children

My Name is Funke

Four hundred and seventy-seven pages into Americanah, I saw it. Shocked by its presence, I sat and stared. Fixated so deeply by the letters, they ambiguated into modern hieroglyphics. I couldn’t decipher them. Familiar but distant. I took a picture and what I saw was my name.

Tosin (toe-seen) is a name of modernity. I didn’t actually discover my first name was Tosin (actually Oluwatosin) until I was in 9th grade. For a significant time of my life, I was called by my first middle name, Funke (foon-keh). As a child, Funke lent itself to humorous, but uninspired name calling: funky monkey, funky chicken, you smell funky. The one time, I fought, it was because someone made fun of my name. His name was Caleb Brown, and I hit his head against a window sill. (I won). Unfortunately, I didn’t have the resolve as a child to own my name.

When I transitioned into middle school, I went by Ola, taken from my second middle name, Dolapo (doe-lah-poe). Ignorantly unaware of the Spanish language, anyone reading this could clearly see how Ola got real old, real quick. Unfortunately, I was highly temperamental in middle school, and “Hola, Ola” lost its humor quickly. I never got into a physical fight in middle school over my name, but I did have mastery of a couple of choice curse words, that aided me in my verbal assaults.

In high school, I landed on Tosin. My most preferred moniker. Half of my life, I have answered to Tosin. I love my name. It fits me well. It has a balance of edge, softness, wisdom, and verve. It has followed me through high school, college, and Texas. I have heard “Tosin” pass beautifully through the lips of friends who have loved me like family. There are not any American songs written about girls named Tosin, but I don’t really need them. Tosin is unique for me. I like that when a friend hears my name, they are not filtering through millions of Tosin’s. There is (typically) a singular Tosin, whose name creates some sort of reaction for them. It is me.

So, why was I so startled by Funke?

Two reasons. First, it was awesome to see my name in the pages of a book. Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie was not thinking of me when she wrote Americanah, yet I felt represented. I joined along with a 1,000’s of other Funke’s who never thought they would see their name in a novel. Dumbstruck and awestruck. I was mesmerized by the idea that me a Nigerian-American second generation immigrant, whose name was caricatured, would see my name as a complex character even for one paragraph.

Second, it brought back memories of childhood. Dormant beautiful memories of Funke, who was spunky and sweet, tomboyish and rugged. Funke, whose mind was a wonderland of colors and stories and weirdness and spontaneity. I don’t revel in my childhood. Reflections of that time period are embittered by abuses and terror. It was nice to get a morsel of it back.

Hi. My name is Funke.

Next to my many names are the proper phonetics for accurate pronunciation. 

Life

The Resurrection of Jesus Christ embodies the conquering of death by the Source of Life. I believe this as truth. I believe that death has been conquered for me. So, that when my physical bodies withers, I am brought to real eternal life with God.

So, what do I do here? Suspended in a real (yet quasi) life experience that is riddled with death and all his friends. Where in the middle of loneliness there is a real sorrow. Where in the middle of sickness there is a real pain. Where in the middle of hatred there is a real violence. I don’t know. I don’t know. I take the cues of Christ and move towards the mess. Where there is sorrow, I mourn like Jesus with Mary. Where there is pain, I acknowledge someone is reaching out for a touch like Jesus and the woman with the issue of blood. Where there is violence, I bend down to the ground writing mysteries in the sand like Jesus on the Mount of Olives.

Last year around this time, I was very invested in modern liturgical practices. I came across meditative tracks, by a group called the Liturgists. There is a track on their Garden album titled Sunday. In this track, Rob Bell discusses the Resurrection how ultimately the moments of joy and life and laughter in this life point to the immense beauty and worship that will occur in eternal life. And that the sorrows and pain and violence are temporary.

Yesterday was one of those days where I felt the Resurrection and the Life. Hula hooping and eating chili with popsicle wine and bubbles reminds me of life. It was worshipful and beautiful. It was children running around throwing pillows. It was laughter and naps. The Resurrection allows me to take a simple meal on a simple weekend and call it holy. It allows me to reclaim something that feels secular and find how God can make it sacred.

Resurrection is Life, not only eternal life. Resurrection is the embracing life in the way Christ embraced life now and eternally.

