it!We live in a world that consistently challenges our perception of ourselves. And, this can be a tough reality for those attempting to stabilize in their identity. With so many distractions it is almost impossible to fully grasp the weight of your worth unless you are intentional.

I’ve learned that my worth is not predicated on that relationship that didn’t work, the career path I chose, or my friendships, but it is solely based in my relationship with God. In the past, it was easy for me to say that I “know” my worth even when I didn’t. See, I would give myself away to people freely and expect them to do the same. However, when they wouldn’t return on investment, I would be left shattered, but still unwilling to move. But, I “knew” my worth, right?

Honestly, I didn’t even know the weight of the words that I spoke. How can you know your worth when you don’t even know who you are? How can you know your worth when you’ve been so accustomed to settling for whatever life has thrown your way? How could you know the worth of sun when you haven’t experienced rain?

What I mean is that I knew that I should have known my worth. I knew that I shouldn’t be entertaining that situationship, relationship, chilling session. I knew that I couldn’t be content with the life I was attempting to live, but I didn’t know how to get out. I didn’t know how to get off the emotional rollercoaster (que Vivian Green), and embody the essence of who I was.

Until one day I did. See this journey that we take will threaten to kill us at every turn. It will challenge the very foundations that we’ve built, and expose us if we haven’t. Yes, we get frustrated, yes we want to quit, but do you understand your worth?

Your worth is so much bigger than your temporary perspective. It is something that you grow into every step of the way. You learn your worth, you cultivate it, you study it. Unfortunately, learning and trusting your worth isn’t an overnight thing. Even after my year journey with God, I’m still learning it. What I’m saying is that every moment I learn something new that reveals why I am as valuable as I am. I learn the hard truths that expose that there are moments that I put myself on sale to the highest bidder, but can’t stay there.

There are things that are too valuable to be taken lightly. You are too valuable to be taken lightly. Your life is too valuable to be taken lightly, but until you believe in the God that created you perfectly, you won’t be able to trust the weight of who you are.

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.

I Survived My First Vegetarian Holiday–Thanksgiving

Can I be honest? I was a little worried about today. I’ve only been completely vegetarian since September and haven’t had any real issues with keeping it up. Granted, it can be a bit of an inconvenience at times, I’ll admit. But, everything has been in my control.

So with Thanksgiving approaching I was a bit hesitant about spending time with friends over food. Why? Because I wasn’t sure if I’d be strong enough to stick to the decision I made a short while ago. Yes, Yes, I know, you’re probably like it’s not a big deal. But it is.

See in the past I can’t say that I had the best discipline practices. In fact, there were time were I allowed my flesh to dictate what I would do. If it wanted to flirt with this guy, I would do it. If I wanted to entertain certain conversations ,I was down. I mean I was undisciplined. Unfortunately, discipline was a word that I can’t say I fully understood. In fact, I wasn’t practicing discipline if I were not tempted.

So, with all the turkey, ham, beef, neckbones, chicken, and everything else around, I can’t lie and say I didn’t think about relapsing. However, the thing that kept me from satisfying my body and tearing into some turkey is the reminding myself of the reason why I went vegetarian. More importantly, I had to think on how long the journey has been to get me to this place.

In a previous post, I talked about the process of removing meat from my diet. It wasn’t a quick decision but one I eased into overtime. I had to learn to replace certain foods to substitute for the needed nutrients. I remember one time my body was shutting down quickly because I didn’t replace the protein I was missing from the meat. I was dizzy, didn’t have energy, had a headache, blurry vision etc. I didn’t prepare properly and as a result I suffered for a hot second.

Reflecting on those moments, the commitment I made to myself, and the lessons I learned along the way made me realize that I didn’t want to trade it for one day. I didn’t want to let go of the standard that I worked hard to maintain just because temptation was before me. I wanted to be at peace with myself even after thanksgiving. I also didn’t want to start all over when I could keep pressing!

So many times when we are on the right track roadblocks will surface and we have to make a choice. Do we backtrack or do we find an alternative route to get us to our destination? Today I decided to find the alternate route. My progress wasn’t worth the sacrifice nor was my commitment to myself. Was it hard, sort of. But so are other things in my life that I conquer.

I decided not to give myself an excuse to live lower than the standard I set for myself, and it taught me a valuable lesson!

