Wednesday, June 26, 2013

The Risk, The Sacrifice

I just finished editing my first chapbook of poems and sent it off for peer-edits.. There are just over twenty poems in it, many of which I have performed for crowds that liked or loved them.  I wrote these poems mainly during my college years, when I was searching, wandering, losing and finding myself by the week and month.

There is a quote from Anais Nin that I heard on Alicia Keys' album The Element of Freedom and it really touched me: "The day came when the risk it took to remain tightly closed in a bud was more painful than the risk it took to bloom."
Last year I had a show called "The Risk to Bloom" and that is what I am naming my book as well.

I don't doubt that Anais Nin (and Alicia Keys) mean something different about freedom and about blooming than I do, but the quote is so true and so powerful.


Sometime during college I closed myself off to lots of emotions - many who knew me then would say that I never cried and sometimes seemed to feel nothing but laughter and anger.  I closed myself off to the piercing power of the Holy Spirit.  After a lot of meditating and reading old poems and journals, I think I was tired and afraid of feeling convicted, so I stopped allowing myself to give in to questions about my motives and my misbehaviors.

I couldn't close down everything, though. I let in beautiful words. I allowed words to feel for me so I wouldn't have to.

After college, that didn't work for me anymore.  I actually didn't write for months on end, close to a year.  Being closed off like that was really hurtful to my sweet roommate at the time.  It got me fired from a job I was good at.  It led me to a really dark place where I behaved as if there were no God to heal and protect and provide. I went through a ministry class at church, because I was asked to, and because I was sure that if I didn't do something "radical" I would not make it much farther. 

What I know now is that there is a beauty God puts inside each of us - namely women (inside the men, I am inclined to say He places a strength - not that women have no strength and men have no beauty but I am speaking generally) - and that beauty is precious and vulnerable.  The devil does not want the world to see that beauty.  The devil does not want the world to see your light shining to glorify the God who made you. So there is an attack on our beauty and on our strength. It is a ruthless attack.  The goal is that we would die emotionally, spiritually, mentally, and then perhaps physically as well.  The devil wants our potential dead because it is a reflection and a manifestation of God's potential - His omnipotence (same root word: potent).  I learned that our beauty is inextricably bound to God.  Without God everything begins crumbling.

Knowing that there is an enemy who wants to attack the strongest, most beautiful part of you makes you want to protect it, to hold it back, to maybe lock it away in a high tower where no harm can reach it...and no one can see it or be inspired by it.

I am thankful to be living after "the day" when I realized that hiding is too painful and detrimental.  But in order to fully grasp that, I must let go of what used to be and how I used to cope.  I must release the hiding and the self-protection in order to bloom.  I must release the people who are attached to who I used to be.  I must be willing to sacrifice what I once wanted - angsty poems that make people cry and applaud, that pull their heartstrings - for what I want more - to be whole and holy in God, and to show others how to get there.

I am afraid that my writing won't be as good without all of the angst.  I am afraid that it won't be as poignant, that it will draw a smaller crowd.

"It is our light, not our darkness, that most frightens us." - Marianne Williamson

I am afraid that many of those who nurtured my writing from the beginning will shun it when I consistently insist on putting God in the middle of it.  

"I tell you, the Kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a nation that will produce the proper fruit. And whoever falls on this stone [that the builders rejected] will be broken; but on whomever it falls, it will grind him to powder." - Matthew 21:43-44.  Jesus was quoting Psalms 118:22-23.  He was saying that He is who people reject, the "stone" or building block that "builders" reject.  Because we are all building a life, and we are either building it on Christ or on something else.  He is saying that the "nation" producing "proper fruit" is the nation that has "fallen" on Him and allowed themselves to be broken. He is talking about the people who have sacrificed what they wanted for the Kingdom and then used Him to build their lives on.  Those who won't sacrifice, who won't allow themselves to be broken are those whom the "stone" will crush.  I don't believe this directly translates to God reaching out to smite people.  I think it means that if you don't make the sacrifice to build your life around the Kingdom, you take yourself from God's protection and then life's trials and hardships can and will crush you. 

So I trust that whatever I create from here on out will touch who it ought, where it ought, how it ought to.  I do not have to be angsty and sinful in order to be creative or draw a crowd.  I can be whole and holy.

