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It’s Not You, It’s Us: An Apology

I know. I know. It seems like we’re all hopping around on one foot, permanently holding the other foot in our mouths. It seems like we’re best friends with hypocrisy and married to self-righteousness. It seems like we haven’t fully comprehended the concept of Grace, or Love for that matter. I know. And I’m so sorry.

You see, we’re kinda like that one guy in that one story [which you may or may not have read] who gets pissed off that his rogue baby brother gets a party thrown in his honor after he squanders the family fortune and takes a piss on the family name. We say we’re humbled by Grace, we claim to be undeserving of the beauty of it all. But really, we’re just entitled older brothers who think that we somehow deserve the Grace we’ve been given because we’re not as bad as you. We’re not romantically interested in people of our own sex, therefore, we have more of a right to Grace than you do.

We claim to model our lives after Jesus, we claim to be living this totally transformed life that embodies everything He stood for. Yet we stand in line for hours to buy a chicken sandwich just to prove a point. A point that leaves you feeling alienated and unloved. Good grief, we deserve every name you’ve called us.

I don’t know where we get it from, this theology that demands us to be right all the time. It’s certainly not from Jesus. He never said we should only love those who agree with everything we believe. He never said to love only when it was easy or felt good. If that were His policy, He wouldn’t love me still. He wouldn’t love any of us still. And the Jesus I know spent a lot of His time with people that the uptight, religious folk of His day avoided and on occasion, stoned to death. He didn’t constantly surround Himself with people who thought the exact same as He did. He did crazy things like completely disregard the Law and save a married woman caught having an affair from getting stoned to death. Or letting a known prostitute kiss his feet infront of everyone. I mean, seriously, do you know the DRAMA that would ensue as a result of that today? A prostitute and a preacher? But that’s the Jesus I love and follow.

So regardless of what we’ve told you and, more importantly, what we’ve shown you, He is crazy about you. Just like He’s crazy about me. Just like he’s crazy about this painfully broken world. And His message isn’t one of tolerance. It’s one of Love. He doesn’t ask us to tolerate people who disagree with us. He doesn’t ask us to tolerate you. He says, “Love, as if your life depends on it.” You know how crazy that is, a Christian loving you so fiercely that it preserves their life? Oh wait, that’s right, you probably don’t because you’ve never seen it modeled.

We are so desperate to be right that we don’t care who gets burned along the way. We want to beat Jesus’ love into people. What a shameful contradiction. What a sad way of living. We’re the ones closer to death – the ones who never left home, never rebelled, and never left the corner of the party He threw for you where we glared – pissed that you of all people, get to share in our Grace. What a sham.

And it’s really not about you at all. We still find ways to alienate each other within the so-called family of believers in the same God. We hold everyone to our own standard of perfection – friend, foe, pastor, blog writer. Once they do or say something we don’t agree with, we write them off. I could list all of my shortcomings on here, but I won’t. You know why? Because my Christian readers probably would judge me for all my sins. You see, it’s not you. It’s us and our inability to let go of our pride and entitlement and our need to be right. It’s us and our inability to let Jesus change us in the most selfish parts of our being. Because selfishness and Love can’t coexist. Neither can self-righteousness and Love. Neither can pride and Love.

I’m sorry that we put proving a point over loving you. I’m sorry that we choose to tell you how much God hates your lifestyle a million times more than we show you how much He is completely in love with you. Not the you that fits into our definition of a good, Christian, never-do-anything-wrong-ever type of person, but the person you are now. Because unlike most of us, God isn’t partial, prideful, or self-righteous. And if He can still love me on the days when I all but flip Him off and do whatever the heck I want, then no one can convince me that He doesn’t love you just as ferociously also.

We’re in desperate need of Grace and Love, because the only type of people who are comfortable enough to disagree with each other without turning it into hatred and alienation are those living deeply from a place of Love and Grace. If we accepted Grace more open-handedly, maybe we would give it more freely too. We say we love God, but the truth is, we love ourselves just a little bit more. Clearly.

And here’s the thing: you are more than your sexual orientation. I’m so deeply sorry that we’ve turned you into a one-faced enemy.

