Holier Than Thou

I’ve seen the worst of humanity this year. It is certainly not the worst humanity has ever been – 2020 doesn’t deserve that kind of credit – but, certainly the worst traits exacerbated.

I’ve seen politicians shrug in the face of unimaginable death and loss, even while holding some power to fix and change. And, I’ve seen people excuse this callousness, exposing their own.

I’ve seen the wealthiest people in the world grow unapologetically more wealthy while most of the world suffers. Folks who could simultaneously house, feed, and educate the entire world over, and still be really freaking rich, continue to take and exploit and take and exploit.

I’ve seen a police officer, after being indicted for only the walls he damaged, attempt to sue the man who watched him murder his girlfriend in her own home, and who he then arrested for firing his legally-owned gun at, what he thought were, home invaders. And I watched people blame the victims, if they allowed any of the tragedies of the Black lives taken this year flit across their radar at all.

I’ve worked in customer service and been on the receiving end of people saying some of the most awful things, things they’d never say with an audience, the sense of entitlement and complete lack of consideration in general, and certainly in light of a moment much larger than their damn books…and I really like books.

I’ve observed people who claim to worship the same Jesus I do, actually worship at the altar of something wholly unrecognizable compared to the Kingdom of God, and do so with impunity.

And, I have felt, as I’m sure comes through, that I’ve had a right to cast judgment on all the above.

I am wired in such a way that, try as I might, I am incapable of turning away. Incapable of letting things slide. Compelled to torture myself in the face of unwinnable battles.

And yet, how do I be that person, one who calls evil by its rightful name and not be the very thing that I’ve spent all of my adult years recovering from?

How do I not become holier than thou?

Trading swear word policing for the policing of casual racism

Purity culture for justice culture

Fundamentalist conservatism for my own dogmatic interpretations of Matthew 25 and Luke 4

However obviously righteous.

I don’t know.

How much energy am I supposed to spend figuring it out? For whom? To what end? When the entire history of humanity has been fighting the same battles, and we seem not much better off?

The bible doesn’t say I can’t have enemies. Quite to the contrary, it assumes them an inevitability. As a kid, I found those passages far-fetched, dramatic even. As an adult, well, it’s a different story. The bible doesn’t say I can’t have enemies. It does say I must love them.

How?

By shaming them into “right belief” as was certainly the tactic of my earliest teachers?

By “calling out and in”…

…the 74 million?

…those on Twitter who have condemned me to hell for the blasphemy of reading a poem highlighting the humanity of both Jesus and Mary in a season marked by embodiment in its most literal sense, and by making the point that those who have felt entitled to the story-telling are not even those to whom God entrusted those most sacred moments?

…those who pick fights in my DMs, justifying and explaining and asking questions they don’t really want the answers to, only to twist my words to further support the positions they already hold?

…those who claim to love me and my family, only to sell us out at the polls, with their wallets, in their private conversations, at the first hint of love’s true cost?

How to love?

Is there a way? To speak truth without inherently shaming? Is it arrogant to believe that what I’m speaking is truth at all? I don’t know. I would like to be a person who has more questions than answers. Who, like my precious, brilliant daughters, remains committed to wonder, to possibility. I want to be a person not unable to dream for better even while calling a spade a spade. A person who is able to believe in redemption without preaching some kumbaya nonsense that requires no accountability.

Is there a way? I’m not sure. But, if I’m sure of anything, it’s that there are few pursuits more worthy. I’m sure that this is worth working on and working out.

So, I’m committed to trying. I’m going to try. To continue to uncover what God has made Holy in me, and hopefully, in so doing, to uncover what God has made Holy in you. I’m sure that the alternative, as each day brings about more bad news and more perpetrators of bad news, feels like a desolation so deep as to make this life hardly worth living.

2020 Holiday Gift Guide

Hi all! In the event that it would be of interest to anyone, I’ve pulled together a comprehensive, though not exhaustive, list of my favorite Black and women-owned small businesses, as well as a handful of others with a social mission that we love! Additionally, at the end you will find a handful of orgs that we have supported over the years, in the event you’re looking for places to direct funds for Giving Tuesday, or just in general. Other than where I’ve specifically indicated, I’m not receiving any sort of kickback or commission from any of these sites, just the joy of sharing the joy! Happy shopping, happy giving. Love and peace to you all! ❤ Genay

Books

Truly Shocking to you all, I’m sure, that books are at the top of my list 🙂

I’ve curated a handful of lists (the book covers below link directly to a few of them) on my Bookshop affiliate page. Full disclosure, I receive a 10% commission on any sales made through this link. I am splitting those proceeds between Black Mamas Matter Alliance and Brooklyn Book Bodega. An additional 10% of your purchases will go into a pool that is split among Independent Bookstores across the country!

If you’d prefer to shop in person, here are a handful of my favorite indie bookstores!

NYC

Philadelphia

Chicago

DC Metro

Atlanta

Jewelry and Apparel

Poppy and Pine

My lovely Kathryn makes the most beautiful jewelry, sourcing quality metals and gemstones from around the world, literally! She has a heart of gold, is immensely talented, and is a tremendous friend. Each piece is named after someone special in her life, and proceeds from each purchase go to support an organization close to the heart of the namesake.

My beautiful friend, Emily, makes the loveliest jewelry out of polymer clays. Her designs are fun, funky, and elegant, just like her! Emily is deeply committed to justice work and community building and bringing beauty everywhere she goes. Shop the link, and follow her on insta @munmadenyc.

Maya is an artist in every sense! When I knew her at Princeton, she was always offering the gift of her words, and her infectious personality. I should’ve known she had other “hidden” talents, which she began sharing with the world in 2017. I’m so glad she’s still making jewelry! With a diverse array of styles and materials, there really is something for everyone. Shop the link and follow her on insta @mayamadethis.

D’IYANU

I found D’IYANU wandering through the many IG tunnels, and I’m so glad I did! They make beautiful clothing in African prints, and also make my kids’ favorite facemasks (everyone’s favorite stocking stuffer this year 😭). But, they’re wonderful…double layered with a filter included, and wire for fitting around your nose, comfortable over the ear for all day wear, and just absolutely stunning. COVID but, make it fashion. @diyanu

Andre Henry

Because it truly doesn’t have to be this way. I’ve been so thankful for Andre Henry’s prophetic voice in these times. Shop the merch and listen to his fantastic, insightful podcast. @theandrehenry

Phenomenal

Founded by Meena Harris, brilliant lawyer and niece of our new VP-elect, Kamala! Literally the softest sweatshirt I have ever owned. Her designs are cheeky and empowering and often both, and the company has given back a lot to the community, especially to the justice efforts for Breonna Taylor. @phenomenal

Philadelphia Print Works

Fabulous! Sweatshirts, tees, totes, and prints celebrating the people. They are incredibly active in local community building in Philly, especially around criminal justice and abolition work. @philaprint

Studio BE

We visited Brandon “BMike” Odums’ breathtaking art studio during our trip to New Orleans earlier this year. Art and beauty are not extracurricular but, are so necessary for our survival and thriving! He also does tremendous work in the community, mentoring young artists. Check out his online shop, with clothing for the big and small in your life, as well as original art prints and art inspired gifts. @studio_be

Grace Eleyae

Satin-lined everything! Sleep caps, ear-warmers, hats, and more for big and small. Protect your hair, no matter your hair type, while looking fly. Washable and comfy, my girls and I have loved their products. @graceeleyae

Gifts and Household Items

Chutbi Ceramics

A gem of a human being and an immensely talented self-taught potter, Gabbie makes all the things. Trinket dishes and mugs, vases and dinnerware, and goobies, goobies, goobies! She is an activist and teacher and loves people and the earth well, all the way down to her sustainable packaging. @chutbi.ceramics

Eco Vibe Style

A sustainable lifestyle brand with a carefully curated selection to make your home smell and look lovely! @ecovibestyle

Seek and Swoon

Definitely an investment but gorgeous and lush and ethically sourced, these throws are a wonderful addition to the home. I have literally not encountered a more perfect snuggle blankie. @seekandswoon

Native Maps

I won my first map through an IG giveaway, completely on a lark. When we moved into a new apartment, our 6th shared home in 8 years of marriage, 3 cities, 2 coasts, we knew the perfect way to document our journey together. The maps are made through sustainable practices, with optional beautiful wood frames, and their customer service is so lovely!

Adequate Pet Portraits

I mean, need I say more? Maggie is so wonderful to work with and does absolutely phenomenal work bringing your pets to life. Also, her feed just brings so much joy to my life!

Puzzle Huddle

Because representation absolutely matters. Family owned and operated, their business is pure joy! Puzzles for every age and stage. @puzzlehuddle

Odin Parker

Family owned and curating the most fabulous selection of high quality, hand-crafted kids toys from artisans around the world. In addition, the purchase of each item guarantees meals to hungry children around the world through their partnership with Children’s Hunger Fund. @odinparker

The Clever Clove

Join Henrietta (the porcupine) on the most delightful adventures. Hand made stationery, stickers, and enamel pins. @thecleverclove

Subscriptions

The Honest Company

We’ve been Honest Company customers for years! We outfitted our kids in their diapers, and now I use their skin care products. You can buy individual items, or sign up for monthly subscription bundles of different kinds of products. While they’re hardly a small business anymore, I have appreciated what they have demonstrated about a company’s ability to grow and be profitable, while paying a living wage, offering top notch customer service (literally got a bouquet of roses once for a badly botched order, and I wasn’t even mean when I called lol), sustainable practices, and high quality products. @honest

Trade Coffee Company

Trade Coffee subscribers for over a year, and it is wonderful! You take a quiz at the beginning in order to help determine what kind of coffees to send your way. You receive coffee from different small roasters at whatever intervals you choose. It’s affordable, and you can change and update your preferences at any time as your needs and tastes change. You can use this link: http://trdcfe.me/Gkirkpatz or my code gkirkpatz at checkout for your subscription sign-up, and I do get some free coffee out of the deal 🙂 @tradecoffeeco

Bootay Bag

I’ve been a Bootay Bag subscriber for years. You can never have too many pairs, especially when your dog has a strong preference for them 😅. They’re comfortable, affordable, customizable, and show up at my door each month. They have a really generous rewards program, and each pair of underwear you buy means a donated brand new pair through their partnership with The Undies Project, to women in shelters. Underwear are often the most requested item because they, naturally, don’t (and shouldn’t) end up in secondhand donation hauls. @bootaybag

Grove Collaborative

For all your Green cleaning needs! We’ve been subscribers for almost a year and have been thrilled with the selection of quality products and their super responsive customer service. They’re working towards plastic neutrality and work with brands that share their commitment to quality and sustainable practices as well as sell their own line of products. You can mix and match and get different products on different schedules as suits your household needs. @grovecollaborative

Books Are Magic

My second fav bookstore in NYC 😉. They have the market cornered on personality and style, and managed to keep all their employees on even through shutdown, while also using their platform to highlight and direct traffic to Black owned bookstores this summer. A true class act! AND, they offer fabulous subscription boxes for any reader, adult fiction, non-fiction, poetry, cookbooks, middle grade, and YA, and children’s picture books. They ship, too! @booksaremagicbk

Fantastic Orgs

Children of Promise NYC

While the ultimate goal is no children with incarcerated parents, until we get there, Children of Promise NYC provides amazing and support to and programming for families and children with at least one incarcerated parent, afterschool programs and support to help keep children in their homes with their families of origin. They have also stepped in and provided myriad extra supports in the mist of COVID 19, which has disproportionately affected many of these same families.