Happy Holy Life Friends.

Lenten Prayer #5: Mothering

Father,

A sleeping desire was nestled today. Motherhood has always been a sure desire for me. I could not imagine a life without children to love and care for. Matrimony would be nice, motherhood is my heart. To care for, to love, to serve, to be silly, to run, to learn, to grow, to correct, to be humbled daily. While nestled by three children today, she was not awoken. Give me patience to wait for my children. It is hard to not know someone, but already love them so deeply and dearly.

In the Name of the Son, through the Power of the Spirit,

Amen

Divine Discontentment

I have been in New York for three days. It is a small city with a lot of people and a hotbed for culture and dog poop. New Yorkers say the “f***” as much as they breathe with no discrimination for whether there are children around or not. They are not as mean as people think, but place insurmountable value in wit and sarcasm. While a bit pretentious, I have learned the more comfortable you are with yourself the more comfortable you will be in New York.

The most important lesson I have learned in New York is that, I am not meant to stay in Houston forever. I know I tell people, I will leave Houston eventually, but these past three days have nailed in that truth, in the same way moving to Houston did for me in 2012.

The following is an excerpt from my personal journal (Yes, I write things that no one else gets to see). Most times, when I write in my journal it is to God. So, remember that when you are reading.

Living in Houston, I have settled there. It has been almost 4 years. However, I am not called to “settle down” there. I am not supposed to be in the United States forever. Remembering that resettles my  heart and creates a contentment in my singleness that was not present before. Singleness is not freedom per se. (As if marriage was bondage) Singleness is increased opportunity for ministry…

…Father, give me a divine discontentment with this season. I do not want a bitter heart. I do want a longing for whatever You deem as the next step.

Atlanta is not home.

Houston is not home.

New York is not home.

Heaven is home. Point me in the direction of an earthly dwelling place.

The Language of “I Love You”/Loving My Teens

I have never met three little words as simple and complex and these. Each individual word is only one syllable, but it is as if every letter carries the weight of Kilimanjaro. Because each word means a million other words.

At the conclusion of my first year of foster parenting, I wrote a post titled Loving Your KidsThis post chronicled the beautiful agonies of loving someone with your whole heart and constantly seeing them go. There are several little boys and girls who will never remember me, but they carry fragments of my heart.  The way a parent loves their child is essentially a replication of how God loves me: unrelentingly, at my worst, sacrificially, unconditionally, furiously, purposefully. I don’t think I ever loved people as passionately and ferociously as those little ones. Until now.

I enjoy my job. It is interesting and beneficial and challenging. However, I love my teens. Working with them reminds me of each and every day of being a foster mama. In dozens of ways, God used working at Casa de Esperanza to prepare me for working with my teens. I look back on my adolescence and having a conversation with my friend Jon Butts. It was about those three little words. I remember in my adolescent melancholy telling him, “If you say I love you too much, people won’t think you mean it.” I still hold to that statement, but it is with the added phasing, “If you show I love you, then people will know you mean it.”

Saying “I love you” communicates you have an affect on me. You. You as you are, are so worthy of love. In fact my love is a gift. I want you to accept it, but if you don’t it is always here. Because in the midst of the cursing and fighting I realize, for me to love my teens it requires absolutely nothing on their part. They don’t have to change. They don’t have to like me. I just love them. Know, I don’t do things perfectly. I trespass against them and am rude. I am annoying, and sometimes don’t know when to back off. However, they respond, I love them.

It is a humbling love.

It is a love that let’s another human call you a b#&$@ and not respond in wrath. 

It is a love that forces you to sit in silence as another human pours out their rage on you. 

It is a love that seeks healing for the brokenness. 

It is a love that makes frightening police encounters opportunities to prove you are there for them. 

It is a love that cries the tears that have already dried on their face. 

It is a love that drives throughout Downtown Houston looking for truant teens

It is a love that when someone yells, “$@&# you” all you want to do is hug them. 

It is a love that allows you to sit and paint the nails of a girl who doesn’t speak English. 

It is a love that moves you from your desk to the basketball court while wearing a dress or a skirt

It is a love that finds opportunities for them to grow

It is a love that lobbies for the best possibilities. 

