Saturday, December 20, 2014

Despite the Light of That Same Star...

This post is maybe a month too long overdue.

If you follow me on Facebook or Twitter or Tumblr, you know that I am mad as hell about all of the young black people, and especially black men, who have died, especially at the hands of police officers, in recent months and years. If you've been following me, you know I think the United States's justice system and police departments need an intense overhaul. However, you might not know, unless you know me really well, that I have not considered myself to be solely under the jurisdiction of the United States for some years now. I believe I'm a citizen of the kingdom of God and I give to Caesar what is Caesar's and to God what is God's (Matthew 22:21 and Mark 12:17). If you heard my poems either at Purple Martini or Ice Event Center the last couple of weeks, you've heard how my previous self and my current self are a bit at war with each other. If you're my sweet half white and half boricua Haitian missionary friend, you know that I don't hate white people. I am blood related to two really adorable, sweet three-fourths white babies and I love their mama to pieces.  But it is sometimes hard to love people who abuse their privilege, specifically white people.  If you're my Favorite or a friend we met at a political leadership conference, you know that #blacklivesmatter isn't just about politics; it's about relationships - especially when you are/look white.


But if you're anyone else who has not had a personal conversation with me about these events and our reactions you might be thinking I'm a reverse racist. You might be angry at my audacity to stand up for all black lives, even those of petty thieves, even at the risk of police officers lives because police are supposed to protect and serve the community. If you are any number of dozens or hundreds of white people who I have gone to church with, held hands with, prayed with, and gotten closer to the Lord with over the last 20 years, you might be thinking I've completely lost my faith.
The good news is: I haven't lost my faith. The bad news is: God and I have yet to come to a conclusion about how to appropriately handle racism in America today. You're going to want to talk to me about submission and how God and I don't have to come to a conclusion about anything because He's in charge. In response, I'm only going to say you don't know the way our relationship works. You're going to want to tell me to turn the other cheek and to love them anyway, because after all they nailed Jesus on the cross. In response, I'm going to say Dr. Martin Luther King a reverend who was martyred didn't just turn the other cheek.  And I have yet to loot or burn or physically harm anyone in my anger (like a small minority of protestors in Ferguson did). That's probably the best you're going to get for now.

I have been steadily distancing myself from all American social norms that are not based in truth and justice.  This includes nearly all American politics, and the American church's semi-allegiance to a blond-haired, blue-eyed guy named Jesus instead of a Hebrew carpenter named Yeshua and the God he represented, Yahweh.  Boycotting and awareness are nasty business.  Not fun.  They don't help you make friends.  But I can't stand idly by and watch the world burn without doing or saying anything. The Yeshua who tossed temple tables and was crucified for his stance against the theocracy (religious politics) of his day didn't just stand by and watch.

But to the point of this post...
I went to church last weekend at not IVVC (an elaboration which I will not now or ever make in blog format). Pastor Craig is in a series about worship which is quite meaningful to me personally, considering I have left and joined, left and joined 3 churches on the premises of worship for the last 8 years or more. This past week he chose to discuss of all things tithes and offerings. I have been a diligent tither for a very long time because Pastor Charles (IVVC) is an excellent tithes preacher. I have learned thoroughly that the members of the Kingdom of God benefit from operating on the kingdom's system of "seed + time = harvest."  If you've been following me since last March you've seen me post two or three times about financial blessings that came from seeds sown into the kingdom.  But I am not really ashamed to say I was not happy to hear Pastor Craig speak on this topic this past weekend.  I currently don't really consider anywhere my church home, and have not tithed for the last two or three paychecks.  From my seat, I passively resisted his sermon and without a happy heart gave my six dollar tithe on my earnings from my last poetry show.

This post is about how despite all the turmoil in the world, despite the fact that I'm boycotting Christmas, despite the fact that every thing is fraught with tension and hardship, and that it has even been a rough week at school, God doesn't break promises. I sat in the service and thought: "These tithes aren't doing anything for me! When I was paying them I wasn't moving any further out of debt!" But, for you atheists out there, for my social justice friends who are more on my side now that I'm mad at the Man and who avoided my newsfeed last March when I was all "Jesus this, and God's promises that," for my American Christian friends who have a nativity scene on the mantle where Santa is bowing to Baby Jesus, this is for you.

I was on the phone with one of my five credit card companies a couple of weeks ago, because I realized they were still charging me for a service I had asked of them to turn off. Paying for that service usually meant I was only paying $10 or $20 on my bill every month. They offered then and confirmed this week that not only would they cancel the service but they would refund me all the money I've paid for the service since I've had the card. The refund will be in the amount of $600. That is more than half the balance on my card.

I know you want to say "they're just making up for their mistake," but that's not what this is. Credit card companies want to take your money not give it back.  Despite the way it looks to me, despite my anger on Saturday, despite my resistance, my participation in God's system and my lack of trust in the world's system has now translated to a bill that's paid down farther than I would've been able to pay it.

Despite the fact that I don't really know what church I go to - although I will be paying my tithes at Life Church, despite the fact that I probably have not been anywhere near as loving through this social unrest as God would have wanted me to be, despite some of my personal downfalls that I have yet to overcome even though I know where the power lies, God does not renege on his system or his promises.  He is a better steward of our finances then we are, and definitely a better steward than this world is.  God doesn't throw a tantrum and stop being who He is just because we have forgotten who we are, or because we feel the need to become someone new.  I don't have a denomination.  I'm not celebrating Christmas.  I am opting further and further out of a political system, social system, cultural system that only contracts to protect and provide for certain people.  I am tuning my ear and my heart to a God with a system that never ever fails no matter who you are or what you look like.