Freely in Hope

Empowering young women in Kenya and Zambia who are survivors of sexual violence to find healing, and transform their stories, as they become leaders and change makers in their communities. One of the few examples we’ve seen of international aid work that equips indigenous leadership well, and transfers autonomy to the people they serve. They also have some of the most beautiful handmade goods for sale that would also make excellent holiday gifts, and their founder, Nikole Lim, has recently published a book detailing her journey and work. @freelyinhope

A Better Chance

A Better Chance changed my life, and I am forever grateful. A national organization that helps place high performing students of color in independent schools across the country. I wish that every kid in America had access to quality education but, that is far from the case. While the answer isn’t always to remove kids from their current contexts, sometimes it is the best option for a more robust education, not just books, but life experience. In addition to shepherding me through the boarding school application process, funds from donors financed a summer trip abroad to Ecuador where I lived with a host family, and had the once in a lifetime chance to visit the Galápagos Islands, and through the years have provided learning cohorts outside of school placements where these children of color, thrust into PWIs can have a refuge in one another, as well as specific access to a rich alumni source of folks who look like them, across industries! @abetterchance

Made for Pax

Because we were all made for Pax. This brand new startup is such a gift, and breath of fresh air! Pax’s mission is to resource us for a world characterized by beauty and peacemaking through themed story arcs and (eventually) large cohort gatherings. Yes, full disclosure, my partner in crime is the president of this org, and I couldn’t be more proud! @madeforpax

Books Through Bars NYC

Again, as we labor for a world free of bondage, their are ways to offer beauty in the interim. Books Through Bars provide monthly, carefully curated book boxes to our incarcerated brothers and sisters through the Freebird monthly book drive. In addition to sponsoring these boxes in a given month, you can give to support their work ongoing, and give additional books. @booksthroughbarsnyc

Center for Action and Contemplation

I have been so grateful for the example and influence of the contemplative tradition. While I have a world of growing to do, I have found a rooting and refreshing in this way of following Jesus that provides life for the work. Under the leadership of Richard Rohr, they provide retreats and publications to help equip us for life in service of our neighbors, and run an excellent podcast.

Black Mamas Matter and Brooklyn Book Bodega (information provided at the top of the page through my Bookshop storefront).

What’s in a Name?

I was talking to a friend the other day and she asked me what my maiden name is. It struck me. In that moment I realized how few people active in my life today know the answer to that question. It’s Kirkpatrick, by the way. I’ve been married almost eight years, and have been a Jackson as long and yet, my identity for 22+ years is almost forgotten. That will only be more and more the case as time goes on. How bizarre…

My name. Genay Elizabeth Kirkpatrick at birth. Genay Elizabeth Jackson now.

Genay is the surname of my maternal grandmother’s family. One set of great-great grandparents side emigrated from France in 1918. My great grandfather was born in New York the following year. Their last name was Genét (the cousins of activist and author Jean Genét, which has been fun trivia in my bookstore life). They arrived at Ellis Island, and were asked by the official who received them for their name. They said Genét and (presumably) he wrote Genay and welcomed them to America. By the time I was born, there were no more generations of children in this line with the last name Genay,  my mom’s own last name her mother’s married name. It worked as a first name and was given to me as such.

Elizabeth is the confirmation name of a line women in Australia eventually leading to me. The great grandfather above was drafted to the US Army and was stationed off the coast of Papua New Guinea during WWII. While on a leave in New South Wales, Australia, he met and brought home after the war as his bride, my great grandmother. Elizabeth had been passed down as the confirmation name of six generations before me, through her, to the first girl born in each generation, and simply as the middle name, once the family drifted from its Catholic roots.

Kirkpatrick was my last name. It’s my biological father’s last name. I thought until some time in high school that it was Irish, and then a simple google search corrected me. It’s actually Scottish. While those might seem similar to those of us on this side of “the pond,” many would argue a difference that make a difference between the two. My biological father is black. Which requires some explanation in ways that my other names do not. Because black folks in the United States have ended up passing on Scottish last names to their children almost exclusively as the legacy of slavery. I do not know anything beyond my family’s roots in the US South.

Jackson is my husband’s last name, given to him by his father, and grandfather, and great-grandfather. Given firstly by South Carolina slave owners. (So, when you’re tempted to ask why “we” keep bringing up slavery, first, maybe just don’t, but also understand that this is one of many ways that our very identities are defined and shaped by this legacy, the gift that we continue to pass down to our children).

When I was preparing to be married, at the ripe old age of 22, I thought a lot about what to do about changing my name. Would I keep it? Would I hyphenate it? Would I change it? Ultimately, a couple of key factors contributed to my choice to change it.

While I grew up bearing my biological father’s last name, and a good many of his physical features, we’ve had a distant and painful relationship for most of my life. I was raised primarily by my mother and stepfather, whom she  married when I was two-years-old, and whose name she took on afterwards. I have two younger (technically half) siblings, and this completed my nuclear family growing up. I was different, in a really visible way, from even my own immediate family, despite the strength of those bonds, and bearing a name that had a whole lot of pain associated with it. However, it was still my name, still my identity to make of it what I would, and was still, like with everything, a mixed bag. Still associated with family members who loved me, and whom I loved, still marking every memory, like boarding passes for my first travel abroad, and every accomplishment I had worked for and achieved up until that point in my life, including my beautifully bound 75-page senior thesis and Princeton diploma. And completely unique. There was not another Genay Kirkpatrick to be found on all of Facebook ;). I liked my name. So, I considered hyphenating it but, Genay Elizabeth Kirkpatrick-Jackson was just a whole mouthful.

We were planning our wedding and subsequent future together while I was finishing my senior year at Princeton University. My experience there is probably the primary reason why keeping my own last name was a consideration for me at all. Between growing up in an incredibly conservative church environment and, ya know, the patriarchy in general, I always assumed I’d take my husband’s last name if/when the time came. But, then I realized that there were a lot of women who didn’t subscribe to the status quo, who, for whatever their reasons, held onto this piece of their identity while forging a new life with someone. And so, I thought about it. I thought about keeping it. With all of its baggage. Because it was mine. But, with all of its baggage, there was something really appealing about starting over, starting new.

I also thought about our future children. As a black family, if Drew and I were to have different last names, I knew what the assumptions would be. Our children go to a private school in NYC. Their classmates have almost exclusively married parents. They’re also split about 50/50 as to whether or not the parents share a last name. There are some families who are given the benefit of the doubt. I knew we would not be among them. And this was two whole years before I was on the table in the operating room, responding to the anesthesiologist monitoring my cesarean, who asked me what my boyfriend’s name is, and then stumbled inarticulately when I answered him, explaining that my husband’s name is Drew. (While this is a judgment-free zone, the US Healthcare System is not. That’s why when we moved from the comfort of our black midwives and birth center in California to the assembly line of traditional healthcare in Pennsylvania 2/3 of the way through my pregnancy with new-to-us, and not-black providers, Drew was at every appointment, wedding rings accounted for, Princeton degree and Master of Public Health dropped into the expedited get-to-know-yas because even though none of those things should matter, they do. They matter to the care I would receive, the degree to which doctors would be willing to listen to and not write off my concerns, the extent to which their general empathy would stretch, the amount of my humanity they would recognize. They would not guarantee my survival, but those things would matter). I knew that there would always be the assumption of some kind of brokenness preceding our children and our family if I made the choice to keep my last name in its entirety. I am thankful for the layers contained within my own story. But, I knew our children would have plenty of obstacles along the way, simply because of who they would be, what they would look like. This was one I could mitigate, that cost me relatively “little,” it seemed (other than hours and hours of time and a few headaches in the following weeks). It really never occurred to either of us that Drew would consider changing anything because again, ya know, the patriarchy. So, it was the choice I made. (But, I’ll say, though I hope it goes without, that I understand and respect why others make different ones).

As is true for many people, my name, my identity contains multitudes. I am the product of slavery, of immigration, of war, of cross-cultural and interracial unions, of faith, of love, and of broken relationships. I watched a video produced in light of our present moment, and there’s a line by the poet that says, “Give thanks for your ancestors, for the wars and plagues they’ve endured and survived, their resilience is in your bones, your blood…”

There’s a turning point in my story, in all our stories, where we receive the things we’ve been given, the things over which we’ve had no control, the blessings, the burdens, and everything in between, and we make choices. We make choices based on what’s in our bags, (there’s a whole tangent in there about how we’re all carrying different bags, privilege, etc, but we can talk about that another time because that’s real), because of or in spite of the cards we’ve been dealt.

My name had been given to me, and with it, certain identities, stories, histories, and others’ choices. On my wedding day I made neither the first nor the last, but arguably one of the weightiest, choice regarding my identity. I chose to shed, at least outwardly, one for another, to take on the identity of another whole family, to own their stories and histories as my own, as we would move forward continuing to write the story together, combining past and present, and joining whole lineages to one another.

And then together, we have made choices. We have two beautiful daughters, whose names we had the privilege and responsibility of choosing. It’s tough naming kids when your last name is Jackson…there’s a whole slew of names already off the table. I also had a thing about the double “J” sound. Hilarious, right? Since even though my name starts with a “G,” I am, effectively, Jenay Jackson. And, while I wanted my child(ren) to have something more or less unique, I have also spent my whole life having my name both mispronounced and misspelled (apparently the folks at Ellis Island are the only ones in all of history who thought Genay should be spelled G-E-N-A-Y…not a single Starbucks barista to date, first day of school, substitute teachers, years and years of fun), so I thought it’d be kind to maybe take it a little easier on my offspring. Hilarious, right? Enter Suhaila (suh (not soo) – hi (not hey) – la).