“If any one of you is without sin, let him be the first to throw a stone…” – Jesus

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And Then the Fever Broke

I told my heart that we were fine, that despite the occasional waves of sadness we were going to be okay. I told it that if we smiled a lot and laughed a lot, we’d eventually stop feeling like crying. It shook its head at me and my delusion, grounding itself in reality. So I ignored it. For weeks. And the other night, it exploded. You know that feeling when your chest literally feels like it weighs a thousand pounds and you can’t breathe and all of a sudden you’re wailing into your pillow for no good reason?

Except I had good reasons – I had just chosen to ignore them. I’m really good at feeling only what I want to feel. And what I want to feel is the good, light as a feather, bubbly feelings. Even the quiet, whispery feelings are welcome so long as they don’t bring with them the dark, unwanted emotions I’m always running from. And crying? Only acceptable as a by-product of joy. None of that wussy, dissolve-into-tears-when-life-gets-hard-because-it’s-good-for-you nonsense. You admit that life sucks, then you dust yourself off and keep moving. No time to feel anything other than determination.

The last few weeks have been long and lonely, despite my plastered-on smile. Apathy became my best friend – if you don’t care, you don’t hurt. But I cared, and I hurt, and eventually I broke. Today, after three hours of nonstop journaling and pouring out my frustrations and letting myself feel all the feelings I didn’t want to feel with the One who gave me the ability to feel, the fever broke. I asked Him,

“Why am I constantly seeking external validation? Why can’t I truly rest in who You say I am? Why isn’t that enough? Why can’t I let You be enough for me? I don’t know how to do that, do I? I have to prove my own worth, my own value, and You’ve tied my hands so I can prove neither. Would I really become a person obsessed with proving to herself and everyone else that she is worthy of love and affection? Have I still not realized that I can’t prove that?”

Sometimes, He is silent and seemingly distant. But not today. I asked a lot of questions and He had a lot to say. When you narrow down the list of things you want to a whopping two, then present them to God, and He grants you neither one nor the other, you could respond with trust and faith. Or you could throw a fit. Or you could become slightly depressed and silent. And when you eventually take your frustrations to Him, you know what He ends up saying?

“You’ve been trying to define your own identity instead of discovering it with Me. So if I gave you either one of those two things right now, you’d hang your identity on them. You would become the girl who works there or the girl who’s dating that guy. Not the girl whose heart is at rest in who I say she is regardless of where she finds herself.”

Sometimes, I wish He didn’t speak quite so directly to the root of the problem. It’s so much easier to blame Him than to take responsibility for my sin. But He wasn’t done talking. He proceeded to reprimand me:

“You say you want My best for you, but really, you want your best for you. I don’t ever give you second best – what I give you everyday is My best. But because it’s not your imagined best, you choose discontentment.”

Ouch. He wasn’t kidding about that “disciplining the ones He loves” business. That one caught me by surprise. Today – this bland, uninteresting life – is His best? But if it were indeed His best, I’d be getting my second degree in Mental Health Counseling and working with women rescued from the sex industry and bouncing off the walls excited to go to work everyday and dating a Ryan Gosling lookalike whose love for God was contagious and whose style was impeccable and yadda yadda yadda.

Just because I have an overactive imagination that conjures up my version of the “perfect” life doesn’t mean God isn’t good to me. And just because I tell God that I want His best for me and then slyly insert my picture perfect life into the “God’s Best” folder, doesn’t mean I’ve fooled Him into thinking my best is His. He still wins. And His best is still better. And His best is right now. If I don’t see where He has me right now as His absolute best, nothing will ever be good enough. My imagination gets wilder with age, and it will always come up with something “better”. Maybe, like Paul, I have found the secret to contentment?

In the wake of this breaking and bleeding and healing, I’ve made a commitment: to not complain, not even once, about not having the two things I want the most for the next month. (In fact, in a moment of nothing but sheer madness, I told God to not give me either of those things anytime soon because I’m most certain I would idolize them immediately). Instead, I’m keeping a journal of everything I’m grateful for each day. I want to exude thankfulness and peace – to look for the little joys in every single day. I want to find rest and joy, not in a circumstantial change, but in a deep trust in who He says I am. And if you happen to encounter me anytime soon and hear me make some grumbly protest about my life, please [gently] slap me across the face in love. I can take it.