In case you're wondering - God's system has very specific rules and boundaries because it has extravagant rewards and benefits. He gives mercy and grace to those who need it and requires much from those to whom much has been given.  The "buy-in" to the system, the pledge of allegiance if you will, is not a fancy indoctrinated prayer, but a willingness to trade your way for His.  He asks for a lot.  His system works best for those who give Him everything.  That is a very tall order, but true protection, true peace, true fulfillment have no other source.  I am not a Christian because it's cool, or because America is a Christian nation (it is not), or because a church told me to be.  I try to follow in the footsteps of Yeshua because in him and because of Yahweh who sent him is the only salvation.  It's not about heaven and hell; it's about how to make it through life.

"These things I have spoken to you, that in Me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world.” - John 16:33

(title is a muddling of the lyrics to the second verse of "The First Noel")
(side note: Those of you who refuse to tithe, because you don't want to give your money to the church, I get it. But tithing is not a pact with the church; it's a pact with God. Connect with Him, not just with His representatives who sometimes misrepresent Him)

Saturday, November 8, 2014

Every Time I Turn Around

Everyone has a different way of reacting to the world and to authority.

I am, by nature, a person who makes my own rules. I battle pride and I think I am smart enough to figure out my own way that works for me. It takes a long time for me to trust someone enough to submit to them and to listen when they tell me something.  This is especially hard when I have to change my attitude or my behavior! I first attempt to justify why I don’t need to change. And then I punk out by saying I can’t do it.

I even do this with God.

I know a lot of really great, strong Christians.  My “brothers” favorite phrases are “no days off,” “stay ready so you don’t have to get ready,” and “die daily.”  And they are diligent, excellent living testimonies to these phrases. 

But sometimes I get so caught up in that high expectation that I beat myself up because I “can’t” meet the standard.  But God reminded me that we are called to live a life of repentance – turning, changing.  Why? Because He knows that we will sometimes mess up.  And if we get into the habit of turning around, we can spend less time battling guilt and more time thanking God for His grace that meets us where we are. 

I could do penance from here to eternity for all the ways I’ve failed.  Or I could skip that and simply say, “I messed up again.  I am sorry again.  I am turning from that bad behavior and turning toward You.”  Even if I have to say that 20 times a day, it’s better than staying in my sin because I’m too afraid of the cycle. 

Repentance is holiness. 

And maybe the reason my brothers stay ready, the reason they are on Team Die Daily is because they have mastered the turning minute by minute.  I just have to speed up.

Sunday, November 2, 2014

You Don't Have to Try So Hard

As a follow-up to my last post, I have not been trying so hard.

Aside from the wedding I went to, I have not worn any makeup other than eye liner and mascara in three weeks.

If I'm being honest, I miss the compliments.

But I like the time I spend thinking more about God or about school in the mornings.

I won't say this is because I haven't been wearing makeup, but doors have been opening up for me. I know at least one of those doors opened because I was discussing my return to my natural state with someone.

I've spent more time writing, more time working out, more time journaling.

This photo was taken today while I was working on a project with a friend. Before I left my house (15 minutes late), I thought about putting on a whole face of makeup, but decided it was unnecessary.  I guess I knew in my gut that we would take photos.  When my friend starting taking candids of me while I was writing, I said, "If I'd known you wanted to take pics, I'd have been cuter." He said "You don't have to be cute to make history."  I'd have preferred he say, "You're cute enough already." But, what he did say is true.  I also know I will look back in twenty years and either think "I should have fixed my hair and worn makeup" or think "That was when I stopped caring so much about my outward appearance. I cared more about what I was doing than how I looked doing it."

For this perspective and for a huge spiritual step in the right direction, I thank my friend Maria Atkinson who beautifully walks around Haiti wearing no makeup, hair sometimes in dreadlocks or cornrows, and sometimes in a pixie cut, loving people to life. You are beautiful.  If people begin to be able to look at me and see anything like what I see when I look at you then I will consider myself a success.

My conclusion is that Colbie was right: you don't have to try so hard. You definitely don't have to give it all away.
She was also wrong, because there are some things you should try at, some things you should let break you.  I've decided to try and walk a few miles a few times a week, and do yoga on the off days if not every day.  I've decided to try and eat only food that will nourish me.  In fact, my mom and I are doing a 5-Day Reset with Shaklee starting tomorrow. Then extreme clean eating until Thanksgiving when I'll assess my progress.

I think what I really learned is that you have to try at the right things. And the real message is that you don't have to fit into someone else's mold.  I don't have to be a glamor girl.  I genuinely like pretty and pink and sparkles and fashion, but I like them better when I'm healthier.  Until I'm healthy, it's like dressing up a garbage can. That doesn't make much sense.
Thank you for the burst of inspiration today from Carlie, @RegularGirlFitness (on Instagram), also.

And I need to remain focused on the spiritual, the eternal, also. If I was there, and we talked, and we prayed, and we felt God together, does it matter how I looked?  I think, not really.

"Do you like you?"

Monday, October 13, 2014

Just Get Up

Is this true or is it a lie?

She sings so beautifully and she looks so sincere. But is she lying?

"You don't have to try so hard.
You don't have to give it all away.
You just have to get up, get up, get up, get up.
You don't have to change a single thing.
You don't have to try so hard.
You don't have to bend until you break.
You just have to get up, get up, get up, get up.
You don't have to change a single thing.
You don't have to try..."