I had decided on Zora during my senior year of college. I had been writing my senior thesis in the English department on the life and work of Zora Neale Hurston and fell deeply, wildly in love. The name is of Slavic origin (which I learned long after the fact), and means “dawn,” and I read newness, hope. I thought it was aurally stunning, and carried with it the most beautiful legacy and the most promising of aspirations. Elizabeth was decided for me as a middle name, and I was ok with that, happy to continue to carry on a piece of family history. All I needed was for the person who would be contributing DNA and a lifetime of love and support to said hypothetical child to be on board. He got there…

When we found out I was pregnant, we were set on a “girl name” but, had immense trouble deciding on a “boy name.” We settled on one eventually, a little more than half-heartedly but, were probably both a tad relieved to not need to make use of it. Because we were endlessly turning that one over, I would spend my free time during pregnancy scrolling baby name lists instead of social media, entertaining all sorts of combinations. There was SO MUCH PRESSURE. Those who have grown up attached at all to the Bible recognize the weight of this task, the standard before us. People are given these names with all this forethought, and specific meaning, granting them an identity, while also prophesying over their single greatest contributions to history. For someone who already struggles with anxiety, the internalized pressure of marrying into ministry and into this legacy only exacerbated it. And then it was like, does our kid need to have a “Bible name?” Are we Christian enough if we don’t? I mean, Habakkuk, Zephaniah. Noble meanings but, no offense, no thanks. And while there are plenty of Bible names that are lovely, was that the only place we were allowed to look? Anywho, where was I? Oh yes, lots of anxiety. I found a website that listed names by ethnic origin. There were lists that I didn’t even look at because it felt inauthentic or weird. It was completely off the table that we would give our kid a decidedly Spanish name (even though I’m fluent and have spent time living abroad in Latin America, and living and working within and among Spanish-speaking communities in the US), or a super European-sounding German or Italian, or even…French, name, or name of Asian origin. And yet, here I was, as someone who grew up biracial, never even celebrating Kwanzaa with my immediate family, looking at a list of Swahili names and struggling with a similar sense of impostor syndrome. But, I kept scrolling nonetheless. I saw a number of names that I recognized of friends, and family, and celebrities, that I had no idea had Swahili roots. And decided, however or not arbitrarily, that it was ok, that I belonged here and among. And then I saw it, Suhaila, gentle spirit, and it was perfect. So, I handed the list over to Drew without a hint, and asked him to let me know if anything stood out. He handed it back after a few minutes, and, pointing, said,

“This one…how do you pronounce it? Soo-hey-la? Suh-hi-la? Suh-hi-la (we decided). Gentle spirit. It’s beautiful. I love it. Did you change your mind? Would you like to name our kid Suhaila if it’s a girl?”

I said, “No, I’m set on Zora but, I’d like to keep this one in case we ever have another daughter. I feel like there’s something here.”

Two days later we had our first ultrasound. On my 24th birthday. I was 18.5 weeks pregnant. We found out we were having twins. And they were both girls. And they both had a name.

We had lost Drew’s mom just 13 months before that day. Her middle name was Elease. Baby A would be Zora Elizabeth, and Baby B, Suhaila Elease.

Jackson.

And here they are, in the flesh, containing multitudes. The products of slavery, of immigration, of war, of cross-cultural and interracial unions, of great faith, of love, and of broken relationships. Of story tellers and cultural icons. Of Matriarchs and patriarchy.  Of resilience, of beauty, of legacy, of life, and of death.

It has been the most profoundly strange experience to be a parent. To have all this responsibility over helping your children become. And yet, having so little actual control over how any of it turns out. I’ve grown immensely in grace for my own parents. So we’ve given them, and continue to give them what we can, what we have, the whole lot of it. Beautiful and less so. We’ve given them names, histories, and stories, and even aspirations. And we get a front seat to their journey of carrying this bag, and making choices because, or in spite, of all of it. What will they give or give up? What will be taken? What will they add or add to? What will they fight for? Who will they be?

Being Differently

I have always been particularly attuned to the needs of others, and pretty good at fulfilling them, at least on the surface, both in the most practical of senses, and with regards to others’ emotional needs. In relationships, I have striven for perfection in my roles, as a daughter, friend, student, sister, wife, mother, basing the entirety of my worth on how well I upheld my end, regardless of what I received from the other. That striving has infiltrated my relationship with God in big ways. And every relationship, including my relationship with God, has seemingly required some slightly nuanced version of myself, in order to match the distinct personality, needs, baggage, of the other party. According the to the Enneagram, I’m a 2, the Helper, “needs to be needed,” “doubts my loveliness outside what I can do, who I can be for others.” Others have told me that I have the gift of discernment, that I see people (and situations), that I perceive well. I believe, at least for me, these are related. This has actually been one of the single most meaningful affirmations I’ve received in life. It’s the gift that I feel most clearly reflects God’s likeness in me, that is most directly the work of the Holy Spirit making me more like Jesus. Because our God sees us, our God welcomes us, our God delights in knowing us, and in being known by us. If people feel even a smidge of that kind of warmth and welcome and love and freedom in the context of their relationship with me, I am thankful and encouraged.

The irony of ironies is that my attention has always been so outwardly focused, that I have found that I have known very little of myself, particularly myself outside of the context of relationship. I imagine I’m not unique in that struggle. To be fair, despite the narrative of our culture, we do not exist in a vacuum, and in some sense, there is no “me” without “you.” However, when we fail to know and love ourselves well, we also fail to be in relationship well, and in my case, the most disappointing reality of all, is that I actually come up quite short in my ability to be of service to others. In a very practical example, I began to notice my old perfectionist ways re-emerging in motherhood. There was much about my struggles with perfectionism that I had actually thought I had experienced victory from. Then, I had children, and all the ways I could potentially screw it all up would haunt me day in and day out. It seemed that the more consumed I was with trying to be the best mom to my children, the more debilitating my anxiety became, the shorter my fuse and my patience with everyone, including my girls, the more frequent my perceived failures, and the cycle continued.

“Self-care” has become such a buzzword in our culture, one that has, honestly, begun to make me cringe a little. However, during this past season of Lent, that phrase, or at least the essence of it, has been redeemed somewhat for me. I have always been a striver. It began unconsciously enough, reading people, even as a child, in order to figure out how to be who they needed me to be and making it my full time job, to academic achievements, both for my own glory and worthiness, and carrying this weight in predominantly white spaces as a woman of color, feeling some responsibility for representing the capability and beauty, in its deepest sense, of women of color, and black women, in particular. As a biracial woman, grounding has always been elusive. In my childhood, adolescence, and early church experiences, it was being white enough to be accepted, while knowing that I could never really “pass.” As an adult, it’s been reconciling the whole of what is true of this aspect of my identity, and less so needing to put on a particular racial identity, but certainly striving to be “enough” for a particular breed of activism and social engagement, and striving for a very specific definition of “success,” particularly in light of my educational pedigree. I went from striving to be the big fish in my little pond of my local public school environment, to boarding school for the sole purpose of fulfilling elite college dreams, to that elite college, four years at Princeton surrounded by (at least the appearance of) excellence, and certainly (self) importance and dreams of grandeur, to getting married at age 22, with lots of people at least a little skeptical, and feeling this immense pressure not to “fail,” especially in the age of social media, to graduate school, to motherhood (before graduate school was even done), and motherhood of twins at that! And then my life was consumed with these two little people, and a whole new sense of responsibility and needing to provide, financially and emotionally. Throughout my life I have taken on other people’s hobbies, even other people’s handwriting in middle school, even when these things have fit me incredibly poorly because I have had no idea what fits me well. There’s always been a something, some outside force holding up real or perceived standards and expectations that I’ve been so consumed with living up to that I haven’t paused to think about much of anything else.

Then, we moved to New York City and everything about our life and routines changed. As we entered a new physical home, we were also moving into a new season a life, a life with school-aged children, and no big new transition on the horizon. This is the 3rd city and 5th home Drew and I have lived in together, in 6 years of marriage, and at the end of this lease term, will be the home we’ve lived in the longest. Through the fall and early winter, I was experiencing a new wave of depression and anxiety, and I couldn’t quite figure it out. I thought it was mostly just the weather, which, totally fair. However, I realized early in the new year that that really wasn’t it, but rather I was struggling with a deep sense of unfulfillment. Don’t get me wrong, my kiddos are DEFINITELY still quite needy. But, it’s different. I am needed less in the everyday in the ways that are most comfortable for me (even when parts of me have always resented it), with part time work that I enjoy, though that isn’t necessarily contributing to my professional growth, that I do on my own time as an independent contractor, from my dining room table, often in my pjs, grocery shopping during the less busy hours at Trader Joe’s, spending time in relationship, both with Drew during the day as his schedule allows, and with new friends and more intentional discipleship relationships, volunteering, reading (check out my IG story highlights for my growing list), being present for the girls’ day time school activities, as well as for adventures afterwards, walking most places because I have the time, and just being, basically alllll “self-care.” And I was S O unhappy. Because I’m literally the worst haha. I have had margin and very few outside expectations on my time, and few contexts in which people seem to be actively judging me, and it has been so disorienting that I have quite literally not known what to do with myself, and it has mostly made me angry and frustrated.

Through this past season of Lent, rather than “abstaining,” though I did try to limit my social media use because doing so makes me a generally happier person, and unclouds my vision some, I mostly added to my life. There have been 4 books through these last few months that have been truly life-giving and life-changing, and that I recommend to literally everyone: The Ministry of Ordinary Places by Shannan Martin, Mindful Silence: The Heart of Christian Contemplation by Phileena Heuertz, Liturgy of the Ordinary by Tish Harrison Warren and, Let Your Life Speak by Parker Palmer (still working through), and also our church’s Lent sermon series was especially bomb. And God has pursued me, met me, and loved me so transformatively though this time.

My particular struggles around “vocation” and “calling” have been the most distressing of late. I have, like, no answers. Or, at least I thought I didn’t. I still don’t know what a job will look like after my current work ceases to be an option, whenever that may be but, I’ve also come to terms with the fact that job and vocation may likely be quite distinct from one another. So, I have grown to be thankful for the margin, (to paraphrase from Mindful Silence) for the space that God had provided to fill me up with more of God’s own voice, than the many I have carried with me, learning to see myself more like God sees me, and in turn I am growing to see God more clearly. I have never been more convinced of the beauty and hope and power and love of the God of Scripture and God’s Kingdom than I am in this present moment. I find my life, simply because it is, much more full of meaning and potential and loveliness, and realize that the more rooted I grow in that reality, the more of that I am (hopefully) able to share.

So, I write. I write because it is catharsis for me. I share because I hope that my journey, especially my deaths and defeats, might be life for you because I hope, I believe, that nothing is wasted. That you would feel encouraged, and at the very least, not alone. And that you would know how deeply and completely God loves you and delights and in you, simply because you are. I hope that you will commit to your flourishing in the deepest sense, in whatever your context, in light of the truth that there really is more than enough to go around, because it is life for you, and for all whom you encounter, and, I believe, actually changes the world.

Thanks for reading ❤

Taking Up Space

My girls are A LOT. Anyone who’s spent even a short time around them, or perhaps even just observed them on social media, is probably chuckling in agreement. Sometimes they’re a lot in the best ways, and sometimes they’re just a lot.