In true Fatherly fashion, he scolded me and then showered me with more love than I expected: He gave me this gorgeous sunset on my right and a rainbow on my left. At the same freaking time. It felt like a giant celestial hug and I finally let those tears come. Turns out, I didn’t lie to my heart. We really are going to be okay. 

Dear Old Friend,

I miss you. I miss the laughter and light-hearted banter. The car rides and sing-a-longs. The rolling of eyes and completing of sentences. I miss how easy it was with you.

It’s funny how the moment we said we’d be friends forever our friendship died. It saw the future before we ever could. My fingers tire of placing blame – on you, on me, on them. We both could have tried harder; but we didn’t and here we are.

Much as I miss you, I don’t miss the person I was when I was with you. The one who let you get away with being an ass for so long. The one who didn’t tell you that you’re supposed to fight for the people you care about, and not give up when you think they’re apathetic towards you. The one who let you into a place most sacred and never said how much it broke her.

If love was supposed to be convenient, it would end when friendships end. But real love never ends and I am resigned to loving you for as long as my chest rises and falls. We may never speak again, and still I’ll love you.

Yet amidst the loving and missing, I want you to hurt as much as you’ve hurt me. Somehow, I don’t believe you’ll change until you are truly miserable.  You’ve been let off the hook too quickly, too frequently. And I think that hook needs time to sink in, make its mark, leave a scar.

So thank God that I’m not Him. Because I miss you, and I love you, but I hope you are miserable wherever you may be.

The Girl With The Fro

I went natural a little over a month ago. Being natural, for my non kinky-haired readers, simply means letting your hair exist free of chemical straighteners (also known as relaxers) and other such processes to alter its original texture. Technically, I’ve been natural for over a year now – my last relaxer was after graduation last year and was an incredibly horrifying experience. I had been rude to my hair for months and it paid me back in kind.

My decision to go natural wasn’t really thought out in advance – I had waited too long between relaxers and my hair had practically made the decision for me. It was hard to maintain because the bottom half of my hair was new growth that had never seen any chemicals, and the ends were scraggly, damaged, over-processed hairs. So I tucked it all away and wore weaves for a whole year, hoping my hair would grow out to the point where cutting off the relaxed ends wouldn’t make me look like a boy. I was transitioning.

Transitioning is that awkward process between where your hair is and where you want it to be. I didn’t want to do the Big Chop and start from scratch, so I transitioned for a year. I thought I was only transitioning hair textures, but as it turns out, I was going through a major transition in my mind as well. You see, I was taught that “good hair” meant long, straight hair or defined, silky curls and waves. Big, afro-textured hair was not acceptable in good society. And certainly not in my mother’s house. Good hair was white hair – which explains the inordinate amounts of money black women spend on weaves and relaxers every year.

I felt my prettiest when I’d hang out with my friends right after putting a new weave in and they oohed and aahed over my hair. Oh, and when the guys oohed and aahed too? I was SOLD on this good hair being white hair thing. Once when I had long straight hair, I had three of my guy friends on separate occasions tell me to never change my hair because I looked so good. You’d think that would make me glow with sexy joy, but it made me sick inside. Because I felt like a joke, like the person I was presenting to the world was a sham.

And to some extent, I was. I was a chameleon – I changed who I was based on where I was. If you expected me to be very serious and very “Christian”, I could do that. If you expected me to be rambunctious and full of dirty talk, I could do that too. If you wanted good advice, I was your girl. If you wanted to go clubbing, I was also your girl. I could be anything you wanted because I didn’t think who I was was ever going to be enough.

I talk the talk, but learning to truly accept who I am has been a rather difficult journey. If I could’ve paid as much money as I did for my weaves to become instantly funnier, wittier, curvier, flirtier, more self-assured…I absolutely would have. And everyone who knows me is probably thinking, “But you are those things!” It’s not enough for the world to tell you wonderful things about yourself, you have to believe those things in the quiet places where no one else ventures. That is what my year of transitioning taught me.

The girl I was last year would never have left her house with her hair in a baby fro – she didn’t have the guts to. She would never have done many of the things I’ve found myself doing and saying recently. She would probably have caved and put in another weave when her mother disapproved of her natural hair. She would have made every bad thing that happened to her her fault. She would still be obsessed with trying to do the right thing at the expense of her sanity and joy.