Because even the sweetest of people want you to stop eating meat or stop eating sugar or start working out or work out more.  They want you to wear this or that, keep chemicals on or off your hair.  They want you to cover up more or less.

If this were true, it would revolutionize my world.
I love pink and sparkles, makeup and fashion...
...because I like external things to tell me I'm pretty.

Without makeup, you can see the stress blemishes on my skin and the dark circles from no sleep under my eyes.
Without enough cute clothes you can see all the extra pounds I carry around because I eat my emotions.

I would give anything to be able to just get up and go...and not feel ugly.

Last week, a coworker of mine saw me - wearing no makeup and my glasses - and said, "Oh you don't have on all your eye makeup today. I always look forward to your eyes." I told my coworker, "It takes me 30 minutes to put my face on. I chose to sleep today." And, even though I forgot to set my alarm this morning, I still put on my full face this morning, so I wouldn't disappoint.

I fought with someone I consider a friend because I was trying with everything in me to change my body and she was trying to help and it wasn't working.  I missed out on her light for weeks because of that. Even now when I see her, I sometimes have to close my eyes to remember that she is a beautiful soul and not just a hot body.

I have a family member whose most distinguishing factor to me is that she is always either on a food challenge or a fitness challenge. Always. Sometimes both.

And before someone makes this argument, I am not saying that health doesn't matter.  It does. It definitely does.  But when you already feel pressure from every angle, the pressure to be healthy is not separate. It's all just pressure.

I have been lying/evading/covering this up for almost a year...I have serious food issues.  I punish myself with food. I either over-eat on purpose as punishment or I starve myself for the same reasons.  I have cried over many meals.
Thank you to my sweet friend, Bekah, for sharing her story on this topic.

Today I threw a fit because my Old Navy account had a glitch and I couldn't buy $200 worth of clothes. I have parent teacher conferences tomorrow and I wanted to look adorable.

I wish the girl pictured above got as many compliments and likes as the girl with the awesome mascara or the cute outfits. 

I want to stop trying. 

I have never been more afraid of anything.

I also need to apologize to everyone I have ever made feel like they needed more makeup, cuter or different hair, or any kind of change in order to be pretty.  I never meant to be malicious, but I was applying the same rules to you that I am suffering under. I pray you didn't suffer under my word.  I am so sorry. You don't have to try.

Endnote: If I had to pick ONE thing that I believe is worth the effort and conformity, it would be the food I find and take in.  If you had to pick ONE thing to try, which would it be?

Friday, August 22, 2014

I Hear Voices

Once we start "eating" the right words - the spoken words of God from sources that line up with the written words of God - we have to be able to apply them.  This requires constant devotion to humility.

Humility is admitting that we are incapable of doing it on our own.  Humility is not downplaying your accomplishments, but acknowledging that your talents are God-given and that some of your success is based on favor with people or teaching from people.

We've all heard the old adage that actions speak louder than words. This is basically true. But the more you watch and listen to people, the more you will understand why people act the way they do.  Behavior is a reflection of belief.  I like the phrase I first heard a couple of years ago: "When you know better, you do better" (This quote may be attributed to Oprah).  It follows then that when we consistently, habitually don't do the right thing, it is because we don't know how.

Behaviors are easy to change; beliefs are next to impossible.  So what do we do?

After we acclimate to the understanding that we cannot change the beliefs of our friends and family members, much less strangers, then:   
  • We have to spend enough time with ourselves to understand our flaws (the big ones and the small ones).  
  • We have to know God well enough to hear Him tell us how to fix them.  
I just re-learned this lesson.  People we love sometimes have struggles we could help them with.  But their behavior is most likely an effect of their belief and only God can change their beliefs. Let's turn that back on ourselves.  None of us are perfect; we all have flaws we have kept well hidden, consciously or unconsciously. No one can change those little idiosyncrasies and attitudes because they are deeply rooted in our beliefs about ourselves and the world around us.

If you've ever struggled with the idea of knowing God, let me give you two tips.

1. If you are at the beginning of your spiritual journey or you're still deciding if Christianity is for you, know this: prayer is not a monologue; it's a dialogue.  A dialogue requires two people talking and two people listening. When you pray (about all things great and small - your car not breaking down, your day running smoothly, your boyfriend forgetting his fears of commitment and taking you ring shopping, your mother's cancer), also listen to what God is saying back.  God is saying something back.

2. If you are past the beginning stages, you've been reading the Bible and going to church and you talk to God on a regular basis, but you're still not sure how to hear directly from God, know this: "God exists within you as you" (Elizabeth Gilbert) and the devil exists outside of you posing as you. There's a reason the visual representations of the Holy Spirit (your conscience) and the devil are small figures that look just like you whispering in your ear the right and wrong things to do.

One of the devil's most effective tricks is to speak negativity to you and deceive you into thinking the negative thoughts originated with you. The devil wants you to think your mind has an abundance of evil in it that you cannot escape.  But he is the liar, the deceiver, the accuser.  

God created you. When you were born, you had more God in you than you had of yourself and your parents.  In fact, the eternal part of you is simply a piece of God.  So when you align yourself with God's teachings, He removes the negativity that was invading your system and what is left is the God in you that was always there.  When you listen for God's voice during your prayer dialogue, listen for what sounds like your own thoughts or your own voice but lines up with God's words. 