It is a love that does not look past faults, but corrects them. 

It is a love that sees potential and nurtures it. 

It is a love that opens you up to empathize deeply and many time painfully so. 

It is a love that daily wipes the slate clean. 

It is a love that brings you to a place of utter transparency. 

It is a love that desires to know the deepest yearning of their heart. 

 

I don’t do all of this perfectly. I barely do half of them averagely, but the more I look at this list, the more I realize my Father’s love for me. His love knows and drives and moves and seeks and allows and nurtures and finds and desires and cleanses. And, His love is like this unrelentingly and perfectly with the same intensity at all times. His love is best. We are best equipped to love others when we know many of the ways our Father loves us.

There are dozens teens who probably will never remember me, but there are little mason jars, abbreviated authors, troublemakers, teen mamas, and many more who hold fragments of my heart. My hope and prayer in this moment is that they realize it was never my heart in the first place, but the heart of the Father.

Torn to Be Healed

Each year is rationed the same number of days, 365. Most of these days are forgettable. Some stand out more than others, even now my heart awaits with tremendous expectation to celebrate the resurrection on Sunday. However, there are days in my life, where something outstanding happened. So outstanding, that as these dates pass it will remind me of a sequence of events. January 7, 2011. September 7, 2012. Today.

If you have followed my blog through 2014, you realized most posts were lamentations. The lament began today. This day is branded on my mind. I remember the tension and the fear in this day. I will recall it briefly.

After months of pushing for change, with passive resistance came Monday. Mondays were busy, I awake and took a flower to school and then zoomed off to school myself for my first semester of seminary. Sunday, there was a conflict, but I thought it was resolved. I thought it was over. I was angry, but I could keep my anger to myself. I could be functionally furious. I could be angry and do my job well. As, I sat in Dr. Hanna’s class that Monday, I received a text from my boss asking me to meet with her the moment I was done with class. This was a normal request, but filled my heart with dread. As his class concluded, I got in the van and panicked. Prayers jumbled in my mind. I could not get my words straight. I did not know what to pray. I was scared.

I sang. I sang “Order My Steps” and “Great is Thy Faithfulness”. I sang songs of His sovereignty over plans. I didn’t know what was in that conference room, but I discerned it was not good. However, when I entered, I felt peace. Not in the knowledge that everything was going to be all right. I felt the peace of God, whispering deeply into my soul, “Tosin, I am in control.” As, I entered the room and the doors closed behind me, I knew I didn’t walk into that room alone. Like, the three Hebrew boys, Christ was with me. Christ’s presence softened the immediate impact of my forced resignation. He is who equipped me in that room to respond in His grace and His love and not my fear and anger.

As, the next 24 hours unfolded, I told my family and friends and situated a place to stay. I reserved a rental vehicle. I packed away 18 months of my life in Houston. And, I left. Not without painful conversations with coworkers and other staff. My heart hurt to bid farewell to the women I had shared 6 months of parenting with. The most painful of them all was explaining to my kids that I was leaving. I walked them to their rooms for their nap. I held my rose, my duck, and my tiny religion and sang to them for the last time. I went to what was my room and wept.

I drove off my only Houston home rejected and began a 274-day process of drifting. My immediate response to the impact was positive. I busied myself. I would treat myself to coffee as I journaled, about new beginnings. I would spend the whole day looking for jobs and apartments. Within two months, I began working at the GAP. I was able to enjoy that season within a harsher season of time. There was one day, however, where the realities of my peril could not be avoided. Where my hope took a massive blow. I woke up on a Saturday morning to go to work. I was staying with a friend and parked my car on the street. As, I turned the corner, I saw items of mine strewn across the sidewalk. My heart rate increased. Glass, everywhere. Someone had busted my windshield to look through my items and steal absolutely nothing. At least nothing that I would not have simply given to them. As, I drove to work, I frantically called my mother (who did not answer) and my sister who did.

I could barely get my words out between the tears, “Someone broke into my car. Why is this happening to me? I didn’t do anything.” Eventually, I calmed. I walked into work, made a joke of it, and went along with my day. It was easy to avoid thinking of it. Until, I clocked out and went back to my car. I drove to Kroger and attempted to create a trash bag windshield for the time being. As people looked at my struggle, I cried. I asked God to send someone to me. He sent a Samaritan, who did not exactly fix my window, but decided to be present in that moment.