At some point I will have to sacrifice the freedom of having all the time in the world for the discipline of health.  I have to want health more than I want "free time." It's a change in mindset. I have to invest in the process, the patient endurance, the sweating at a low fitness level until I get to a higher one. 

Monday, June 24, 2013


This week's topic is sacrifice.

This is hopefully not a blog where you have to read every post to understand what's going on. But today, you need to read Friday's post before you read this one.

"Sacrifice is giving up something you want for something you want more." - original author unknown. But I have heard this at church as well as in the movie Beautiful Creatures.

"If any [man] will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me" (Matthew 16:24).

"You can only be great at things you're willing to sacrifice for." -Maya Angelou

"The question isn't, 'Do you do what you want to do?' but 'Do you do what [God] wants you to do?' In this lies the opportunity to die." - David Nasser, A Call to Die

"Our struggle with excuses is the test of our commitment to Christ" - David Nasser, A Call to Die
"Life will test your commitment to your desires." - Pastor Charles Martin at Integrity's Voice of Victory Church

So I make regular sacrifices to follow God. I want Him more than a writing career.  I want Him more than a performance career.  I want Him more than attention from certain people.

I sacrifice sleep for work all the time.

But the question on the table is: do I want physical fitness more than any thing? I mean honestly.

Nasser says that when you live for the Kingdom of God, "Nothing else matters because, quite literally nothing else matters."

So what if God is calling me to improve my physical health so that I can reach people more effectively?  Nasser wrote, "above all else, God values our faithfulness to obey Him. Patient endurance is not all that exciting most of the time, and if we expect (and demand) spiritual thrills all the time, we will soon be disappointed..."

A question I am currently asking myself is: does this endeavor yield eternal dividends?    
There are levels of spiritual maturity - the most obvious ones being 1) living a life that honors God and 2) living a life that causes other people to honor God.

I think that I have a certain vanity about being overweight.  It's not a completely physical vanity, although I would never call myself ugly.  It's wrapped up in a more intellectual vanity that says, "Look at me. I have the best of both worlds. I am beautiful, but I am also so smart and self-actualized that I don't care if I'm over weight as long as I'm healthy."

I know that there are people who judge books by their covers and people by their appearances. What if my refusal - because it is refusal more than inability - to get fit is keeping me from being able to speak into certain people's lives? Maybe people who think that way are shallow, but am I only called to "bind up the broken-hearted," never to speak truth to the proud and vain?  I think not.

A minister, Kevin Wade, who I heard preach in April and whose sermon I listen to on CD in my car said that we ought to be walking, talking examples of the grace, goodness, and provision of God.

Am I?
God just got me a job that I've wanted for years. It was all Him. So maybe in that aspect, I am. But what about in other areas?

When we hear preaching, sometimes the Holy Spirit plants images in our minds' eyes to help solidify the concept God wants us to internalize.  When Rev. Wade was preaching that message, one of the main things on my mind was having a healed knee and being in great shape.

It's cool to say God is the most important thing in your life. And that can be true. God can be honored by your relationship with Him. But another level of honoring God, pleasing God, is letting your life, your light (Matthew 5:16) draw other people to Him. So if that's what He wants from me...I will give that too. 

"He is no fool to give what he cannot keep in order to gain what he cannot lose." - Jim Elliott quoted in David Nasser's A Call to Die

Friday, June 21, 2013


I am not really going to say too much today.  It's Friday afternoon and y'all are just trying to make it to the weekend.

I also tend to skimp on media. I posted some photos earlier in the week, but my blogs tend to not be visually appealing enough. So for today, in regards to my personal health and fitness struggles and goals, I'm going to post two videos, and give just a tiny bit of background. 

The first video below I ran across a few weeks ago.  I follow several different tumblr blogs.  This one I got from Young, Black and Fit who also runs Young, Black and Vegan.  A fitness trainer receives a question from a YouTube channel viewer asking how he can make his girlfriend workout more. The trainer thinks this is a selfish and mean-spirited question and he gives his (very angry) opinion about it.  WARNING: He says a few curse words, but I posted it anyway because I have NEVER heard a man say things like this, nor have I ever heard a fitness instructor say things like this.