This is why the yogis say, "I honor the Divinity that resides within me."


Monday, August 11, 2014

Spoken Word of God

Last week, I outlined ways to know if the words you're taking in are from God or not.  I focused on the written word - the Bible and other texts that proclaim the gospel of salvation through Divine Intervention. This week I will focus on the spoken word.

There are three main sources of the spoken word of God:
  • Pastors, preachers, prophets, teachers, conference speakers - all one group
  • Spiritual family, counselors, mentors, teachers, wise advisors - all one group
  • God Himself
To be very honest, many of us only ever listen to people in category two, spiritual family.  This is a very natural place to start, but a dangerous place to end.  My sweet, faithful, strong in the Word grandmother is sometimes just too close to me or too insistent on her personal styles to be the only one I listen to.  Your mentor is a human being. No matter how much she loves God, is filled with the Holy Spirit, she is still human with her biases and places of hurt and confusion.  To only listen and take advice from your spiritual family is to shut out the revelation God is giving to the rest of the world.

God is bigger than our imagination and wondrously multifaceted. God is not limited to the perspectives of people we know.

The next problem we have, especially in the United States, is our aversion to pastors and church people.  And I promise you, despite my current attachment to the church, I have struggled with this before as well. 2 Chronicles 20:20 says, "Have faith in the Lord your God and you will be upheld; have faith in his prophets and you will be successful." Also in Paul's second letter to the church at Corinth, he says, "God has set the members, each one of them, in the body just as He pleased...and God has appointed these in the church: first apostles, second prophets, third teachers..." (12:18 and 28).  He goes on to list several other spiritual gifts in hierarchical order.  Apostles can be defined as "those who are sent" (based on the translation of the Greek word) to speak God's word or to do God's work. I don't have them listed above simply because apostles tend to be doers - church planters, missionaries, healers - where the speakers are more referred to as prophets.

Some in church culture refer to prophets as anyone who speaks on behalf of God, or gives a message from God. This encompasses pastors, preachers, teachers (of the Word, not necessarily academics), and conference speakers (conferences centered around God's word and growing in faith). I like this scripture reference: "When there is a prophet among you, I, the Lord, reveal myself to them in visions, I speak to them in dreams. This is not true of my servant Moses; he is faithful in all my house. With him I speak face to face, clearly and not in riddles; he sees the form of the Lord" (Numbers 12:8).  That's big. We see that prophets get visions and dreams that have meaning for our lives as followers of God. We also see that a person who is faithful to God might see God "face to face" and might hear things from God "clearly." Any human is fallible. Moses had his issues. But God continues revealing Himself to certain people "face to face." He continues speaking to certain people clearly and He does so even today (because He never changes - Hebrews 13:8).

The practical application is this: When someone says, "The Lord spoke to me and said..."
  1. Look for that trend in scripture.  You probably won't find the exact words, but you can find the concept. Remember to balance the Old Testament with the new. If a self-proclaimed prophet says, "God wants us to stone all adulterers," yes you will find that precedent in the Old Testament, but you will find a very different precedent set by Jesus in the New Testament. Chances are very great that person didn't hear from God. 
  2. See if what they claim God told them proves true. "You will know them by their fruit," or by what they do (Matthew 7:16). The catch is always timing.  God exists outside of time and historically gives people glimpses into the very distant future. Very rarely does God give a message with a timestamp on it.  The nice thing about this is it's easy to test out.  "Prophet" So-and-So says this will happen before the end of the year. You don't have to wait very long to see if they were true or false.  
  3. Do NOT try to decide whether they are really speaking God's word based on their mistakes or past failures.  Moses killed a guy and then disobeyed God and was left out of the Promised Land. That didn't stop God from using him to write the Torah. Paul used to murder Christians, that didn't stop God from using him to write all those letters to the churches. God is in the business of saving people and using them for His glory. Salvation is a process and God uses people while He's still saving them. Sometimes people make huge mistakes after God has spoken through them. This does not invalidate the message.

When taking in God's spoken word, we must temper our faith in God's hierarchy with wisdom of God's written word. "Study to show yourself approved" (2 Timothy 2:15). Listen with a discerning ear and react in love and submission.

I will write more on submission and hearing from God Himself* next week.

*I struggled to put Himself rather than Herself or Him/Herself. God does not have gender. That's a different argument for a different day. But know, that I believe firmly and whole-heartedly that God fully encompasses both genders. 

Friday, August 1, 2014

Say What? Word?

In my last post, I used the premise of Elizabeth Gilbert's Eat, Pray, Love to give some guidelines for having a fulfilled life: pray, "eat," and live. As promised, in this post I am going to discuss my theory of "eating" a bit more.

I already mentioned "[hu]man does not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God" (Matthew 4:4).

What are God's words? The easy answer is: the Bible. The educated answer is: God's words are those which proclaim the Gospel, the good news, of salvation through Divine intervention.

Let me clarify: The only reason I did not leave my declaration at "the Bible - period" is because I believe, like Tommy Tenney (author of the famous Christian text The God Chasers), that God has not stopped speaking to His people since he gave John the Revelation and since Paul wrote his inspired epistles to the early churches. "God is the same yesterday, today, and forever" (Hebrews 13:8), so it doesn’t make sense that He would stop giving us prophets, relevant and timely instruction, and revelation.

I think there are dozens of books out there written by people who listen just as closely to God as Matthew and Amos and Moses listened to God. And I think their words are just as relevant to living a godly life as those in the canonized Bible. These authors’ books typically include biblical cross-references along their original revelations.