Going against the grain takes guts (especially living in Vanilla Valley where the first day I rocked my fro, people stared at me like I was an alien). It takes believing in yourself – the self you are, not the one you put on before you walk out the door. It takes accepting your imperfections, loving them even. And it takes giving a middle finger to societal, familial, and relational pressures and expectations. Who you are is enough.

When I decided to let my fro out of hiding a month ago, I did it while I was away in Texas visiting my mother. You know, just incase I hated it and didn’t want anyone else to see it. And it was a hot mess during my first week of experimenting and trying to figure it out. But I stood in front of that mirror and said, “You, my dear, are beautiful. This is how your hair was created to look and feel, so stop fixing. Just enjoy the skin and hair you’re in.”

I’ve given myself that pep talk at least once a week since then. It’s taking a while – I’m learning to have patience, to not compare my hair to other naturals’ curly locks, and to listen to it in order to learn what it needs. On a scale of extra fine to extra coarse, my hair is as coarse as it gets. It’s tightly coiled and cottony and doesn’t keep a defined curl for more than a day. It shrinks to about twenty percent of its length once it gets wet. All it wants is moisture, but it cannot seem to figure out how to retain any. It is kinky and full and I feel like I’m growing a forest on my head, but I have never felt more beautiful. And I have never felt more like myself.

I still have minor freakouts regularly. What if my hair shrinks overnight and I look like a boy in the morning? What if I’m not conditioning enough? What if the dry Colorado air kills my hair and it all falls off? Oh and my favorite thing to freak out about isn’t even my reality yet: What if my husband doesn’t think I’m sexy because I go to sleep with my hair in twists AND wrapped up in a scarf, instead of long luscious hair spread out over the pillow like in the movies?

I’m giving myself grace because I’m fairly new to this process. But regardless of the amount of work it takes or the [few] weird looks I get, I am committed to never altering my hair texture with chemicals again. Concurrently, I am committed to never altering who I am just to fit in. This past year hasn’t just been about transitioning. It hasn’t really been about my hair at all. It’s been about accepting who I am, believing that I am beautiful – kinks and all, and learning to not let comparison steal my joy. I’m finding myself, and this is one grand adventure.

Finding Rest

I want to learn how to dwell. I’m fully aware that my relationship with God cannot be likened to anything resembling consistency right now, and I find myself pulling away because I’m not as close as I’d like to be. I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised at that particular reaction – it’s how I treat the people around me as well.

I want to learn how to sit, how to live, how to be in a state of dwelling continuously. I’m tired of quick visits and extended vacations when things get especially rough. I’m sick of my supposed dwelling resembling my church attendance – once a week and emotionally charged. I want my dwelling to savor of normalcy. Like brushing my teeth or brewing my morning cup of coffee. I want to dwell in Him the way I dwell in my house.

Because the Psalm says that he who dwells…rests. My life has been chaotic these past few weeks and while I’ve complained about the busyness of it all, I’ve welcomed the constant movement as a distraction from the unwanted emotions. The sadness, the uncertainty, the occasional minor freak out, the apathy that’s continuously fighting to rob me of faith. It’s all there – underneath the hysterical laughter and wide smiles and dinner parties. And I’m learning how to embrace it all, how to feel it all. I want to feel it all, but he who dwells rests. I want rest just as much as I want to feel.

In exactly eleven days, I will begin my seventh year away from the country and people I grew up with. It’s not that I miss it – quite honestly, I don’t. But He promised me something at the beginning of this year – He promised me rest. He said the seventh year is His Sabbath and He’s going to give me rest. All the petitioning has made it to His ears, all the tears have been preserved in His bottle. He just wants me to watch and see what He does.

But I can’t watch outside of His presence, can I? I can’t manufacture my own rest in trying to create a plan for myself and struggling to make it work. I can’t be at rest when I’m running away from Him. So I need to learn how to dwell. I need to learn to live inside of Him like He’s the fortress I claim Him to be. I remind myself that He lives inside of me, but sometimes that skews my perception of his grandeur. He lives inside of me, but I also make my home in him because He is bigger than my cavernous depths. I want to learn to live inside my God and find rest from the chaos and uncertainty. His rest is better than my facade of repose.