Confession: I’ve honestly always struggled in secret judgment of people with larger than life personalities. It’s always been this sort of classic case of projection. My natural disposition is not to be the center of attention. Taking up that space feels very performative for me. So, I think I’ve often just assumed that folks who take up a lot of space are also performing, hiding. And now, I’m the mom to two of the biggest personalities I’ve encountered…EVER! A lot of the time, I enjoy them…they’re hilarious and sweet and witty, and constantly amazing and surprising me. But, also honestly, a lot of the time, I don’t appreciate it as much. At best, it’s just kind of annoying. Quiet really isn’t as overrated as they think it is 😉. At worst, it makes me super uncomfortable, especially when their personalities start to encroach on others’ boundaries, or at least what I’ve perceived as others’ boundaries.

For as long as I can remember I took pride in making myself small, being as little of a distraction or inconvenience as possible, and showing up in big ways only to prove myself helpful (I am a 2, after all). I wasn’t very social as a kid, as I had little patience even then for, what I’ve come to learn, are normal kid antics, and I probably wasn’t most kids’ first choice, with my fairly bland personality and compulsive rule following. Parenting has shone a light on SO much of my baggage (I’m sure the rest of y’all raising little people can agree). Before having kids, I had already begun to unpack so many of the ways that growing up, I relied on the appearance of perfection to earn love and affection, and how the white, western Jesus I was introduced to as a child continually reinforced this. However, it wasn’t until I was staring at my beautiful, brown, daughters that I realized how much growing up as a woman of color in predominantly white spaces had also conditioned me. Whether in church, or boarding school, or college, there was always this sense that I didn’t really belong, but rather was merely tolerated on the basis of being exceptional, and so I worked really hard to take up as little space as possible, internalizing on some level, that I was a perpetual guest, there by the good graces of those who made the rules, and at risk of being ostracized at any moment.

Without realizing it completely consciously at first, this has infiltrated my parenting in some really big ways. Living in New York City has brought this out in some very obvious, practical ways, like trying to walk down the sidewalk, between my girls, holding their hands, constantly moving out of people’s way. I took them to Trader Joe’s with me once…never again! Even living in an apartment and being constantly aware of our noise production. And there’s the bus, and the train, which has me all in this needing to make us small because we don’t have to pay for the girls to ride but, then they take up two spaces. I feel like I am always trying to figure out how to make myself, and us as a unit, small, unnoticed.

I watch with both envy and contempt, as little white children terrorize our community playground, confidently owning the space, wishing that I ever felt that comfortable in a space, while also holding the knowledge that if I let my kids play like that, we’d be the ones asked for our community ID cards. It’s in the panic I would feel when I realized I forgot a doggie cleanup bag on our walk with Baxter, and couldn’t bear our neighbors seeing me leave poop on the ground, even though I’m constantly stepping over poop, often presumably left by white folks. It’s as we lead churches of almost exclusively non-black folks and recognize how much of the ways in which Drew and I have performed exceptionalism our whole lives has laid the groundwork for trust that would’ve been much more easily earned by people in different skin. It’s as we prepare to embark on the independent school journey for our own girls, and I am already processing what it will have to look like to be extra good, involved parents, “pulling our weight” in exchange for what will be a hefty financial aid package.

And so, I’m tough with my girls. I don’t let anything slide. Even the stuff, asinine as it is, that’s relatively normal four-year-old behavior. We talk through everything. There’s a lot of, “why?” and “help me understand…” I’ve worked hard to help them to connect actions to consequences. I’m often asking them to be quieter, or stop doing this or that. We do not exist in a vacuum. We do not belong only to ourselves, but rather we are a part of communities and we belong to one another. Saying “I’m sorry” is appropriate…when it’s appropriate. Those are things that I do believe sincerely are important to impart to our children, things that I hope our girls take to heart, and carry with them as they move through the world. I hope they value making space for others, living hospitably.

At the same time, though, I so admire my girls. Despite the fact that I’m probably more than a little bit of a buzzkill, they still just keep on being them. By God’s grace, they’re more resilient than me. But, I don’t want them to have to be so resilient. I feel like I kind of entered motherhood like I have to prepare them in a particular way for growing us as black women in America. Society will be harsh and unforgiving, holding them to impossible standards, and so the responsible thing to do as their mother is to make sure they can handle it, that they’re tough and above reproach. But, I have often found that the effect is making my beautiful, brilliant, charismatic girls feel small, of doing the same thing to them, that I have feared society will do, and it breaks my heart.

They are fearfully and wonderfully made. They have been crafted by the master Creator. I think that giving us identical twins has been a unique offering of God’s kindness to me in my particular struggles. Nature and nurture in this case are pretty equal, and yet our girls are so unique. Their souls – and their fingerprints – are all their own. There is no cookie cutter with our God and every day we get to experience God’s specific love for each of them, and I get to be reminded that they are gifts, and to love them as such.

I read these two quotes over the last couple of weeks, one I was reminded of, by our Z’s namesake, and the other I saw for the first time, and felt like God was offering me a sweet and necessary word: neither you nor your girls have to perform for anyone. You are because I have made you, and I have made you beautiful.

“Sometimes, I feel discriminated against, but it does not make me angry. It merely astonishes me. How can any deny themselves the pleasure of my company? It’s beyond me.” – Zora Neale Hurston

“We grew up with not a lot of money. We grew up with racial segregation. We grew up not being able to go to ballet class or downtown to a restaurant or to a movie. And so my mother, Vivian Ayers, always made us believe that we were part of a universe that welcomed us and wanted our creativity and was waiting for us to do something good. And so we’ve been doing that forever.” – Debbie Allen

I want to be a mom like Vivian Ayers. I want to parent like our good God parents us.

The world is not a radically hospitable place, especially not for women, and especially not for brown women. But, what an opportunity to disrupt! For my girls to walk into any space believing that they belong, and to posture themselves in such a way that whenever they occupy a space, everyone else believes similarly. And me, I’m doing my best to lead by example. I have lived so much of my life out of fear. I haven’t yet read Becoming but, intend to, and have read a lot of the press surrounding FLOTUS’ book tour. Her candor regarding her experience with “imposter syndrome” really spoke to me. It’s so real for me even as I write this (and I’m not even Michelle Obama, so like, what makes me think I have something to offer?). All of the insecurities about taking up space, of making myself known in a particular way, and the seeming pressure, or expectations, or potential criticism that accompany that are a present but, gradually dampening force. One day, perhaps I will be able to adequately communicate to my children what an inspiration they have been to me. In the mean time, I will continue to try to demonstrate my gratitude by encouraging them in the flourishing of all of who God has made them, and to instill in them the audacious belief that they are a gift and have just as much a right as anyone to take up space.

The Justice of Jesus

It’s been a week, y’all. I really couldn’t even tune into the hearings. I did watch a few clips following, however. Fair or unfair, I was convinced before it all began, that she would be exactly who she was, exceptional and credible, and that he would be exactly who he was, petulant and evasive, and at the end, that no one’s minds would be changed, and it would be business as usual, and I just didn’t have the energy. I was tempted to say that none of it mattered, making it all of it all the more horrific a display. But, that would be untrue. It did matter. Dr. Ford displayed great courage, and I am thankful for her sacrifice, and yes, it was a sacrifice. She also had to know that very little regarding the outcome would be changed despite her reliving perhaps one of the most traumatizing experiences of her life on national television on one of the biggest of stages, and with much to lose. However, she recognized a moment, a moment that actually mattered, that matters, a great deal, and did it anyway.

I’m going to try to keep my commentary on these specifics short because despite trying really, really hard to refrain — because in some ways, really, what is there to say — I couldn’t say nothing. Kavanaugh’s own high-ranking, Jesus-claiming, purity-culture pontificating, hypocrite supporters did not mount their defense on his innocence, but rather on “boys will be boys, and this should not preclude him.” The only possibility that I see in which he actually believes he is telling the truth is if he genuinely does not remember the events, which could be true, especially given what’s come to light of his drinking habits. Not remembering, however, is not that same as not doing. There are plenty of folks who remember much about his behavior over the years, and there could’ve been a moment in which he could’ve done the right thing and owned these things to be true, or at least a possibility, rather than vehement and indiscriminate denial, particularly given the well-documented history of Dr. Ford’s claims, long before he had a Supreme Court nomination for her to “tank.” But, that would’ve cost him everything, effectively, and so naturally he chose otherwise. This article explains things more eloquently than I could, (I went to an elite private boarding school that costs more than many college educations, as my classmates probably suspected, on a full ride, and spent four years at Princeton University. Prevailing culture does not mean this is everyone, but it is most definitely the prevailing culture. And even within the hallowed halls of both institutions, it was abundantly clear who got room, and who better not think of squandering this opportunity they were most certainly given…oh, the irony).

White men are hard-pressed in general to make it onto my sympathy ladder, and prep school-educated –> (insert whatever relatively cushy life trajectory), white men are pretty much a nah, if I’m being honest. They get no room from me. There are white men in my life whom I adore tremendously but, it is because they have been gifted to me by blood (I am bi-racial) and/or they recognize their place in and contributions to history and are not asking for my tears, nor are they asking for medals for basic decency. I’m not crying any tears for Kavanaugh for his “ruined” reputation or for the potential loss of his nomination (although, I’m sad to say, I don’t find that outcome all too likely). There are qualifications for every position, despite what he may have been taught most of his life, and someone who doesn’t believe the rules apply him, should not, in my humble opinion, be appointed to a lifetime of creating rules for the rest of us. It is not a position to which he, or anyone for that matter, is entitled.

All of that said, I was quite humbled by an Instagram post I read, written by a friend, the morning of the hearing. Jesus had a sympathy ladder, don’t get it twisted. He did not have time, a lot of the time. But, Jesus also loved perfectly. I am not Jesus, and so the latter is an impossible task. However, it is this pilgrimage to perfect love, that I claim to be on every time I utter the name of Jesus. And I had to sit with that this week. I had to sit in the ways that I fail to love, in which I revel in the failures and shortcomings, and occasional reaping of consequences of those I believe deserve it, in which I harbor bitterness and resentment and anger towards individuals, or towards groups of people.

Anyone who’s ever had a real conversation with me knows the depth of my great lament over our criminal “justice” system, and that my recommendation, if anyone asked for it 🙃, is that we burn it all down. It, unfortunately, is working exactly the way it has always been intended to work. I live in New York City, where people, mostly brown and poor, sit for months, and at times years, on Rikers Island before it’s ever been proven they’ve done anything wrong, simply because they cannot afford bail. There was a nation-wide prison strike going on last month. The demands made my heart sick. They were gut-wrenchingly simple and straightforward. Did you know that there are particular offenders who are never even given the opportunity for rehabilitation because they’ve been deemed too violent, too unhuman? They work in slave-like conditions, and we wonder why recidivism is so high. Could you imagine if they were paid fair wages that could be kept in an account somewhere for when they’re released, in order to actually start over, and weren’t excluded from finding work, or housing, or voting, and actually felt like a human being again, instead of all the things society has told them they are (many of whom from about the time they were Kavanaugh’s age at the time of the offense, whose lives we’ve had no problems ruining forever for some “youthful mistakes”). And don’t even get me started on the death penalty and life sentences. Like I said before, burn it all down.