A year and a half ago, I was asked to participate in a poetry and art show around the theme: "The Body is Not an Apology." Before you start to think I'm some awesome self-love ambassador let me tell you: I'm not.  I'll never forget the lines from the movie Liar, Liar. "My teacher says real beauty is on the insider." "That's just something ugly people say." And for every time I have known a person whose face or body put them in the "ugly" category but whose spirit made them beautiful, I have judged someone's ill-fitting outfit.  So, I go back and forth between believing that we as a world need to allow full-figured, curvy, fat, odd-bodied people to see and know that they are beautiful too, I have believed that we only say that until we lose weight or find the hairstyle and makeup that works for us.

At that show, I read the poem in the video below.  I wore a short skirt that some would say girls my size shouldn't wear.  But I have two other skirts like that now (slightly longer - I acknowledge the immodesty factor and I have no excuse for it).

As I say in the poem: "If I look like this for the next 80 years, that will be just lovely."
I just want to live. I know that I am beautiful, in a way that not all people fully accept. But somehow I am fully convinced in my own mind and the mind of my friends and family.
It's just weird to live with a tension that also wonders "what if I were 40 pounds lighter?" Because I do have a goal weight - and that is it: 40 pounds lighter. What if? Will I be less radical? Less of an ambassador for inner beauty? Because so many ex-chubby people never believed they were beautiful.  Once they are smaller they throw out the old photos and promise never to get heavy again.  But I don't want to leave this girl behind. I don't want to look back at this poem - even minus 40 pounds - and say "I had no idea what I was talking about."

The guy in the other video, the fitness instructor, says you work out because you want your body to be stronger to sustain your life, not because you want to look different or because someone forces you to. I agree with him.  I do want to be stronger.  Seane Corn, the yoga instructor in one of my photos from Tuesday, says we practice yoga "in order to do the work we need to do in the world, in order to hold that light for spirit." She believes that what you practice on the yoga mat (concentrating more, holding longer, breathing deeper, not letting go even when it burns) translates to, or maybe flows from, inner strength. I agree so whole-heartedly.

I am about to begin a journey in holistic health.  I want to be healthy and strong, but I am scared to death that if I ever were to achieve that goal, I would become shallow as well.

I have a sweet friend - a hot guy actually, with a six pack and really well-defined pecs - who told me once "you are beautiful now and you'll still be beautiful if you get thinner."  I love him for saying that.  But I worry if I'll still be beautiful on the inside, strong on the inside?

(Note: I think next week's topic might be sacrifice.)

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Let Go

Some say "let go and let flow" others say "let go and let God."

In the book I'm studying, A Call to Die, David Nasser says, "[God] will always amaze us with how He'll use us. We have to keep our eyes open because He will blow our minds with where He will lead us.  Sure, He lets us get into patterns that will give us some stability, but as soon as we are established, He leads us in new directions to new experiences of enjoying Him and letting Him use us."

Below are some definitions I find helpful.

Devotion - earnest attachment to a cause or person

Diligence - constant and earnest effort to accomplish what is undertaken; persistent exertion of body or mind.
Discipline - activity, exercise, or a regimen that develops or improves a skill; training;
the rigor or training effect of experience Freedom - exemption from external control, interference, regulation, etc., the power to determine action without restraint.

The three D-words up there are words that many people use interchangeably.  I found it really helpful to compare and contrast them.  

I realize now that I am devoted, but since devotion is more of a feeling (attachment) than a course of action, being devoted is not the ideal.  You can be attached to a cause or person that you don't spend a lot of time pouring into - like me and health and fitness.  That being said, devotion means a little something, because there are tons of things to which each of us is not devoted.  Like I am not devoted to American patriotic rhetoric and ideology.  I am not devoted to secularism, godlessness.  I am deeply devoted to religious ideology. 

I am only diligent about a few things - God, personal relationships, and writing (in that order).  Those are the only things for which I will stop what I'm doing to go fix it or go nurture it. I lost a lot of sleep last night with my writing partner Kashlee Banx.  I have lost some sleep and some gas recently with a new friend.  But I cannot count the number of times I have been unavailable to work or to go out or to join in because of a church function or a Bible study or a conversation with someone about God. 
I will have to become more and more diligent to teaching, to my studies and research, to planning and executing.  I seriously wonder if I will ever be diligent at exercise.  Devoted, perhaps. Diligent? I'm just not sure. 