I will not name specific other books of scripture in this post, but I will say this: Christianity hinges on the revelation (not the intellectual knowledge) that Jesus, the Christ, who was both God and man allowed himself to be killed in order to "pay for" human sinfulness (Phil. 2:5-8). All religions I have studied acknowledge that humans are inclined toward wrong doing more than right doing. Most theism (or “belief in God”) acknowledges that God is "holier," better, stronger than humans. As a Christian, I believe that Jesus's death paid (past tense) the price for my sin. It happened immediately in the instant of his death, and now only has to be accepted.

I am going to disagree with some theologians here, though, and say: I don't think Jesus came to earth, lived, was tortured, died, and rose again (that's the difference; martyrs are a dime a dozen) primarily to save us from hell. Why not? Because I don't believe that the people who attempted to be faithful to God before Jesus's earth tour went to hell. I believe Jesus's death and resurrection were ordained by God to give us a chance at a better life on earth, an opportunity for the life God wanted when He created humans in the first place. Now THAT’S GOOD NEWS!

Christianity is about being saved from the effects of sin in our lives on earth more so than the after-life result of rejecting God's sovereignty. We are saved and able to engage in the process of becoming more whole, and therefore becoming holier and happier.

So, how do we measure if it is God’s word or not? In my prayerful, researched opinion, God's word is this:

  • It DOES constantly require you to do better. 
  • It DOES constantly remind you that you cannot do better without God. 
  • It DOES come from a place of love. 
  • It DOES NOT allow you to remain complacent. 
  • It DOES NOT convince you that your next level is all about gritting your teeth and pulling yourself up by your bootstraps (none of that “they sleep, we grind” mentality). 
  • It DOES NOT come from a place of judgment. 

Despite many Christians’ aversion to everything that hints at another religion, in Liz Gilbert's book her first act on her spiritual journey was to cry out to a God she wasn't sure she believed in and ask for help. Even she prayed first. And when God spoke; she listened and obeyed.


 For some information on other ways God speaks, check out Soul Medicine next week.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Pray, Eat, Live

I read the book Eat Pray Love twice before the movie came out.  I saw the movie in the theater and only loved it because it was a condensed version of my favorite book.  And because Julia Roberts is in it and I love her.  I had a couple of friends who were impacted by Liz Gilbert's insight the way I was.

And then I studied the book with a class who took the stance of most of the world - a rich, white lady decides to travel the world and masquerade it as spiritual and personal growth.  Really she just had an awesome vacation.  Well, someone has their knickers in a knot.

I found that everything she went through was relatable to me.  If it wasn't a pattern I already saw emerging in my 20-year-old present, I could imagine it in my future. I could say it's because she's a writer. But that would go against my fundamental belief that it is because she was right.

As I struggle a little with self-love and I meditate on ways to "fix" my problem, I think I would change the order of her verbs.

  1. Always pray first.  Pray as soon as you wake up, before you go to sleep, and at every turning point throughout the day.  Thank God for being big enough to handle anything you will ever go through.  Thank God for loving you enough to work all things together for your good.  Ask God for guidelines, answers, inspiration, opportunities.  Ask God for help not being afraid to take those opportunities, help loving others the way He loves you, help seeing what might be getting in the way of your progress. 
  2. Then eat.  This probably seems ridiculous, but give me a chance.  First, "[hu]man does not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God" (Matthew 4:4).  So "eat" God's words from the Bible, from the mouths of preachers, and from inside yourself.  Secondly, understand that physical eating can be a spiritual practice. There's a reason we pray, "Give us this day our daily bread" (Matthew 6:11).  That one was talking about actual food.  Make sure you are nourished, not hungry, but also not overfull or full of the wrong things.  Be careful what you enjoy and why.
  3. Learn to really live.  Understand that "God has given us all things that pertain to life and godliness" (2 Peter 1:3).  I really appreciate the phrase from a popular mega church - "Whoever finds God finds life."  Find what God intends for your life - for me it's writing and teaching - and do those things as well as the actions that support those things.  I am a better writer the more of the world I take in, the more I build relationships with people.  I am a better teacher the more I do things the right way. Kids need to see adults succeeding.  Also, if I want to live whole and healthy for longer than 40 more years, I have to exercise and keep nourishing rather than deadly habits.  

So many think the majority of humans have nothing to learn from Elizabeth Gilbert's journey.  I think they fail to see that she was simply giving us an example of what it might look like to go against people's expectations and strike out on your own to find the life God intended for you.

There will be more discussion on "eating" and on "living" in the coming weeks.


Thursday, June 26, 2014

Have You Ever Been In Love?

Have you ever been in love?

Like seriously in love - you talk to him every day and text him when you aren't talking and see him every chance you get?  Like you want to tell him all your good and bad news first?  Like nothing you do could ever be as fun without him?  Like you miss his presence on girls night and hanging with your family?

I feel you. I am a champion at falling in love.  In fact, I watched the movie Country Strong shortly after my own bouts with depression and suicidal tendencies.  I internalized the lead character's advice: "Don't be afraid to fall in love; it's the only thing that matters in life. The only thing. You just fall in love with as many things as possible."

This is a good tactic for getting yourself out of depression.  Lupe Fiasco, in his song, "2Ways" says, "you really like summer, you really like music, you really like reading, LOVE."  He's following similar advice.

But once you've given yourself reasons to keep living, to continue getting out of bed in the morning, there ought to be something more.