I want to leave you with this:

1 Corinthians 10:13 (AMP) “No temptation [regardless of its source] has overtaken or enticed you that is not common to human experience [nor is any temptation unusual or beyond human resistance]; but God is faithful [to His word—He is compassionate and trustworthy], and He will not let you be tempted beyond your ability [to resist], but along with the temptation He [has in the past and is now and] will [always] provide the way out as well, so that you will be able to endure it [without yielding, and will overcome temptation with joy].”

Indeed this rings true today!

xoxo

-B

On Why I became a Vegetarian

When I tell people that I’m vegetarian, it’s usually met with a moment of silence. No, seriously, they get silent then ask why. On the surface, I became vegetarian because I wanted to see if I could do it. But on deeper levels there is a more personal reason.

On September 6, 2016 (the day after Labor day) I started a Daniel Fast. The fast was something that I was avoiding like a plague because it would require a level of discipline that I wasn’t accustomed to having. Anyone who has done, or attempted to do a Daniel Fast knows how rigorous it can be. Well, it was the first time that I completed that type of fast and succeeded. The fast was tough initially because I had to deny my body things that it craved. I believe it was the mental struggle that was the most daunting of all. After the fast, I made the final decision to stop eating meat and fully throw myself into the vegetarian lifestyle.

While I use my decision with the fast to pinpoint a date when I made up my mind to change, it happened long before then. I believe that God was guiding me towards this lifestyle for approximately 2years prior to my decision. It started with little things at first. The first meat to go was pork. Ironically, when I was younger and well into my adult years, I loved sausage and bacon. I mean breakfast wasn’t complete without Bob Evans sausage at breakfast. However, slowly but surely I lost the desire for pork. There was one time in particular that I attempted to fry some pork chops and when I took the first bite into the chop, I tasted what seemed to be a wild taste. When I say “wild” taste, I really mean something that is kind of unexplainable. Have you ever went to a zoo and saw pigs? DO you remember what they smelled like? Perhaps a bit dirty, unclean, or like animals smell. Well somehow that smell transformed into a taste in my body. I know it sounds weird, but I wasn’t able to touch pork much after that. You may think that I can chalk it up to a bad experience with the chop but it extends beyond that meal. The sausage and bacon started to take on the same form of taste for me. Now, this devastated me because I loved pork. But, I couldn’t bring myself to eat it after awhile.

So, when I stopped eating pork in 2015, I substituted it for more turkey. The turkey was cool and fulfilling. I would eat turkey bacon for breakfast to replace the pork and would be fine. I ate turkey bacon up until the day I decided to become vegetarian. As far as beef is concerned, I’ve always had a love hate relationship with it. My family are avid steak and burger eating people. I was literally raised on chuck steaks and burgers. However, I noticed that the heaviness of the beef always left me sluggish, or in my family we call it “the itis.”I wasn’t able to eat much of it as time progressed because it would leave me unproductive. So beef wasn’t something that I struggled to remove.

Now I’m not eating pork or beef so my go to food is chicken. Chicken Chicken Chicken!! I mean I would eat chicken all day long. LBS. Anyway, chicken was perhaps the hardest to stop eating. In June of 2016 I challenged myself to stop eating chicken and teach myself to like fish. I was “challenge” because I’ve never been a fish eater. I didn’t like the smell of it nor the taste. I used to reason that it had a “fresh water” taste to it, so I wanted to avoid it like a plague. However, I taught myself to like fish and became pescatarian. From June-September I only ate fish and it was great. I kind of miss fish unfortunately. Since I was new to the fish gang I only consumed salmon and tilapia. Those two…ok I have to stop  because I might have a relapse.

Anywho, this brings me to the present. When I finished the fast, I didn’t have a desire to go back to meat. If I did, it would only be out of religious practice. Meaning, because it has been a part of who I am for so long, it would be expected of me. Yet, I didn’t want to do something that was expected of me any longer. I wanted to live above the status quo of who I was and do something different.

This desire is largely tied to my spiritual walk. I came to Christ in 2013 and was completely lost. Just like I loss the taste for certain foods during my food journey, I lost the taste for certain sins. It is interesting now that I reflect upon it because I used to live a reckless life. I used to be undisciplined in a lot of ways and just did what I wanted to do. Now, the tables have turned.

One day, I might embark upon the vegan journey, but for now this is fine. Since I’ve been vegetarian, I’ve had to become more responsible in planning meals. Not only this, but I’ve been able to think more clearly, with a more sober mind than I once was.