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.

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Insecure, How I Discovered This Shortcoming

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I thought that I had it all together. I was living my best life. I was finishing a degree program. I was in a relationship with the person of my dreams.

People always told me that I was attractive and outwardly I believed them, but something just wasn’t right. Somehow, deep down inside, I was still unhappy and very hurt.

These feelings caused a deep-seated insecurity within me that no one knew about. My emotional turmoil often surfaced in a bad attitude and a low tolerance for people. I was often snappy and held people at bay, why? Because I was insecure and insecurity often kept me lonely. Even around others.

I didn’t find out the truth of my positioning until I cut all of my hair off in 2013. I did a big chop (the process of cutting all of my hair’s relaxed end off), which left me with 3 inches of hair. When I looked at myself in the mirror I didn’t recognize the woman looking back at me. She was ugly. She was unsure. She was me.

It was a hard journey, traveling from insecurity to security. In fact, there are still moments where I negotiate between the two. One luring me to come back to the past while the other beckons me to move forward. But choices had to (and have to) be made and in that moment and the years after. I decided to try to love myself out of the insecurity that I was once bound to…and I did.

When we are insecure, we lack confidence in ourselves, which we then project upon others. This, more times than not, is when we put ourselves in prison to serve hard sentences that we were never intended to complete.

I discovered mine just by cutting my hair off and seeing myself in the mirror for the first time.

What about you?

The #1 Reason You Need to Focus

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Your life has always depended on your level of focus, but far too many of us have failed to really pay attention to how our lack of concentration hinders progress. I would also go as far as to suggest that you can trace your entry into a destructive relationship to a time that you were not as focused as you should have been (sigh).

In essence, it is important to understand that one of the ways in which we become derailed in life is due to our inability to remain locked into the vision. More times than not, we stop running to pay attention to our opponents, friends, and colleagues who are also participating in a race of their own. While it is a good thing to be engaged in the lives of others to a certain extent, it is problematic when we become consumed to the point of sabotage.

Ultimately, I believe that when we stop concentrating on our assignment in the Earth, we willingly stagnate our progress, and thus sabotage opportunities for elevation. Now, I know you might be thinking that this is an extreme thing say, but if you look back over your life and really pay attention to your actions, you might be able to see how my statement rings true.

Therefore, it is important that you stop this behavior now before it continues to restrict you in the areas that you seek to progress in most. Hence, the #1 reason that you need to focus in this season is because you are threatening to repeat the cycles of your past. Contrary to popular belief, destruction does not start with bad thoughts, but a lack of focus. Honestly, when you aren’t focused on the goal, then you leave room to think in ways that are contrary to what you are trying to accomplish.

So, I want to encourage you to FOCUS. If you’re already focused then remain that way no matter what!

Remember, your best life is on the other side of your intentionality that comes from your level of attention to its execution.

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.

 

 

Defeated!: One Reason Our Decisions Don’t Stand A Chance

My decision didn’t stand a chance. I told myself that I wouldn’t do it anymore. I said that I wouldn’t put myself on sale. We agreed–me, myself, and I–that I wouldn’t go to the highest bidder.

I was tired of the cycle.

I was tired of crying alone–over and over again.

I didn’t realize then, but I do now that the decision to do better was always counteracted by my last name. In essence, my DNA carries the weight and memory of various forms of bondage. On one side, there is a lineage of strong single mothers. On the other side, there is a lineage of highly successful single women–some mothers some not. Now, this is neither a dig, nor shade, but my reality. This is a commonality. This is my normal. With this in mind, it is no surprise as to why I am highly successful in several areas but fail miserably in others. In essence, I had to look to my family to find out some reasons why.

Sometimes you are fighting an inherited battle. This battle may have been going on for maybe 2, 3, or even 4 generations, and as a result, with every person it defeated, it grew stronger. Therefore, no matter how many times you make up your mind, there is a possibility that you will find yourself in the same position time and time again. The odds have always been against you.