“You will never be in control of your life circumstances, but you can relax and trust in My control. Instead of striving for a predictable, safe lifestyle, seek to know Me in greater depth and breadth. I long to make your life a glorious adventure, but you must stop clinging to old ways. I am always doing something new within My beloved ones. Be on the lookout for all that I have prepared for you.” – Jesus Calling.

“He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High will rest in the shadow of the Almighty.” Psalm 91:1

Men Are Like Aliens

At least once a year I rant about boys on my blog and get chewed out for it. Here’s the 2012 rant. Proceed with caution, a sense of humor, and hopefully a little less stubborn pride than you possessed last year.

Here’s the thing: men are like aliens. Seriously. I have no desire to figure them out, dissect their souls, and put them in a box. But even if I did, I’d have no clue where to begin. They are different, interesting, wildly confusing creatures and I’ll tell you why I feel this way.

I’ll start with my compatriots in the land of estrogen. We can be downright crazy sometimes. I mean, one day I can’t stop shivering with an amorous fever over some guy, and the very next day – I kid you not – I’m nonchalantly telling my roommate that I’m “kinda over him”. Crazy? Absolutely. And maybe when you were a kid you heard those awful rumors that the Christian girls next door were sitting around writing up lists about the kind of prince they were waiting on to come sweep them off their feet. Yeah, that wasn’t a rumor. It unfortunately happened – I wrote a few of those lists, too. And maybe you were even told by (well-meaning?) older guys that we ladies start planning our weddings and picking out baby names as soon as we go on a fairly decent date with you, so you shouldn’t ask us out until you’re sure we could be the one. For your sake and ours, naturally. Can I just call a major bullshit on that one? Bullshit.

You know, if we were all still thirteen, this would work out just fine. We’d be waiting for princes and you’d be cowering behind your video games fully aware that you’d never be Prince Charming and disinclined to try. Fair enough. But here are a few rumors you can start spreading around. We are not the people we were and we don’t want the things we wanted a decade ago. Stop using excuses that are almost as old as you.

I love weddings – the dresses, the colors, the intricate details, the symbolism, the almost tangible presence of love – heck, I wanted to be a wedding planner for years! But just because I know that I want to get married someday in the Fall surrounded by mountains and the color persimmon doesn’t mean that I’m ready to be married, and certainly not to you after a single date or three. Get over yourself. I certainly won’t stop professing my love for weddings just so I don’t scare a man off. Can I just say it one more time? Just because a girl likes weddings doesn’t mean she wants to marry you.

Oh, and the rumor about us thinking we’re princesses? It’s actually not a rumor – I am a princess, only because my Father is the King over all creation. Naturally, that makes me a princess. Not because I’m pampered, or have an easy life, or want to wear ballroom gowns all day long. Not because I have expectations of a man catering to my every need. I’m a princess because it’s my God-given identity, period. I’m not looking to find a man who will make me royalty – that’s already been taken care of. I’m not Cinderella. So the pressure’s off, gentlemen. We don’t need you to save the day, or save us from our own feminine frailty and incapabilities. Someone greater already did that and to ask you to would show a lack of understanding of what’s already been done for us.

Here’s what I’m trying to say: You confuse us. We think of you as strong and brave in every way, and then it comes down to choosing us and you cower. There’s the “You’re beautiful, and wise, and I would be a fool not to date you, but I just need to seek the Lord” excuse. And then there’s the “I just don’t want to screw up what we have as friends” excuse. And my all-time favorite, “You’re gonna make someone really happy someday.” Oh really? Because that someone could’ve been you.

We’re taught to make excuses for men, to hope upon hope, to ignore blatant signs that he’s not actually interested under the guise of “He just needs time and encouragement.” Maybe he hasn’t responded to your text for three days because his phone caught on fire and then he accidentally dropped it in the toilet. Maybe he didn’t call because he is just so intimidated by your beauty and wisdom. Maybe he’s being a jerk to you because he’s trying to protect your heart.

Or maybe he is a jerk who doesn’t know what he wants and refuses to take any risks to discover it? Ah, but I sound like a whiny spinster if I use such words. So in the interest of being kind, I will say only a few more things.