We’ve been journeying through the book of Romans in our small group, and this past Friday we read through the end of Romans 1 and the beginning of Romans 2…easily one of the most depressing passages in all of Scripture. It’s all about the depth of the depravity of the human spirit, about what happens when God leaves us to our natural inclinations. But, then, God shows up, and God is kind, and it says that God’s kindness is to lead us to repentance. That whole “kill them with kindness” idea was actually God’s first, pretty much the entirety of the story of the Bible (this is why context matters…I won’t go down this rabbit trail today though because I’m already doing a bit much here). And Paul asks the readers a poignant question: But if you judge those who do them and yet do them yourself, do you really suppose that you will escape God’s judgment? Or do you despise the riches of God’s kindness, forbearance and patience? Don’t you know that God’s kindness is meant to bring you to repentance?”

We should generally be wary of keeping too long a list of things we could never do. By the grace of God there are a whole list of things, of specific ways of wronging my neighbor that I hope to and believe I shall be able to say that I have never done at the end of it all. But, I know what I’m capable of, what we’re capable of. I open my eyes every morning and step onto the streets of New York City, or turn on the news, or read a (real) history book, and am painfully, despairingly convinced of our awfulness. And yet, God has shown us mercy. And if I wouldn’t wish this criminal justice system in all of its truly disgusting brokenness, on my friends, or strangers I don’t know but, can empathize with their plight (even if there was true wrong doing), I cannot wish it on my enemy (also, I used to think that “enemy” language in Scripture was rather extreme, but present realities have convinced me otherwise). I cannot, in the love of Jesus, wish death and destruction on even those who might really seem to deserve it. And I would argue that those who, even throughout Scripture, are asking for those things, are not doing so from a place filled with the Spirit of the God who has always been principally in the business of Shalom-making. Drew has used this illustration before, of this lovely, but soberingly poetic passage in Scripture, a word of lament and exhortation to the people of Israel: For the vineyard of the LORD of hosts is the house of Israel, and the men of Judah are his pleasant planting; and he looked for justice, but behold, bloodshed; for righteousness, but behold, an outcry! [Isaiah 5:7]. The Hebrew words for justice and bloodshed are mishpat and mispach respectively. Eerily similar, easily mistaken one for the other from a distance, and yet, as the prophet Isaiah makes the point, God makes clear, do not co-exist. How often we make the same mistake.

What does this mean then? How do people pay for their actions? I’m a firm believer in consequences for one’s actions. Mercy does not mean a free pass, but rather it is an opportunity to be better than we were before. It calls people back to their humanity, so that we might live more out of our identities as image bearers of the God who created us, as the only way to even begin to make amends. (We try so hard to remember this even in parenting). This, in its truest form, leads the offender naturally to offering up and carrying out the restitution and reparations due. But, I’m not going to lie, as a woman who can stand with many of my sisters (and brothers) in saying #metoo, as a W O M A N, and as a B R O W N woman, I’m past tired of feeling like I’m inordinately on the end of having to demonstrate mercy. And I most certainly understand the positions of many of my brothers and sisters who are bout done, and who are angry, and who just refuse to go there any longer. I’m angry as hell. So much of the time. About so many things. And I side-eye more than a little bit some folks’ “redemption” stories, especially when those get weaponized in order to delegitimize the reality of systemic brokenness. But, I believe that if there is any hope that makes sticking out this thing called life worth it, it’s that justice has to look like Kingdom justice. That justice’s principal purpose has to be to draw the offender to the heart of God. And often that does look like the “mighty” being brought low. It is appropriate, as many have forgotten who they are, and have believed that justice is theirs to dole out as they see fit, and that power is theirs to hoard as suits their gluttonous advance, at the stomping out of others. Those things are not the heart of God, but it’s near impossible to see it, to be transformed, when one is living under the delusion of being without need. The way of the Kingdom of God always is for our good, for our flourishing, and the flourishing of our families, and our communities. I know what people claim but, it is NOT an ethic that hoards and lords power, that dismisses trauma, that ignores the cries of those who are hurting and otherwise forgotten, and that makes excuses abusers (I would also argue that it is not an ethic that offers half-hearted, dispassionate platitudes where evil needs to be specifically, and passionately called by name). It IS a place where justice rolls down like streams of living water, where the last are made first, and where there is more than enough of all that is good and beautiful to go around.

I conclude not knowing completely what this looks like practically. I start with a sincere prayer that God would grow my heart of love so that my anger might be holy and righteous and lead me to the work of Shalom, rather than towards more death and destruction, lest I be destroyed in the process. When these words are more than platitudes, that this path forward is impossibly difficult, yet opens up the potential for impossible beauty, and wholeness, and flourishing. For the sake of my soul, and yours, I’m fighting to hope (not in people’s capacity for goodness…that ship has sailed) in the magnificent grace and might of my God, and to practice love as it looks like caring for the least of these, AND calling out problematic, dangerous, and wrong when I see it, especially when folks are putting God’s name of stuff God’s name most certainly does not belong on, because justice and truth-telling are inextricably linked, but with a heart that does so because I truly desire the oppressor to experience freedom from the depravity destroying their soul. I leave you with these words of Jesus and a link to this liturgy that we did as a church on Sunday that is helpful on my continued journey of healing, particularly of my experience of the church:

And [Jesus] opened his mouth and taught them, saying:

“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

“Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.

“Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.

“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for justice, for they shall be satisfied.

“Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.

“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.

“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons and daughters of God.

“Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

“Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you. – Jesus [Matthew 5: 3-11]

 

“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons daughters of your Father who is in heaven. For God makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers and sisters, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect. – Jesus [Matthew 5:43-48]

“When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne. Before him will be gathered all the nations, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. And he will place the sheep on his right, but the goats on the left. Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’ Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’

“Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not clothe me, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’ Then they also will answer, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to you?’ Then he will answer them, saying, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’ And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.” – Jesus [Matthew 25:31-46]

Rock Bottom Calls Me “Mommy”: Gratitude

Several weeks ago, Drew preached a sermon entitled “The Necessity of Rock Bottom.” I had always thought of that phrase as referring to some dramatic spiral, around which the circumstances of life had closed in, and people were just in dire straits with no place to turn. Whatever it was, it wasn’t good. Drew spoke of it, however, in terms of whatever it is in life that brings us to the end of ourselves, to the end of our own sense of control, and to recognizing our need for the grace of God, as our only path to flourishing. For many folks, that moment, or series of moments, does look quite like I’ve described. I have endured difficult things, trying circumstances, deeps hurts, trauma, but the single event or series of moments that has most crushed my sense of self and self-reliance and has most illuminated my lack of control and the need for something to give, has been motherhood. My daughters are my constant reminder of God’s love and grace and might, and how much I won’t make it without all of it.

No one told me it would be this difficult.

Or, maybe they tried…

I once saw a quote that said, “Once upon a time, I was a perfect parent. Then I had children. The end.” Yeah, that. People used to talk to me about parenting, and would tell me things like, “my kid won’t eat such and such.” And I would nod and “oohh interesting,” and in my brain be like, “What do you mean won’t? Who’s the parent here?” You can probably gather where this is going…

I am the oldest of three children, 7 ½ years older than my sister, and 11 years older than my brother. I have always been the classic oldest sibling to the max. I am a natural caregiver. Even my closest girlfriends all pegged me as the first among us to marry and have children, and, well, yeah. I had observed parenthood being a difficult and complicated journey, and I didn’t think it’d be easy, but I really didn’t think it’d be this hard, at least not for me.

On the eve of my girls’ 4th birthday, F O U R things motherhood has taught me:

҉ I’m a 2.

(If you’re not up on the Enneagram, I encourage you to explore it…it may change your life!).

Being generous and going out of their way for others makes Twos feel that theirs is the richest, most meaningful way to live. The love and concern they feel—and the genuine good they do—warms their hearts and makes them feel worthwhile. Twos are most interested in what they feel to be the “really, really good” things in life—love, closeness, sharing, family, and friendship. However, Twos’ inner development may be limited by their “shadow side”—pride, self-deception, the tendency to become over-involved in the lives of others, and the tendency to manipulate others to get their own emotional needs met. They believe they must always put others first and be loving and unselfish if they want to get love. The problem is that “putting others first” makes Twos secretly angry and resentful, feelings they work hard to repress or deny. Nevertheless, they eventually erupt in various ways, disrupting Twos’ relationships and revealing the inauthenticity of many of the average to unhealthy Two’s claims about themselves and the depth of their “love.”

Basically, I’m really good at pretending to be selfless, and going above and beyond to be invaluably helpful to others, shying away from affirmation and recognition, and refusing to let others care for me with similar vigor, but secretly requiring it and growing resentful when I do not receive it. But, I still show up and still do what’s “right,” and “love” hard, and just grow weary. In case you weren’t aware, children are really narcissistic. At first, they really can’t help themselves, and they’re really cute and snuggly and don’t talk back and so it’s easy(er) to, with genuine joy, put my needs aside to tend to theirs. But, then they get a little bigger and they have a lot of opinions, and they’re E X P E N S I V E, and we bend and accommodate, and stretch our budget for things like the best preschools and organic snacks, while we go with shoes on their last legs and without date nights for months. I count the hours of tv they’ve watched in day, and how many times we’ve gone to the playground that week, and have tried to find at least one new super engaging, interactive thing for us to do or experience together at least once a week, etc. and berate myself when I’ve fallen short of any of these self-imposed goals. And they “appreciate” N O N E of it. Like, literally. They can’t even get home before they’re arguing again, or asking when we’re doing the next thing. And I want to scream. And sometimes I do. And sometimes I call them ungrateful. And then I realize that none of it was really for them. It was for me. It was so they could grow up to be well-rounded, impressive women, and my parenting could be commended, and then I would be worthy, worthy of love and respect. And, so here and now, my children would say thank you, in recognition of my excellence as a mother, and on some level they would appreciate all that I’ve “sacrificed” for them, and I will have sufficiently earned the love I so desire from them.

Being a Two isn’t all bad. I do genuinely enjoy making others happy, including my children. But, I really don’t want to be someone who secretly keeps score. Love keeps no record of wrongs, right? Especially not with my children. This relationship being so intense, and so one-sided, has served to highlight these tendencies, and forced me to reflect on the ways in which these dynamics show up in all of my relationships. Active engagement with my “shadow side,” has been frustrating and demoralizing at times, but has produced some really beautiful fruit. I thank God for giving me my daughters because as they expose things in a way that only they can, and I grow into a better, more loving mother to them, I am also growing into a better, more loving, wife, and friend, and daughter, and sister, and me (at least, I hope).