Would you believe me if I said each and every one of us was intelligently designed for the sole purpose of being head over heels, elbows over ankles, in love?

With God.

It might seem crazy because we find it so much easier to love things we can touch - ice cream, piano keys, grass, and a man's finger tips... but imagine for a second that your Lover doesn't have a job and yet still has boundless resources to shower on you?  So no matter when you want to "call Him," He's available and willing.  He gives gifts so much better than you can even imagine, much less pick out in a store.  Consider that the enormous capacity you - especially as a woman - possess for loving (we pick up dirty socks, change dirty diapers, and still manage to smile and give hugs) is primarily for loving God.  Understand that the only reason you are such a fantastic lover is because you have first been loved by Someone omniscient, omnipresent, and omnipotent.  And He deserves our reciprocation.

Don't be afraid to fall in love. But falling for God will eradicate the need to fall for anything else. All other "loves" are just gifts from God.

After all, God is the definition of Love (1 John 4:8).

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Nothing But the Truth

Spoken word poet Alysia Harris embodies the art of telling the ugly truth in a beautiful way.  She speaks with her whole face, her whole body, she loses her voice and makes herself cry 90% of the time.  This is how you know what she's saying is true.  If you can write it, edit it, memorize and rehearse it and have it still bring you to tears, you're onto something.

She tweeted this quote years ago:

The best example I have of this truth is me and my bestie, Jess.  She and I have been making best friendship work for almost 8 years.  Over the last 6 months, we have been really committed to deepening our friendship by talking more regularly even though she lives in Germany (remember last week's post? Make it work. We use the Voxer app) and praying with and for each other.  We give each other updates on all the big stuff and all the little stuff several times a week.  When we disagree, we figure out why we disagreed. When we get frustrated we tell each other, we apologize, and we attempt to not make the same mistake again. We still sometimes make each other cry.

Any time you talk to someone this often, you will need a set of principles to guide you.

Here are the three things that work for us:

God - If Jess and I did not each (not one or the other, or one on behalf of the other) have a firm commitment to a God who never gives up on His relationship with us, we would probably have given up on our friendship with each other.  In fact, when we were both weaker in our faith, it was much harder and we made more and harsher mistakes.

Also, if we did not each understand a God who forgives endlessly and gives more grace than we could ever give or deserve, we would not have an example of how to treat each other with grace and forgiveness.

Love - Jess and I have spent countless hours discussing the different facets of that four-letter word.  We always use the Bible as our guide - 1 Corinthians 13, 1 John 4:7-11, Ephesians 3:17-19 (she asked me to read this at her wedding, even after I'd been really mean to her - that's love), and countless other scriptures.

We take what we read and we attempt to apply it literally.  The Bible is a book of instructions given to a beloved group of people from a Father who only wants what's best for them. And we know "Love...rejoices in the truth" (1 Cor. 13:6).

So, when Jesus says, "turn the other cheek," it literally means that in a fight when a person hits you, love would guide you not to hit them back. For real. This is only figurative in that it can apply to non-physical fights.  If someone calls you a dirty name or cusses you out, you are not to retaliate.  Love stands down, takes the hit, extends forgiveness (without being asked) and does not hold a grudge. Look at Jesus on the day of his crucifixion. Whoa. We don't like this because we see "being a doormat" as enabling the other person's bad behavior.  But somehow Jesus didn't see it that way, and I can't presume to be smarter than him.

Honesty - You have to tell the truth. We make the mistake of believing that others are not smart enough, stable enough, or loving enough to handle our truths or treat us well in the face of our truths. That's where we have to be patient, loving, and forgiving and give them time, space, and resources to understand us.

Jess and my friendship finally became smoother when we learned how to disagree with each other and still be loving and supportive. Aristotle is attributed as saying, "It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it." As friends, we have to entertain each other's thoughts, feelings, ideas, plans, goals, and potential relationships.  We must entertain them, and if they need re-sculpting, be honest and loving enough to tell our friend why and offer support for how.

It is as simple as 1, 2, 3 and as incredibly difficult.  True communication, true friendship, true love, requires honesty to make us better people.  Someone has to tell you that you are spending too much time at the club to really make your business successful.  Someone has to tell you that the way you speak to people discourages collaboration.  The only way I've seen to be honest without ruining your rapport with people is to always temper your honesty with love.  The only way I know to be dedicated to love is to follow God's example, especially in Jesus Christ.


Thursday, June 12, 2014

The Lost Art of Talking

Once upon a time in the days of old before computers and cell phones, people did a lot more talking - real communicative talking - than we do now.

If you were curious whether your neighbor had her baby yet, you had to walk over to her house and ask.  You had to talk to her.  If you were interested in a new job, you had to verbally ask the manager if there were any openings.  If you thought the boy in your third period class was cute, you couldn't end up at a dance with him unless you talked first.  

Now we just watch for a Facebook status update or a notification from LinkedIn, subscribe to a dating site, or better yet: Tindr.  

Several years back, teenagers started referring to the time between when you meet someone and when you start to call them your boyfriend/girlfriend as "talking."
He asked me for my number and now we're "talking."
We've been on a couple of dates, but we're not together; we're just "talking."

Talking got a bad rap because we overused and then misused it - like we do with most things, including the Internet. 