Kryptonite!

Kryptonite is a dangerous thing! It lies dormant until it is ready to slap the taste out of your mouth. Yet, once it reveals itself, you have the opportunity to move beyond it’s reach, but it’ll take a major commitment on your part.

Genesis 1:26-27 tells us that we are made in the image of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. This means that we have similar mannerisms, thought processes, and moral proclivities to our Father in heaven. In the same way, we are born into a family that has a history, creed, and order of operation that can be destructive to our lives. Ultimately, just because it’s common doesn’t mean it is safe.

So, I invite you to take the first step in breaking the cyclic nature of your familial lineage that may threaten your destiny.

Over 10,000 people have signed up to start living a life of freedom. Will you be left behind? I hope not! Join me and thousands of others as we invest in living a successful 2018.

*Click the photo to sign up! It’s free!!!

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The Real Reason You Aren’t Pursuing God

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Following God is inconvenient and many church people don’t like to admit this truth. It is something that we all know but not bold enough to voice. Yes, we love God. Yes, we want his promises, but if we’re honest sometimes it just gets in the way of things that we would rather be doing.

I know that this isn’t a popular subject but it’s time for us to get serious if we hope to see people walk in freedom. More times than not, I see so many people come to the altar to give their lives to God and we all applaud, only to leave them alone to walk out their salvation as we turn up our noses when we discover that they’ve backslid. Maybe you haven’t even made it to the church house, though, but purposed in your heart to follow God, or make strides towards it, but for some reason never get around to it. Why?

Following God is hard. It is uncomfortable. It requires that you deny yourself daily. And, you will not want to do so. That. Is. The. Truth.

But, while it is inconvenient, it is not impossible. I was once the person who used every excuse in the book to not follow God. In essence, it was a heart issue. I didn’t know the God that I claimed that I loved, and as a result, I only talked to him when I needed help. I thought that God was a genie, and because I heard so many times that “God knows your heart,” I believed that he understood. And, he did! He understood that I only paid him lip service. He understood that my heart was far from him and that I would rather spend time with him on Sunday as opposed to cultivate a sustainable relationship with him daily.

Now, this might now be your complete truth, but the possible reason you don’t pursue God as you should is due to the posture of your heart. Perhaps, you don’t want to sacrifice your time, sleep, conversations or entertainment to develop into the person that you were created to be. Ultimately, you might not want to grow as much as you say you do!

Following God is not for the faint of heart, which is why so many people are manufacturing their own version of the gospel to fit their needs. But, the Word of God is clear. Don’t be deceived. If you want to grow, if you want to overcome those generational curses that haunt your family, if you want to give your future children a fighting chance at survival, you must spend time with God even at the cost of your comfort.

Ultimately, you really can’t afford not to do so. Just ask yourself where your passiveness has gotten you thus far.

 

Going to Church Does Not Guarantee Spiritual Growth

So you purposed in your heart to “get closer to God” in 2018. Great! I think that’s wonderful, but more times than not, we don’t know what that really entails. If I can be honest, when I started my journey in 2013 I had the slightest idea about where to start and what to do; however, over time I’ve learned a few things that will ensure spiritual growth. And, in this blog I’ll share them with you!

Let’s start by dispelling the myth: Going to church will NOT ensure that you grow spiritually. Ok, now that that’s out there let me explain: On the one hand, people go to church for various reasons and some of those reasons are not necessarily pure. On the other hand, for the avid church goer it is a routine to be in the house of the Lord because that’s what they learned as a child. Yet, this does not mean that they are growing! Furthermore, more times than not, Christians get caught up in serving and sometimes are so focused on the “business” of the church that they are unable to receive the Word that goes forth. This, of course, is not a dig at all, but a very real fact that those serving have to be even more intentional about growing in their own time. Now, if you don’t serve but are a pew member who takes notes but never reviews them, you, my dear, may not be growing either. I found this out the hard way. It’s normal to say, “the pastor preached a good word today” and someone ask you about it and you can’t recall. That’s because the enemy works fast to snatch the wisdom from you. Therefore, you must review those wonderful notes you took.