I don’t want a prince; I want a man who is sure of me. Not sure he wants to spend the rest of his life with me, but sure that he wants to get to know me. Sure enough to pick up the phone and call and make plans to sit and have intentional conversations that aren’t ambiguous. If it’s a date, say it’s a date. If it’s not, don’t act like it is. I cannot explain succinctly how annoying it is to not know what you want from us and for us. Suffice it to say that we’ve had enough of the ambiguity. It’s a date or it’s not. You want to hold my hand or you don’t. Stop straddling lines.

And for the love, if you don’t remember anything from this rant, please remember this: going on dates is not that big of a deal. We’re twenty-somethings – surely we can have a great conversation and drink some beer without either one of us freaking out and vomiting hormones and future baby names everywhere. I assure you, it can be done.

And here’s the thing about rumors – you either blindly accept them, or you seek to disprove them. When was the last time you got presented with a 50 Things I’m Looking For in a Godly Man list over a romantic dinner? Can’t remember? Yeah, that’s probably because you also can’t remember the last time you were on a real date. Make those generalizations about women when it has actually happened to you, because there are a lot of us considering lesbianism thanks to the rumors you refuse to disprove. Half kidding.

You’re a better man than you know. Stop worrying that we will make it a big deal. Stop making it a big deal for yourself. Stop telling us we are beautiful and wonderful and then spending Friday night with your Xbox. We may not be compatible in the long run, but how will you know if you never ask a girl out?

My therapist says, “There’s a shortage of strong men out there, but you can’t sell yourself short and settle for a wuss who had to be talked into liking you. You need a man who knows what he wants, and goes for it confidently against all odds. Don’t settle.”

I’m just obeying doctor’s orders 😉

Remember This

Dear future self entrusted with the care of young, impressionable souls, you will most likely have forgotten how it felt to be young and immersed in the discovery of who you are and what you want. You will have forgotten your passionate cries of “I will never do [insert annoying trait] when I’m a mom!” This note is to remind you and keep you accountable.

*   *   *

Remember that they are important. Whether they are three or thirty-three, their “No” is valid. Their “You’re hurting me” is valid. Their time, concerns, plans, emotions, thoughts, words, perspectives are all important. Let them be someone other than you.

You are to cultivate the soil and tend the fragile garden of their souls, then watch in wonderment as they begin to blossom and unfurl. You are not to tell them when and how to grow, and what kind of plant they need to be. Someone already decided that long before He gave them to you.

Learn to say “I’m sorry.” You aren’t perfect, and you never will be.

Remember that they are gifts. Before they became an overwhelming responsibility you had to deal with, they were given to you as gifts. Treasure them, and keep your grip loose.

Show them unconditional love. Rebuke them and discipline them, but do so while being emotionally present. Don’t withdraw from them simply because they broke their curfew or disagreed with your opinion. That’s conditional love. Actively love them even while you enforce consequences. Actively love them even when you disagree with them.

They pick up your habits, healthy or unhealthy. Spend time getting healthy – for you, for your husband, and for those precious souls who learn how to love from your example. Get healthy; see a counselor. It will probably help you realize that not everything they do is about you.

They don’t know what it’s like to be a mother, to nurture new life and have it rip your body and heart apart. But just because they aren’t there yet doesn’t mean they don’t value and appreciate who you are and all you do for them. They’re learning and changing and growing, but one thing is constant – they love you. Believe that. Trust that.

Balance your maternal urges to protect them from the world with the understanding that they need  to make their own mistakes. You survived your own mistakes. Trust that they’re resilient enough to survive theirs.

Do things for them because you love doing things for them. Buy them gifts because you want to. Express your love in whatever form you choose, but never use those gifts as a guilt trip in the future. Love doesn’t come with a price tag. You either love them or you’re acting like you love them so you can get what you want from them. Love them.

They are your children, but they are also people. Treat them with dignity, respect, and honor, just like you’d treat anyone else. They are not dispensable, and they don’t exist to cater to your every whim, just like you don’t exist cater to their every whim.

If you let them teach you a few things, it might surprise you what mature, kind, God-honoring children you’ve raised. Celebrate that. And let go when the time comes to let go. They’ll be your babies forever, but acknowledge their adulthood when it is time and let them go. They’ve heard every word you’ve repeated over the years, and they will do you proud.

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