҉ I’m an introvert

This one surprises people a bit, especially when they meet Drew and me together and realize I’m the introvert of the two of us…I have noooo idea why. Even interactions or events to which I look forward, I anticipate with a slight edge of dread. Mostly because I know that no matter how fun, or refreshing, or overall lovely an experience it may be, I will desire a nap once it is over. People make me tired, even the ones I like most. I didn’t realize that about myself (pregaming college parties by napping didn’t even completely give that away). And then I had children…two…at one time! And they are never, ever, ever, ever quiet. Even as I write this, I tucked them in an hour ago, and they’re just in there chatting away about the meaning of life. It’s just a lot. These days, much of it is sweet, and much of it is hilarious, and much of it is neither, but it’s all just so much. There’s no escape. There’s always a question to answer, or a piece of artwork to affirm, or an observation to acknowledge, or an argument to referee, or a new “game” to play, or a song to sing (or listen to be sung).

Related to my twoness, martyrdom has always kind of been my jam. Unfortunately, or rather fortunately, continuing to die on the hill of my fake selflessness may very well have actually killed me, if not yet, certainly prematurely. I’ve shared before about my battles with anxiety and depression. I’ve seen people put their heads down and keep it moving for years and years. I thank God that God intervened now, in my 20s, with children too young to remember some of my darkest days, to bring me to place of being completely broken and unable to push through, of forcing me into healthier habits of taking care of myself. Enter therapy. And learning to say “no” more often, and more deliberately saying “yes” and not just saying “I’m sorry” because I feel like it’s the thing I should say. But, also, specifically related to being an introvert, I just disappear sometimes. And I’m thankful for a partner who is quite forceful in his insistence on my faithfulness in this area. I went to a movie in the middle of the day by myself a few weeks ago, and it had been out for a while, so there were like 5 other people in the theater, and it was glorious. Sometimes it looks like getting a pedicure, and sitting there, enjoying quiet (and resisting the rabbit trail about how I’m contributing to consumerist notions of self-care or accepting that I can still treat my manicurist with dignity and respect, without feeling compelled to be chatty in an attempt mitigate the uncomfortable power dynamics at play…nothing’s every straightforward as it seems), sometimes it looks like foregoing spreadsheets (and I do love Excel) and household chores to watch some tv when they are at school and I could be being “productive,” sometimes it looks like walking Baxter a little extra long by the river and leaving my phone at home, sometimes it looks like crafting while they are napping, sometimes it looks like just sitting by myself with my Lord, and sometimes it looks like, kindly, asking my children to just be quiet for a couple of minutes. I thank God for giving me my daughters because they have forced me to take better care of myself. I was tempted to clean all of this up by adding that by taking better care of myself, I can take better care of them. But, it’s also just ok to take better care of myself, and my daughters have forced me to take better care of myself, period.

҉ We all need community.

I’ve never been big on this one. The whole people make me tired thing. But, also, the requirement of my vulnerability. I’m great with other people’s vulnerability and then I just have it all together and offer excellent advice. But, we were made for community. It’s not to say that everybody needs to know everything (says the one writing the blog…), but community, whatever that looks like, is a gift, and a necessity for health. Light, accountability, companionship, even the most independent of us cannot thrive without those things.

I have had a partner so deep in my corner, sitting in the darkness with me, rejoicing in the light with me, and laughing and laughing and laughing with me. All of the dark thoughts that accompanied motherhood would’ve, could’ve festered into much more damage to both me and my girls, if not for a community of a few moms in the boat with me through the desert (yes, yes oxymoronic mixed metaphors…welcome to motherhood) who let me know that I was not as alone as I felt, who created space for my darkness to meet the light without judgment, and who threw up their hands and laughed with me in similar “I just don’t know-ness.” I had my mommy close by, and was able to literally just sob in her arms on occasion, and who just held me and had grace, even when I had not always been grace-filled, and has done a really good job of offering advice (and recipes, and some assistance still with some pretty basic life skills) when it’s asked for and just loving me and my children through the other times when she’d probably really like to say something 😉. And I’ve been really thankful for my friends who aren’t moms. I am so thankful that they have loved my girls so well, while also giving me space to still be Genay, and not just Suhaila and Zora’s mom. They have continued to encourage and draw out the other things that I am passionate about and that bring me joy, they have inspired me. I thank God for giving me my daughters because they have lead me to more robust and life-giving community.

҉ Children really are a gift, and my children really are a gift.

Children, more generally, actually aren’t my favorite. There is very little about interacting with children that comes at all naturally to me. But, they just are. They’re a gift. The whole thing is pretty amazing. I am mind blown by the sheer logistics of how in 9 months (or rather 7 ½ in our case) they come out fully functioning, beautiful, complete human beings. They are resilient. So resilient. They are naturally so curious. And while they do need to be taught to say “thank you,” I have come to realize that they don’t really need to be taught gratitude or contentment. In their own ways, those moments like the ones I mentioned earlier, and many seemingly less significant ones, do leave their mark, and resurface in later conversations as sweet memories and meaningful encounters, completely unsolicited. Rather, we learn discontent. They are fearless.

Zora Elizabeth (dawn), I am thankful for your light. You feel deeply. You desire to be helpful, and take good care of the people you love. You love hard. You are a leader. You are creative. You are perceptive. You are bold. You are beautiful. You are brilliant. We continue to pray that your light would shine, that you would be an agent of newness, of rebirth in a world that needs it desperately, and that your presence might lead to the greater flourishing of all of creation in whatever space you occupy.

Suhaila Elease (gentle spirit; star), I am thankful for your joy. You are silly, always in the pursuit of bringing a smile to someone else’s face. You are an artist. You are strong. You are affectionate. You make your needs known. You are witty. You comfort. You are beautiful. You are brilliant. We continue to pray that you would shine brightly, and be unafraid to take up space, and to do so with grace and gentleness, that the space you take up would be characterized by joy and hospitality.

No one told me it would be this difficult.

No one told me it would be this beautiful.

Or, maybe they tried…

I thank God for giving me my daughters.

The Thorn in My Flesh

Drew and I discovered Grey’s Anatomy a couple of years ago and have been slowly making our way through the seasons on Netflix (season 12 presently, phew). Last week, one of the episodes featured a patient who was about to receive the news of being cancer free, when Grey noticed that her port site was inflamed and infected. The patient had noticed the growing abnormality a few weeks beforehand but, hadn’t reported it to her team of clinicians. It ended up being too late to save this woman, and she died tragically (as they most always do in Shondaland) just hours before reconciling with her estranged son.

I had this metaphor moment! Port sites like this woman’s, ports that deliver medication for cancer patients, or that facilitate dialysis for patients with renal failure, brought to mind what the Apostle Paul describes as his battle with the Lord over the “thorn in his flesh” in 2 Corinthians 12. Port sites must be monitored very, very closely. It is not natural for us to have a foreign object just hanging out of our bodies, leaving us with a perpetual open wound. Port sites get infected notoriously and are often as much the cause of medical hardship for patients, as their original conditions. But, when they are monitored closely and proactively, they are the conduit by which life saving measures may enter our bodies and do their work. So it works, both literally with a thorn or splinter, that must be removed immediately for risk of infection, and figuratively as the thorn in Paul’s flesh functions to remind him moment by moment of his weakness, of his need for the Lord’s salvation. When Paul is otherwise healthy, this thorn, this port, serves as his reminder to turn consistently back to the source of his life-saving grace. When ignored, the very thing that could bring us consistently to well of living water, could be what destroys us.

First of all, I would just like to note (completely outside, well, mostly outside of the majority context of this post), that God can and literally does use A N Y and E V E R Y T H I N G to speak to us and speaks in a language that we can understand. There are few ways by which I have felt God’s specific love for me more than when something about the gospel and our life of faith clicks for me in the context of learning about the human body, or through some super tangential etymological adventure. Please just know that you are loved deeply by the God who created you, and that God quite literally moves mountains to meet you where you are, and in a context that makes sense to you. God created you, knows who you are more than you do, has planted within you the things that interest and excite you, and desires to speak through those things!

Annnd back from the rabbit trail.

About a year/year and a half after our girls were born I noticed that I was struggling a great deal with anxiety. I have always been, what I like to call, high strung, a bit obsessive, methodical, passionate. In many ways those tendencies had served me well, leading to many of the moments in my life that I might refer to as successes. But, this felt more extreme, more debilitating, more compulsive, and I was experiencing physiological symptoms for the first time that I could remember being directly associated with this particular state of mind. I had a panic attack. I felt my heart rise in my chest, my chest tightened…breathing became difficult, and tears began to pour. It was the first time ever in my life that I had felt utterly out of control. It lasted for what felt like forever, but it was probably 20-30 minutes before my breathing had settled down and the tears stopped flowing. But, the tightness in my chest remained through the night. I woke up the next morning to my deeply concerned husband, a migraine, and fatigue like I had never experienced (even after having made it through the first year with twins). I called out from work, citing a migraine (I had the paid time to cover it, and no particularly important meetings that day, so my supervisor thankfully asked for no more explanation). I spent that day trying to figure out what in the world was wrong with me, and what in the world I was going to do about it.

I finally decided that I needed to seek out a counselor (that process in and of itself felt overwhelming enough to make me want to just stay in bed forever…I hate that it’s this way). A friend offered a recommendation, and I figured that I would start there and hope for the best, and I am so thankful it worked out well.

There were so many things going on for me in that season… I was a new parent…to twins! There were so many ways in which I had felt like the Lord had freed me from my perfectionist ways in the years preceding parenthood, only to discover a whole new universe of ways to potentially screw up. I was paralyzed day after day with fear that every choice would have dire forever consequences, that every missed opportunity to discipline appropriately would lead to bratty children with no sense of accountability or personal responsibility, or that every too harsh word would lead to children who struggled with self-esteem and would develop an array of super unhealthy habits to meet those needs, or that every “good job” would lead to kids who were attention-seeking and eager to please in all the worst ways, and who would believe that my love was contingent upon their performance, and that every time I needed them to wait for my attention while I tended to something else would lead to kids who felt undervalued and unimportant, and the list goes on…and on. I think, though, that at least to some degree, this is normal.

I’ve shared in a previous post that I was simultaneously struggling to “find myself,” or to at least not lose myself in my relation to others, as someone’s wife, and someones’ mother. I struggled with feeling like I was falling short of completely made up expectations.