Discipline is what I lack in all areas.  I hate being stuck in a rut.  I get bored with processes very easily.  Even though I spend time with God every day, reading the Word and journaling, reading devotional books, etc., it is hard for me to finish a book cover to cover.  It is hard for me to complete the same process day in and day out.  It's hard for me to follow a Bible reading plan.  I like to jump around and be spontaneous.  This is a problem because sometimes the payoff doesn't come if you don't complete the whole process. I think this is more true spiritually than in any other area.  I need to be more disciplined to finish what I start. says freedom is about lack of external control or restraint.  I am free, perhaps a bit too free.  I am great at responding to the world around me, taking immediate instruction, helping in crises.  Many people are not.  Have you ever met someone who can never do anything that wasn't on their to-do list?  They can't meet you for coffee because right now is their scheduled study time; are you available in two hours? Maybe they can schedule you in for next Monday? There is nothing wrong with a structured life, but it has its downfalls just like an unstructured one.  I think sometimes (external) diligence infringes on (internal) freedom. Sometimes we don't see the forest for the trees. We sometimes take the beauty and adventure from life with the implementation of structure.  

Here is a story to close:

I am devoted to, diligent in, and fairly disciplined at maintaining pure relationships with men.  I believe that a lot of the problems in my culture can be traced back to an excess of freedom about purity and sex.  High demands, low standards, low expectations, low responsibility and weak will.  So I don't really date.  I don't spend much alone time around men.  I try to keep text messages and hang time regulated to daylight hours.  

Recently, I met a man while I was out performing.  We had a deep conversation with some other people one night and each realized that the other was intelligent and insightful.  He began starting conversations with me over social networking and invited me to spend time with him.  Because of our work schedules, the best time for us to talk was when I get off after 9 p.m.  This made me leery at first.  My perspective was that it simply is not proper to spend time with a man at this hour.  But our conversations are very pure.  He has never made a pass at me.  Nothing inappropriate has happened or even been hinted at.  And I recently have felt more and more comfortable talking with him about spiritual things.  I recently shared with him a sermon that I heard at church.  

I am not advocating lowering your standards or your level of responsibility.  Not all men are respectful or trustworthy.  Not all women are pure or innocent.  I especially don't encourage too much after-hours hang time between teenagers - there are too many hormones and too little experience with the world.  There is so much more to learn about yourself as a young woman or young man.  But I am glad that, as an adult, with a healthy foundation in discipline and diligence, I did not let the three D's keep me from being free enough to perhaps really encourage my new friend and plant some seeds for positive change in his life.  

Learn the limits of freedom and the beauty in structure. 
(Please comment or respond in whatever way you want to or can on this topic - even if you disagree.)

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Success is a Habit

The topic of the week is structure.  I don't have much of it, I typically don't want much of it, but I see how it pays off in others people's lives and I want the pay-off too.

There is a way to have too much structure, where there is no creativity and no room to "flex." There is absolutely a such thing as being stuck in a rut and scared to leave certain processes. I'll talk more about that tomorrow.

What gets less critical attention and more glory in the media and the world today is anarchy, spontaneity, free-spirited living.  These people are fun to be around, they bring joy and interest and beauty.  But can they complete projects? Are they financially stable? Do they keep their word?

A spiritual person I heard recently said, "God is not impressed by what you start, He honors what you finish."  That hit me like a punch to the gut.  I am an amazing starter and not a great finisher.  If no job or grade is pushing me to finish, I might not.  Because I am always thinking up the next thing.  I call it "obeying the Muse" or "going with the flow."

Yet we know that good results come from consistent work and progress.  You have to study diligently - as in everyday, or at least three times a week - in order to make good grades, earn degrees and credentials and move forward.  You have to eat right consistently - everyday, or at least more days than not (most healthy people have a cheat day) - in order to retain nutrients and repel fat and disease.  You have to exercise regularly to keep your muscles loose and strong, and to keep away fat and atrophy.  Many a washed-up athlete will tell you that if you do not use it, you will lose it. 

But consistency is hard! There is always something that seems more fun, more interesting, more immediately necessary.  There are only twenty-four hours in a day and so many of them are "lost" to work and eating and sleeping, that those we have leftover are guarded.