This leads me to my next point: You MUST spend regular time with God! There’s no way around this one. You have to become childlike in his presence by admitting that you don’t know everything but you want to learn and are willing. Now, when people say “spend time with God” this does not mean in the shower or on your way to work only. I get it, we are busy people but just like we take the time to cultivate relationships with people we care about–giving them undivided attention–we must have the same attitude with God. This effort may require that you turn off the tv,  or radio to do so, but growing requires intentionality.

I spend an hour with God daily. This means that I have to get up at 5a.m to do so, but that’s what works for me. 5a.m. may not be an ideal time for you, so you should choose a time that is conducive to your lifestyle.

So, what should you do when you spend time with God? I’m glad you asked. Here are a few practical steps that I take to ensure that I am challenging myself to grow spiritually:

  1. Play worship music: Humans respond to melody. Therefore, you should set the atmosphere by playing some worship music to help  hone your thoughts. I am more of a Bethel, Hillsong, United Pursuit type of worshipper in the early morning. So my music is really soft and calming because I want to  worship more so than praise. Typically, I join in with the music singing to God about how wonderful and magnificent he is. Because I’m a natural worshipper–that’s my favorite part of the service–I generally do this longer than most people. I just love it!
  2. Pray: Alright so this is a big one. Prayer is the vehicle through which we access heaven. Sometimes people get intimidated by the ways in which the older saints pray. You know, the ones who pray down heaven…yea…them. Anywho, I want you to know that prayer is a conversation not a dialogue. In praying, it is ok to empty yourself out before the Lord and tell him your fears, doubts, thoughts, and whatever else mat be on your mind. Go ahead and get that stuff out because it could potentially hinder you from hearing God. After you’ve said your peace, take a moment to sit in silence. Furthermore, because prayer is a dialogue, you should take some time to hear from God. Generally, people miss this step because they assume that prayer is just one-sided. However, this is an unfortunate misconception because when you take a one-sided approach, you devalue the opinion of the other person (God).
  3. Study the bible and take notes: Notice that I didn’t say “read.” The reason I believe that you should study the bible is because it allows you to engage with the text. When I first started, I would use the bible reading plans on a bible app that was geared towards a specific idea: anger, forgiveness, hope, relationships, etc. In doing this, I was also able to learn scriptural references for what I was combatting. As I grew, though, I started using the inspiration of the Holy Spirit to lead me on topical searches such as identity, lust, power etc. In doing so, I often would consult my concordance, which is a book that breaks down the original meaning of the Greek and Hebrew words. It is in breaking down certain words that I learned how to understand what the scriptures really mean. And, because I’m a natural student, I take notes on the things that I’m learning so that I can refer to them later.
  4. Read books and actively read: There is power in mentoring relationships but sometimes we don’t have the access to those who we admire most. However, several of them have released books that provide insight into their teachings and this is a way to grow. Buy their books and read them often! I have a lot of spiritual books because I don’t have the privilege of having a “spiritual mentor” at the moment, but I grow through reading their words–kind of like mentoring from a distance. And, while I read, I make sure to engage with the text. By engage I mean underlining, highlighting, writing in the margins of the book, disagreeing loudly or crying bitterly. Active reading helps you to remember the nuggets of wisdom that you may discover.
  5. Journal: This is a bit more challenging for me if I could be honest. When I journal, I write out the things that I may not have prayed about and feelings surrounding them. Sometimes, it is difficult to verbally express your cares, but it is also dangerous to keep them bottled inside of you. Therefore, in another effort to empty myself out…I journal.

A point to remember, anything you wish to accomplish will require intentionality and repetition!

 

XOXO,

Bri