We were in leadership in a ministry context that strained our marriage relationship a great deal, and as a result of our position in leadership, it was incredibly lonely, as I wasn’t able to share much about those dynamics with the people I spent the most time with, including my immediate family who were members of the church. It was a context within which I felt unvalued as a woman, and felt crushed deep down to my soul as the only black woman in a white evangelical space. We arrived in this context not knowing that just a few short weeks afterwards Michael Brown would be gunned down on the streets of Ferguson, not knowing that the years that followed we would have to watch this scene (not new by the way) over and over and over again, and be in the position of explaining our humanity, and why death is not an appropriate consequence for jaywalking, or theft, or legally owning a gun and complying with officers’ orders, or asking for help when your car breaks down, or having a mental breakdown. Of having to endure endless, though at least mostly well-meaning questions about all things related to race and systems, of having to skirt white fragility and stand our ground and appeal to our common ground of Scripture as the only validation of our lived experiences. And then we got to live through the rise of Trump as the face of the Republican party and navigate relationships with friends who sincerely believed that they could divorce his platform from its pretty overt implications of his views of my inherit worth as an image bearer, and that of my husband and children, and family members and friends, and the people in our community, and who thought my strong feelings on the matter were overly dramatic, and too personal, and me just pushing a political agenda. And then there were the friends who were just indifferent, who basked in the privilege of being “apolitical” in such a moment as this one. And to do the work of loving folks, fighting to love genuinely, while feeling at best misunderstood, and at worst unloved, in return.

I had never thought of myself as an idealist. I’ve always actually had quite a good perception of what’s not quite as it should be. But, you can’t know what’s wrong unless you have an idea of what’s right. Ironically, the gospel, and this picture of new creation and all that is possible, contributed daily to my battle against depression, as I stared at so many things that were less than what they could be. My unhealth meant that that holy discontent, that fire that could be harnessed for Kingdom change, ate away at me instead, and drove me deeper into despair. I could understand why Jesus was referred to as a man of sorrows. I could not understand how he was described as sorrowful, yet always rejoicing.

And so, I don’t know what thing it was in particular. It was probably just all of the things. But, I was broken. And on top of being broken, I was hanging on to a faith that, in practice was disappointing me left and right, and that I also believed told me that depression and anxiety are sin, and that if I were a better Christian, I’d be doing ok. After all, Scripture does tell us to be anxious for nothing, right? On top of all of the miserable feelings of failure and sadness and frustration, I heaped on the shame and blame mercilessly.

A super dear friend from our time in Bethlehem who knew about my struggles recommended a specific podcast episode on depression and anxiety to me from the God Centered Mom podcast. The women spoke about anxiety, in particular, presenting often in one of two ways: situational anxiety or chronic anxiety. The one woman used this phrase about thoughts “nesting” rather than coming and going, but rather making their home, invited or otherwise, and birthing new thoughts, as this cyclical process that can consume us (hence the name of my blog 😉). It was the first time that I had ever thought back over my childhood with this lens and I began to see young me, consistently consumed by, obsessed with, one thing or another. I remember going on a cursing spree in 5th grade because my friends had started cursing, and I wanted to be cool like them. I remember the school year ending and summer coming, and being home by myself all day, making myself sick as I had to muster up the courage to “confess” my crimes to my parents because the guilt had wrecked me for weeks. I was convinced that I could not even look at them without this being resolved (parents who were certainly disappointed but, met me with a great deal of grace). It is amazing to me how these ways of thinking about the people in our lives, particularly our parents, and how they will respond to and receive us, and how we project these things onto God. As I listened to this podcast, I realized that I have always been anxious, and that anxiety has often fueled a depression of sorts, as the spiral has consumed me, that this is not new, it’s just different. And I realized that that means that I might always struggle with being anxious, that I might always be fighting to a degree against being consumed by depression and despair, that it may be hard wired in me. One might think that realization would be in itself quite discouraging, but it was so F R E E I N G!

One of my consistent sources of disappointment over this season was waiting for this moment of “healing,” for this beautiful testimony I could tell people about how God had rescued me from this. And that moment kept not coming. In this moment I realized that this would be a journey, that it has been a journey. That this is likely (though the Lord could still miraculously heal me completely should the Lord choose) (one of) the thorn(s) in my flesh. That this is something that I carry with me, as a consistent opportunity to turn to the God who created and knows and loves me, and desires to be known by me in a particular way. If I am not diligent, it has the power to infect and destroy me, but by God’s grace, with proper care, it has the potential to be a conduit of living water.

For the most part it has been the latter, though I still experience stretches of sickness. One of the ways that God has cared for me has been through people he has sent me to love me and be kinder to me than I tend to be to myself. My daughters who give me a hug and a kiss, and tell me “it’s ok mommy, I still love you,” after I’ve chewed them out and had to ask their forgiveness. My husband who, when I went home and shared with him the lightbulb I experienced after listening to the podcast episode, shared with me that in the midst of his frustration with not knowing how to help or be there for me that the Lord gave him this picture of the folks who lowered their sick friend through the roof to the feet of Jesus when they could not get in through the door (Luke 5, Mark 2). It says that Jesus saw their faith, the faith of this man’s friends on behalf of this man, and in response Jesus healed the man. Drew said that the Lord said to him very clearly, “you be those friends, you have faith when she cannot.” So, Drew did what he knew how to do, and prayed for me consistently. And there are friends like the one who sent me the podcast, the one who referred me to her therapist, the ones who let me know that medication was not a shameful choice during the season in which it was really necessary, the ones who listened, the ones who were gracious when I could not see past my own nose, my parents who just loved me and did their best to help with the girls when I needed space.

I don’t have a tidy ending to this one. Fitting, I suppose. So, I’ll leave you with this:

So to keep me from becoming conceited because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to harass me, to keep me from becoming conceited. 

Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me.

But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”

 Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. 

For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong. – 2 Corinthians 12: 7-10

Check on your strong friend ❤

The Weight of Expectation

I spent yesterday afternoon sort of coming full circle. It was the annual End of the Year Celebration for A Better Chance, the program by which my world was upended in the best way possible. Through what was literally ONLY the Lord, my mom learned about this program completely by-the-way through a co-worker, just days before the deadline, the last year that I would’ve been eligible to apply, as a rising junior. A Better Chance, and Keith, in particular, the regional director, who was honored yesterday as he moves on after 18 years of life-changing service to youth of color in the Mid-Atlantic region, was the first outside of my family to recognize me as exceptional. And it wasn’t just about being super smart, but they affirmed I had something, something intangible, that would be a gift to the world. And while it had been lovely to be affirmed by my family all those years, and I am so thankful for it, I believed it in a new way from that point forward. With ABC in my corner, I was handed $80,000 in scholarship money to finish my last two years of high school at a boarding school in Connecticut, by folks who believed in me similarly. And then, I had my pick of universities, and was handed a whole new boatload of money, finishing my Princeton education with only $7500 of debt and a world of possibility awaiting, and the expectations of so many subtly enshrouding me.

I had told everyone from the time I was 6-years-old that I was going to be a doctor, and once I said it, it had to be true. I wasn’t a normal kid in a number of ways. I was never big on make believe or whimsy. I refused to play games with kids who refused to read the rule books because it was “fun” to make up new ways to play the game. Becoming a physician seemed as though it would fit me so well. The path, though difficult, would be straightforward, science and medicine were dependable like me, and I could help people and be important. It seemed like a win all around for me, and a real crowd-pleasing response through the years. I took every opportunity both inside and outside the classroom to work towards this goal. Boarding school had awakened my love of literature, for which I was thankful, but I knew that I still had to be practical. So, I entered Princeton intending on majoring in English while completing all of my pre-med requirements, and spending my summers padding my medical school resumé. The summer between junior and senior years, I registered and began preparing for the MCAT and after two weeks of being holed up in the library, each day less productive than the one before, I went home and had a conversation with my parents. I wasn’t ready for the test, mentally, emotionally, just not ready, and it was the first time in my life that I wasn’t able to just will myself to do what I needed to do.

I returned to school in the fall ready to finish out my last couple of requirements, and plan for a gap year. But, as I sat in my microbiology lab the first week of school, I knew that I did not want to be there, and I went back to my dorm room dropped that and my other biology class, replaced them with the first sort of just because classes I had been able to put on my schedule in 4 years, and then just sat there in the realization that I had essentially closed a door and had no idea which one I would walk through next. During this time, I was learning really for the first time about systems, the idea, even within healthcare, that people aren’t simply a product of their individual decisions, but rather those combined with all these other factors, many of which are far outside of their control. And I learned about degrees in public health, that sought to prepare people to address health from this perspective and thought that maybe I could reconcile my still undeniable interest in medicine and healthcare with these other things that beginning to tug at me. So, I applied and ended up pursuing a Master of Public Health at USC.

But, this was the beginning of the next six years of these seemingly competing narratives vying for front and center, creating false dichotomies, and wrecking me with depression and anxiety.

Drew and I started dating (again) that same summer. My parents, who I truly believed were sincere when they told me that they believed in me and would be happy and support me in pursuing whatever God was calling me to, had difficulty reconciling my change of course with my new relationship initially. Not long after we had made it to the other side of that, Drew and I got engaged and I returned to campus from my eventful spring break, to more skepticism than well wishes. My closest friends were mostly on board, though they had their own reservations, fair enough, but while the opinions of others meant less on a deep soul level, their words stayed with me nonetheless. I knew in my heart of hearts that marriage in the way God intends it is additive rather than diminutive. But, I’d be lying if I said there wasn’t a small part of me that worried they’d be right, that my tendency to put others before myself in general, would, in my marriage, lead to my disappearance. I had walked away from one dream (mostly) confidently, and had some ideas, but the only thing sure in my life was a guy (and obviously not just any guy), but I was 22 and about to move across the country as a man’s wife, and little else flushed out. And I was thrilled, and excited, and ok with it, and fighting against feeling like I shouldn’t be.

I eventually started my MPH program but a week into my second semester found out I was pregnant. We moved back east after I finished the semester, and Drew had graduated seminary, and moved in with my parents as we regrouped. I was able to finish my MPH online, but here I was, 24, married with TWO children, and not altogether sure what I was going to do with now another degree. In addition to the pressure I had felt previously to “make something (‘significant’) of myself,” as I felt indebted to all those who had sacrificed for and believed in me, and also just recognized the reality that as a brown woman, no accomplishment is ever just mine alone, but also “for the culture,” I had added 6 figure student loan debt to the mix so, I best do something. I started applying to jobs and didn’t feel so exceptional anymore, as I heard crickets and more crickets, until the place where I had completed my practicum basically made up a position for me. We spent the next two years after that chugging along, living a pretty normal life (we did move out of my parents’ home and into our own, a mortgage I couldn’t even put my name on because of my massive student loan debt). And I struggled deeply with feeling like I had peaked early. Social media didn’t help. I watched my friends and classmates go on and get more and more degrees (and my closest friends literally all become(ing) doctors and lawyers) and travel the world and be free, and exciting, and “impressive,” and I was fighting to feel at all appreciated at a job that, after a point, I was keeping mostly for the health insurance, while feeling day in and day out that I was failing miserably at this whole motherhood thing, which in the false dichotomies I had created, I had essentially “given up” the exciting, impressive life for, and I couldn’t even get that part right.