My pastor has done an excellent job of teaching us about consistency.  We practice the presence of God in order to create a habit.  He taught us that when we create a habit of seeking God - as in every day - then God comes to expect us to "knock on His door" ready to commune.  Our habit creates in us (because God does not need a specific location to meet you in) a habitat, or a dwelling place (Psalm 91) where we meet with God and share with Him.  This is how our faith becomes a relationship with God instead of a religious devotion to His principles.  We devote ourselves to His principles because of the love overflowing from our relationship.  We obey because we love.

So I am spending time today considering what habits are most important.  Here is my list so far:
  1. pouring into my relationship with God (I am determined to do this everyday.)
  2. writing (I have been doing this everyday.)
  3. healthy eating (I have been doing this well for more than three weeks now, with small cheats. It is much easier to eat healthy when you don't have a huge dispensable income. You cook what you bought at the store, because you can't afford to go out for barbecue.)
  4. cleaning (I have done a ton of this since school's been out.  But every task is done in bits and pieces and it takes a bit longer than it might for some, because I have to fit it in here and there.) 
  5. fitness (This is where I struggle. I can commit to at least one workout session a week - it's usually Zumba because the class meets on my one night a week off of work.  I am trying to make myself go at least three other times a week to do some exercises from physical therapy for my knee and to get in some cardio.  But it is so hard, especially when my knee hurts as it has been since I did too much working out last Wednesday [50 mins dance fitness, and 90 mins zumba].  I am open to suggestions for being more consistent in this. I want to do more yoga, but it is hard. I told myself if nothing else, I would do a few sun salutations everyday.  That only lasted about 3 days.)
Note: My devotion and writing time often runs long. Like today I have been at it for nearly four hours, and I'm not done (as in I haven't read what I said I would). I need to leave for work in just over two hours.  For this reason, I'll only get to finish one load of laundry instead of two or three and I won't have the chance to go to the store and use my coupons that are expiring. 
I think it helps to consider what your priorities are.  I ranked the above in order of how much it matters to me. Spending time in the presence of God and writing are most important to me so I do them even when that means I don't have time for other things.  Fitness always ranks at the bottom of my list, and yet I find that the images and ideas that most inspire me are ones like these:

       My DVD of Seane Corn teaching a class (Yoga From the Heart) is my absolute favorite workout even though it is so hard, and I often can't finish the whole thing.

I don't know who this is, but look at that pose. 

You do not become this good at yoga without doing it everyday.  You do not get to see and feel and experience this grace and beauty without commitment to the daily process.  These bodies are whole and healthy and pretty nearly perfect (albeit a smidge too thin - I like having something to hold on to).  I want to at least be something beautiful like this.  And I really think that this practice will prevent further knee injury.

 This is my former roommate and dear friend Sheri who is a professional dancer (who thinks yoga is boring).  She has danced on cruise ships and she is in a local company.  She teaches fitness classes as well (RIPPED, TRX).

I will make a large effort to go by the gym for maybe thirty minutes after work today, to do my physical therapy and some yoga, maybe a little cardio. 

UPDATE: I did not go to the gym after work. I went to my friend's bar to watch the game.  My girlfriends randomly met me there and we danced a lot. I don't know if that counts as cardio. But my  knee was really feeling it.  I did my zumba on Wednesday and then did 30 minutes of cycling and 20 minutes of circuit training (which was ridiculously hard).  I'm going to commit to at least that - 2 classes on Wednesday nights. That's all I've got at the moment. 

Monday, June 17, 2013


NAJjustiz an artist.
I am not overly interested in structure.  I am not a big fan of rules.  But I know that successful people are consistent people, and I know that the "law" of the Lord brings life in a world riddled with death. So I am attempting structure.

I have been a Christian my whole life. Last year I took a church leadership class and now people sometimes call me "Minister Najah." It's weird, and humbling, and an honor.  But as I was serving at church this past week, I realized that the main thing I still lack in my (spiritual) life is structure and consistency.  Because my life has gone through so many changes, I have allowed my dedication to Bible study and prayer to change and move and fall and rise as well.  That is not as it should be.  When nothing is constant, God is, so our relationship with God ought to be constant also.