I'd like to give a set of witty examples of what couples who are pseudo-dating do, now that "talking" is sort of out, but I have no clue.  I graduated from "hook-ups" shortly after college and I have never considered love to be casual.  So I, like the 25-year-old grandma I am, still "talk" to guys.  I'd rather go out for coffee than to the movies.  I get why the "taking long walks on the beach" cliché exists.  My favorite part of my last first date was not the dope rap show or the fun time eating greasy breakfast food with friends. It was the hour we spent in the parking lot under the street lamp, just talking. 

Let's bring back talking, on all levels of human connection.  
  • Don't send your boss an email; go into her office and talk to her.  If you're really ambitious, take care of the work thing and then be genuinely interested in her as a person.  
  • That mom from your son's soccer team, invite her and her son for ice cream after the game. Talk to her.  She could be your new BFF.  
  • And best of all, that guy at church you think is so cute, DON'T ask for his number. And don't find a clever way to sneak him yours. You'll only end up texting.  Set up an event with friends - bowling, dinner, game night (I don't care how grown you think you are; those are fun!) - and invite him to the event so you can talk to him.  

Our relationships mirror our communication.  Dating is shallow because we didn't "talk" enough. Our friendships aren't deep enough to weather the storm because we never told her what she needed to know. 

Don't be scared to be honest. 

P.S. However much you talk, you need to listen twice as hard. 

P.P.S. This communication strategy works on your connection to God too.

Thursday, June 5, 2014

It's June

It's June.  Sunrises and sunsets come later, and that's good because everyone is sleeping in - except the elders. Many veterans operate on a body clock set to 5 a.m.  They rise, because it's time, because the sun never sleeps in, because you're burnin' daylight, child, get up and do something!  

It's summer and we teachers and parents worry what our kids will get into with all their time off.  Will they fry their brains with too many video games?  Will they forget everything they learned in school?  

"Idle hands are the devil's plaything," you know. But the elders welcome free time more than ice cream.  They are happy to sit and watch the storm clouds roll in, although they smelled it yesterday.  Their senses are better than ours.  The internet didn't exist in their time, so they had to learn to get their information from their surroundings and their souls.

In June there is Father's Day and the anniversary of the death of the only man who showed what fatherhood should look like.  PaPa taught me to tie my shoes, to finish my plate, to read big words and analyze physical ailments (he was a physician's assistant).  He taught me how to really listen to piano chords, guitar strains, wind howling in trees, and the shrill voices of old ladies in the church choir past their singing days.  He called me "sweet thing." Whatever I needed he made a way to give me, but he never saved me from hard work. 

He told me to keep writing and he collected my poems and stories like any good parent, but he also made me pursue a "real job."  I could almost draw his look of relief when I said "teacher." Whew! Thank God, you'll never be out of work.

He "graduated" to heaven two years ago on the 24th and every single day I can't imagine who I would be if he hadn't earned every single one of his "grades": 
A for affection
A for provision
A for stick-to-it-tive-ness 
A for practicality
A for encouragement
A for advice
B for self-preservation

No one will reflect on their life and say, "I wouldn't know anything without Facebook." But, we remember forever the smiles, the rules, the hugs, the spankings, the example of the people who raised us. I've decided if I become more and more like my elders I will have done the world a service.

Well done, PaPa. I'll see you when I get there. 

It's a movement!

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Book List - For Teaching or Suggesting to Students

Read and need to review:

  • The Book of Lost Things by John Connolly (YA fiction audio and text) 
  • Water For Elephants by Sara Gruen (fiction)
  • Son of a Witch by Gregory Maguire (fantasy audio) 
  • Anthem by Ayn Rand (dystopian fiction)
  • Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? by Mindy Kaling (nonfiction)
  • Beautiful Creatures and Beautiful Darkness by Kami Garcia (#1 and #2 in the Caster Chronicles - YA fantasy)
  • Unwind by Neal Shusterman (YA dystopia)
  • Divergent, Insurgent, and Allegiant by Veronica Roth (YA dystopia) - 10
  • City of Bones, City of Ashes, City of Glass, City of Fallen Angels, and City of Lost Souls by Cassandra Clare (Books 1-5 in the Mortal Instruments series - YA fantasy)
  • The Fault In Our Stars by John Green (YA fiction)
  • The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie (YA realistic fiction)

Currently Reading:

  1. The Warmth of Other Suns by Isabel Wilkerson (nonfiction)
  2. The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini (coming of age realistic fiction) - 10

Partially Read
  1. The Book Thief by Marc Zusak (fiction) - 10 and CC - stopped on AMP chapter 7 12:36
  2. How the Garcia Girls Lost Their Accents by Julia Alvarez (fiction)
  3. The Autobiography of Malcolm X as told to Alex Haley (nonfiction)
  4. Midnight: A Gangster Love Story by Sister Souljah (urban coming of age fiction)
  5. Teaching to Transgress by bell hooks (non-fiction)
  6. Woman Hollering Creek by Sandra Cisneros (audio - coming of age fiction). I became aware of Cisneros in Dr. Timothy Petete’s Ethnic American Literature class in Fall 2009. There’s also a really dope poem by the youth slam team that Albuquerque sent to the Brave New Voices festival
  7. The Red Badge of Courage  by Stephen Crane (classic fiction) - 10 Honors
  8. Dreaming in Cuban by Cristina Garcia (fiction) - CC 11
To read:

Suggestions for 10th grade:

  1. Othello by William Shakespeare (tragic drama)
  2. A Long Way Gone: Memoirs of a Boy Soldier by Ismael Beah (memoirs)
  3. Long Walk to Freedom by Nelson Mandela (nonfiction)
  4. In the Time of Butterflies by Julia Alvarez (coming of age fiction) - CC
  5. Macbeth by William Shakespeare (tragic drama) - CC
  6. The Joy Luck Club by Amy Tan (realistic fiction) - CC
  7. Animal Farm by George Orwell (classic fiction)
  8. Lord of the Flies - William Golding (classic YA fiction)
  9. Antigone by Sophocles (classic)
  10. Night by Elie Wiesel (nonfiction)
  11. Inferno by Dante (classic)
  12. Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck (classic fiction) - Honors
  13. The Jungle by Sinclair Lewis (classic satire)  - Honors
  14. The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison (fiction) - Honors (CC 11)
  15. Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston (fiction) - 10 Honors (CC 11)
  16. The Great Gatsby - F. Scott Fitzgerald (classic fiction) - Honors (CC 11)

For other grades or extensions:
  1. Life of Pi - Yann Martel (fiction)
  2. Americanah! by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (fiction)
  3. Taming of the Shrew by William Shakespeare (comic drama)
  4. City of Heavenly Fire by Cassandra Clare
  5. Black Boy by Richard Wright (realistic coming of age fiction)
  6. The Curious Incident of a Dog in the Nighttime
  7. 1984 - George Orwell (classic dystopia)
  8. Brave New World - Aldous Huxley (classic dystopia)
  9. UnWholly and UnSouled by Neal Shusterman
  10. Beloved by Toni Morrison (fiction)
  11. The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton (classic YA fiction)
  12. The Namesake by Jhumpa Lahiri (fiction) (CC 11)
  13. everything by Langston Hughes
  14. Lion Among Men and Out of Oz by Gregory Maguire
  15. Book of Rhymes: The Poetics of Hip Hop by Adam Bradley (literary analysis of hip hop)
  16. Magician’s Nephew by C.S. Lewis
  17. everything by Sherman Alexie (War Dances, Indian Killer)
  18. What Was African American Literature by Kenneth Warren- I’ll finish this in grad school
  19. Collected Nikki Giovanni (poetry)
  20. Do You!: 12 Laws to Access the Power in You to Achieve Happiness and Success by Russell Simmons Normally I don’t read self-helpy type books, but I’m practically obsessed with author Russell Simmons as a person. I bought this book and will read it in my spare time. Partial pre-review linked. 
  21. The Spoken Word Revolution: Slam, Hip Hop & the Poetry of a New Generation (anthology with audio component) This is on my list because I hope that by reintroducing myself to the text “advised” by the inventor of slam poetry himself, Marc “So What” Smith, and by listening I will be able to actively remember that poetry is integral to my makeup.
  22. A Culture of Place by bell hooks (non-fiction)
  23. Jay-Z: Decoded (autobiography with a ghost writer)
  24. Roots by Alex Haley (race relations)
  25. Yellow Moon by Jewell Parker Rhodes
  26. Beautiful Chaos and Beautiful Redemption by Kami Garcia (#3 and #4 in the Caster Chronicles, YA)
  27. The Salt Eaters by Toni Cade Bambara
  28. everything by Junot Diaz
  29. The Myth Makers by J. Houston
  30. Wife of the Gods by Kwei Quartey
  31. something by Ana Castillo
  32. Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson

Six Months Later

In my last post, my New Year's post, I didn't mention much about school because I was a little emotionally overwhelmed about it.  They took me out of my on-level English classes with 90 students and put me in a co-taught special education classroom with 30 students.  They said it was because I was inexperienced.  Last month, they didn't offer me a contract to return on the premise that I didn't have enough experience.

Because God is awesome and He makes provisions for you before you know you need them, I was offered an interview from a small independent African American district before I even knew they weren't asking me back.  I was asked, interviewed, and hired directly by the superintendent.  She saw me performing poetry at Urban Roots and thought I might be a good match. I'll be teaching on-level English and one or two creative writing or poetry classes.  It's an awesome opportunity! I'm so excited!

I published my poetry chapbook The Risk to Bloom and have sold several copies. I had a feature show that I got paid for (that's three now!) and I booked another feature. I am in talks with three other potential features.  I have a ton of video from these shows but I haven't had time to edit and publish it yet.

I have been asked to write for a group called Soul Medicine. I will post a link and more information about that soon.

I have done a ton more praying and seeking. I have received several revelations about myself, my future, who God wants me to marry and what He wants me to do in the meantime. God is good. I am currently reading The Utter Relief of Holiness by John Eldredge.  I'm going to make another attempt at reading The Daniel Plan by Rick Warren. If you have any other books written by Christians about health, feel free to recommend them.
I have not yet developed a daily without fail prayer and Bible study time. Sometimes I skip a day and other days I'm in it for 2-6 hours. I am inconsistent.

My health is all over the place. I don't eat well. I do exercise regularly, but that is offset by my lack of nutrition and sleep.

My summer goals are these:

1) Read Judges, 2 Samuel, 1 and 2 Kings at least. Maybe 1 and 2 Chronicles also.
2) Find good recipes, make good, clean, healthy food and eat regularly.
3) Find a good workout regimen with RIPPED, zumba, and yoga.
4) Read novels, excerpts, and other things for school unit prep.
      a) I will keep my book list on my blog and update it with reviews.
5) Travel and perform
     a) Right now Dallas, Houston, Kansas City, Baltimore, DC, and New York are on the list.  That's probably enough for one summer, but you never know what's going to happen.
6) Tutor
7) Draft my nonfiction book and write good, short things