New York City felt like a gift from the Lord in more ways than one, a chance to start over, and regroup… again. Despite all of the things that were terrifying about the move, it held so much promise, most certainly for Drew, but perhaps also for me. I had learned about a direct entry Master level nursing program at Columbia, one of only a handful in the country, and it felt like my moment. Maybe I just needed to go on this roundabout journey to be ready for what was always the plan. I could pursue this program and go on to get my DNP, and become a nurse practitioner, a midwife, as that’s been floating around in my head since the first semester of my MPH. I spent months exhausting my husband going back and forth over the scenarios and possibilities around making this new adventure work, and he was supportive as always, until I had another “library moment.” This “dream” is not actually what I want, and probably never has been, not really. There were so many other things tied up in my dreams of being a clinician. It satisfied my need for straightforward and stable. It would theoretically mitigate my tendency to be completely overwhelmed with anxiety over finances (and I wouldn’t have to do any of the hard work to deal with that issue). I would finally have a job that I didn’t have to take 10 minutes to explain to people exactly what I do. I LOVED the picture in my head of me in a white coat in a medical setting. And I could feel significant. And important. And worthy. Worthy of the sacrifices of so many. Worthy of the respect of my peers and colleagues. Worthy of the admiration of little girls who would come after me, who could look at me and believe that they could do it, too. Worthy of the admiration of my own little girls, for whom I want the whole world, who I want to believe in their own significance and worthiness, particularly as they move through a world that will tear them down at every chance because they are women, and women in brown skin. I’ve spent the last couple of months sitting with all of that and wrestling with what it means to lay it all down.

Right now, I’m doing some contract work, that I’m actually enjoying tremendously. I’m working with data and know that I am doing good work, meaningful work for the organization, and it’s completely behind the scenes, and on my own time, and it’s perfect.  And I take care of my girls. And I support my husband. And I partner in attending to the needs of our new church as best I can. I just offered my notice at the part time job here in the city I started after the move, because while I loved the mission and really liked the people, the job itself has been taking more from me than it’s been giving and continuing on isn’t a necessity. And rather than thinking about what my career should be or what I want to do, I’ve been thinking about who I want to be, what do we want our life to look like? I have some of the answers. I want to feel whole. I don’t want to be controlled by others’ valuation of my worth. I want to be present and not anxious with my husband and my children. I want healthy rhythms in life. I want to serve others and leave the world a better place. I want to be able to pay our bills and to be able to give generously and to have some left over. I want our home to be filled with love. I want the energy to be a hospitable person. I want time and space to be creative. I want to love others well. I want it all, I suppose. But, I actually think this all is possible. It is not possible for me to hold certain career positions and do all of these other things well, and vice versa. In that sense, we all must “compromise.” However, I’m realizing that many of the things I clutched so tightly were never going to offer me what they promised, and what’s left over actually isn’t too shabby after all.

On the other side, I have wrestled with how much this whole journey reeks of privilege, the privilege that my degrees have afforded me. We have a roof over our heads (a 1-bedroom roof, but a roof nonetheless), and our bills are paid, and things are tight, but we’re making it. There’s space for me to sit and wrestle without our world crumbling. And the fact that I am able to choose to walk a different path, a better more fulfilling path for me, that my family isn’t dependent upon this path or another, when I know so many who sacrifice what they want in order to just do what needs to be done. I’m basically weighing jobs against: is this worth giving up the freedom of not being tied to a corporate schedule for, is this really a worthwhile endeavor on which to expend that level of energy and for which to make the accompanying life adjustments? I feel like the Lord has been super gracious as I’ve struggled, and has whispered, but I want you to thrive, AND I want them to thrive. I have created you, and you collectively, for flourishing. So, take this space and just steward it well, and part of stewarding it well will be to figure out what it looks like for you to leverage your privilege so that others might be able to embark on similar journeys, so that others might also be able to flourish in the fullness of who I’ve made them. And so I sit with fewer answers than questions still, but a little more ok than I was even a month ago. One of my program-mates asked me yesterday what I’m up to these days, as she’s just moved to NYC as well to work at a prestigious law firm, and I answered honestly. I’m up to this and that, and I’m not completely sure that I’m ok with it, but I’m figuring it out.

Greener Grass

I had never thought of myself as someone who struggled with contentment. I’ve always been a planner, and that’s always been lauded as responsibility. It’s pretty devastating when something that can look so good, and that has been integral to many of my “successes” in life, gets exposed as an idol.

As helpful and prudent as planning for my future has been, it has taken a long time for me to realize the ways in which I have used it as a crutch to avoid dealing with the present. I don’t really know how to be present.

I don’t really know how to be.

There has seemed to come a comfort in looking towards the future, even if the present moment hasn’t actually been all that bad, that there’s something ahead that’s even better, and then of course all the more if the present moment or season is particularly terrible, and there have been a few of those.

Throughout my childhood and adolescence my think ahead nature got me far. I could see and plan for consequences a mile away. I pored over all decisions tirelessly with the long view in mind. And, as a kid, aren’t I supposed to be thinking about my future? After all, the questions about what I wanted to be when I grew up started earlier than I could remember. So, I figured out an answer, and then started “working” towards that goal from that moment, literally “shadowing” my pediatrician when I was 10 years old. I wasn’t particularly fond of childhood anyway, so spending my energy thinking about who I could become was way more fun than figuring how to enjoy my current state.

Then, as a teenager, the beginning of the next 12 years of consistent transitions began. I changed gears halfway through high school and transferred from my public high school and home district for the previous 9 years to boarding school in Connecticut. By my junior year, life was pretty much about getting into college, and in an even more magnified way in that environment (it was kind of the whole point for me), and with an added intensity of focus, given that I felt I was playing catch up. But, it all paid off. I had my pick of schools, chose one, and went. College is naturally a stepping stone, a training ground, rather than an end in and of itself, and before I even finished that, I was engaged to be married, and had yet another future endeavor to plan for, losing myself for hours at a time in Pinterest boards, never mind the 75-page thesis that needed my attention long before August. Then there was the apartment hunt, and the job hunt, as I had decided to defer my Master’s program a year. Before long, Drew and I learned we were expecting a child, and I got to lose myself for hours on baby name websites (even though we had long since chosen names), and looking at nursery décor, and then we found out there’d be two of them (4 ½ months in by the way), and then we were processing moving back east from Los Angeles. And we did move back east, and into my parents’ home, and then I spent every day on Zillow for a year looking at our “future home” long before we were ready to actually start looking and furnishing it in my mind (the return of Pinterest). And then there was another job hunt as I neared the end of my MPH, and then there was the continuous job hunting as I spent 2.5 years mostly frustrated at my job, thinking that something else and better must exist. And then we came to a point in our ministry when we knew it was time to think about moving on, and immediately there were several options to process and pore over and plan for. And then there was the 6 months between coming on in NYC and actually moving (the return of Zillow and every other real estate app in the store). And then we only signed a one-year lease on our 1-bedroom, so those real estate apps have not been removed from my phone…I’ve been planning for our next place since we got to this one. 3-years-old is a tough age – they don’t call them threenagers for nothing – and we have two. The temptation to wish this stage away and just move on to smoother waters has been sooooo real. And the real kicker for me in this process of admitting I may have a problem, figuring out (again) what I’m going to be when I grow up. Should I go back to school (another saga for another post)? And then navigating the employment scene here in NYC.

None of the things that I have mentioned in the (very long-winded, sorry) recap of my journey over these past several years is inherently problematic. And many of those things are completely natural and just normal parts of life, and necessary processes and decisions to move from one point to another, as that’s kind of how life goes. But, one day very recently, as I was scrolling through job postings (again), I had a moment. I looked at Drew and said, “I don’t know that I’ll know how to be when we’re not planning for the next thing.” We’re approaching 30, a time when, for most people, the transitions slow down and seasons lengthen. As we stay in one home for more than 2 years perhaps (when this is our 5th home together in coming up on 6 years of marriage). As we find a school for the girls that we love and they just return day after day, year after year, and as they continue to grow and find their voices and our relationship evolves in hopefully positive ways (and as we don’t necessarily plan to embark on the child-rearing journey anew). As we’ve found our calling in ministry, and God roots us for the long(er) haul. As I’ve found work that feels less like a stepping stone or a place holder, and more like home. I don’t know if I’ll know how to be, in fact, I’m pretty sure I won’t.

There will be other challenges and milestones, other ways in which our lives will be enriched and stimulated. But, I imagine they will look different than those that have come before. My hope is that we actually find rhythms that are life-giving and desire to rest in those, rather than needing an escape from the present moment. I have spent so much time and energy planning on becoming, that I’m not even sure who or what the goal is anymore, outside of the next momentary success or accolade or new and shiny thing. I’m thankful to have experienced this moment now, at this particular juncture in my life and the life of my family. As life does still require planning, and more fun-ly, dreaming, we are in that process in a very real way in the midst of this transition. But, the tenor has changed. Our perspective has shifted. And the questions we are asking are different now.

I, and we, have made space these last couple of months to more intentionally slow down. We’ve been more faithfully observing Sabbath and have been intentional to even reschedule our day of rest, if Monday is simply not an option on a given week, because life does still call, and not even this is intended to be lorded over us. But, there really is so very much that can wait. A sweet friend has invited me to fast a half day once a week with her. I’ve enjoyed my phoneless morning walks with Baxter. I took the Facebook app off my phone which has, without much effort, dramatically reduced my time there, and has exponentially improved my overall well-being. I’ve created more space for life-giving relationships, including my marriage. I’ve tried to follow my therapist’s advice to reserve 30 minutes a day on my days home with the girls for a focused, phoneless, specific activity of their choosing, which may not seem like a lot, but those 30 minutes can feel like 300 depending on the day. Thankfully, they feel like 300 to my girls, too, but usually in good way, one of the perks of their not having yet figured out the whole relative time piece, and actually mitigates many of our difficulties otherwise during the day, that at their root are mostly attention seeking, leading to many more positive interactions overall. All of this space has been refreshing and rejuvenating, and also frustrating, as so many of things I got to rush past before, or simply stuff down, and avoid confronting and processing (even after extensive time in therapy), are creeping right up to the surface, hence my return to writing 😉.

I feel like the Holy Spirit has just required a new posture in order to be able to do some new things, ultimately, I believe, for my benefit and hopefully, for the benefit of those around me. I feel like I have fewer “answers” than ever, and yet am experiencing more peace than ever. I’m excited to step further into this journey of NEEDING less, in really all senses, with full confidence that needing less actually leads to a life characterized by abundance. I’m so tempted all the time to fall into familiar rhythms and thought patterns and am super grateful for the grace offered me in those moments, and the invitation to practice a little more grace with myself. Who would’ve guessed that a move to New York City of all places would’ve precipitated this journey into slow and still? Be encouraged that scarcity is not the best there is to hope for. Be challenged to reflect and examine even our most benign, or even seemingly beneficial, habits. Be present to the people and lessons and places and moments before us. Be kind and compassionate to ourselves as we figure it out.

Psalm 46:10

Be still and know that I am God.

Be still and know that I am.

Be still and know.

Be still.

Be.Greener Grass - photo