I am reading a book titled A Call to Die by David Nasser.  I got it at church camp in 2001.  I read it then, and again in 2004.  The subtitle says "a 40 day journey of fasting from the world and feasting on God."  I am praying that studying this book will help to structure my life.  It requires an hour everyday, and to make the most out of it I find it best to do it early in the morning.  They say it takes 21 days to create a habit, so my prayer is that once I finish this book again, I will have a habit of being spiritually focused early in the morning every day.

The book is very journal-oriented.  I am very journal-oriented.  It is amazing and overwhelming, fun and scary to look back through old journals and see what is the same or what is different, how I've grow and what I have been struggling with too long.  I am old-school, at 25 (almost) years old, in 2013 as a member of the technology generation.  I have had a blog since I was twelve.  I am a well-practiced Tweeter.  I have an iPad with highlighted passages in my YouVersion Bible app.  But I also have two Bibles I use to study - a King James/New Living parallel and a New International/Spanish parallel - and underline and write notes in the margin.  I have a journal where I use a pen (or markers or crayons - don't judge me) to record my life. But I decided to type rather than hand-write the answers to the journal questions and I have found that it inspires me to write blog posts and to outline short stories and books of my own. I think this will be very beneficial.

Re: this blog, I'm going to try to stick to a schedule of sorts. I won't post on weekends.  And I'm going to force myself not to post multiple times a day.  I'm going to try to open a topic on Mondays and be a little neutral.  You read it and just learn something about me and how I think or what I'm doing.  In the rest of the week, I will try to give deeper insight into that same topic.  For example, Tuesday I might write about the best parts of Monday's topic. Maybe this will include photos and videos. Then Wednesday I'll present some ideas about how what looked good might not be so good after all, I'll play devil's advocate and give the flip side of the story.  Then Thursday I'll post about any conversations I've had with others about the topic...kind of a varied opinion, open forum kind of thing.  (*Hint: so tell me what you think on Monday or Tuesday if you want to be represented.)  UPDATE (6-19): Posting every week day might be too much if I really want this to be structured, cohesive, and poignant.  Plus, who really wants to feel like they need to read my blog everyday? So maybe I'll let Wednesdays breathe, and present the opposite perspective on Thursday along with advice and quotes from friends, mentors and famous people. Fridays will still be a personal post about my teaching career or health and fitness or writing or some other more aspect of my life.

I'll see if this works. But I feel good about it - especially with all the posts in the queue.  This week will be the test week and the topic is structure.

Friday, June 14, 2013

NAJ just iz...

If you know me personally or have followed me online for a while, feel free to shake your head at me for creating yet another blog. My prayer is that this one is the most honest (since before college anyway) and therefore that it will stand the test of time.

For the first time, I am not here to be preachy. I mean, preaching is in my nature so I KNOW it will creep in. But please understand, I titled the blog NAJjustiz because it's about me. Hopefully I can be a light by being myself, plant some seeds by following God's lead, but if not, at least I am writing down my story.

If this is your first time seeing anything about me: HELLO! Welcome! Bienvenidos! Mucho gusto. Please continue reading below.

NAJ just iz...human, woman, Black, Latina, natural, Oklahoman, following God, a book-lover, a baby snuggler, a high school teacher, a thinker, a music lover, not married, striving for justice and love, a master's student, trying to stay healthy, a writer, a performer, an editor, a dreamer.

I could add: NAJjustiz flawed, impatient, and a control freak to foreshadow some of the stuff I will post soon and later.

I will also mention that my name Najah-Amatullah is Arabic for "successful servant of God." My father is/was (I haven't heard from him in twenty years) a Muslim. I do not subscribe to that religion, although I admire the devotion I see in so many of them that so many Christians lack.  I also respect the name he gave me, because I believe that God is sovereign.  In college, friends started calling me Naj and it stuck.  Maybe four years ago, I was trying to find a shortish and easy to remember Twitter handle. I used to change it VERY regularly. NAJjustiz stuck when I went to a hip hop show and my rapper "friend" shouted me out from the stage by that name. I felt much cooler than I usually do.

(*Random question: should I continue putting myself out there as Najah-Amatullah, forcing people to learn how to enunciate and how to pay attention to detail, or should I give everyone a break and give in to my love for hip hop by giving myself a stage name/pen name/nom de plume of NAJjustiz?)

Are you ready? I already have five posts in the queue ready to get this started!