I was only at GAP for a month. By the beginning of July, I found a full-time job at Star of Hope. Even that was chaotic. I did not know exactly what I was supposed to be doing with the teens, but I knew their constant fighting was not it. In time, the teens who made my time there hellacious left, two amazing men came, and work became a safe haven. I would work late because, I knew my office and my car were the only places of true solitude that I had.

I between, those days, and now are a blur. Again, some days stood out more than others did. Twice I slept in my car, once in August and again in September. I had my first intense interaction with the police. I almost watched a teen get tazered. I lived on couches and daybeds and mattresses in living rooms. I contemplated walking away from religion (on multiply occasions). I liked several dudes and cried multiple times.

However, I am now able to look back at my experiences last year and see the merely a fraction of the ways in which God has been glorified in it. And that’s what this post is honestly about. It is about giving God glory and given (wo)men thanks.

Working at Star of Hope has been one of the most complex blessings I have experienced. Not because I am the blessing, but because I have been blessed by those who live here. In my first 3 months, the loveliest times I had were in moments where I shared with parents of teens my housing struggles. In response, they prayed for me. It was absurd at times to think that a meeting about their child getting a written warning would end with us praying for one another. It reminds me that those who believe in Christ and have a relationship with Him are not just guests, but they are my family in Christ. A family who keeps me accountable and lifted in prayer.

In addition, in experiencing a season of displacement and at times homelessness, I believe it gives me a way to empathize with people at Star of Hope. In moments of deep depravity, I would stare at my purity ring. I would contemplate taking it off for the night and trading my virginity for a bed in a room with a door that I could close. That is the story of many homeless women, but especially mothers. I never went through with it, but that is a testimony of God’s grace and my weakness.

I desire reconciliation with my former workplace. Mostly, because I love them still. Even the people who fired me I love them and I am grateful to them. I am grateful for 18 months of motherhood. I am grateful for all the lessons I have learned through them. I am most grateful because working there stretched me to love my teens at Star of Hope. I don’t love perfectly. There are days, I get in my car and sigh and acknowledge that I hurt one of my teens. I replay moments when I yelled when I could have been understanding. I see condescending remarks rather than kind words. There are days where I am selfish with my time and spend more time alone than with them, but I love them. I love them when they are annoying. I love them when they fight. I love them when they are disrespectful. I love them when they don’t like me. I love them for where they are. I love them because; I see God’s creativity in them. I love them because they remain strong, but open. I love them because, I don’t think I couldn’t. I love them with their flaws, while in trouble, and in the midst of meeting in my office. I love them without condition. I love them as a youth minister, a sister, a parent, a mentor, and hopefully like Christ.

I hope they know as I challenge them that I love them. With every small thing I point out, I desire for them to know it is not about criticism, but about preparing them to be ready when God calls them to follow Him fully. Like my kids at Casa, I cannot save them, but I believe that there is a God in heaven who can. I believe God can redeem the years of pain they experienced and make them whole. He has already begun redeeming my year and me.

I think that is what this post is about. While last year brought pain, which I still am working through. If it is what brought me here, with my teens at Star of Hope. Then the sleepless nights, the crying, the fear, the pain, the rejection are all worth it.

God, I have never been more scared than last year. I have never questioned You more than last year. I have never been closer than walking away from You than last year. Forgive me. It seems easy to appear strong after a season of sorrow, but you have shown me how weak I am. I am a house made of sand and when a storm came, I drifted. Lord, it was only Your hand that preserved me. Last year should have  destroyed me. If it were not for Your protection, I would have been consumed.

Even now, as I look to Good Friday, I am humbled that You would stoop so low to experience this world in all of its sin and destruction. You saved me. You save me. Why does You love me? I am unrighteous. I am a sinner, but You call me Yours.

God. I am so sorry. I trust You. Let me be a light for Your kingdom. Open my capacity to love You more. So, I can love my teens more. Even now, minister to their hearts. Break down the strongholds that keep them from You. Holy Spirit, You are so much bigger than our present problems. Help us.

Finally, Lord I want to express my love for You. There is no one like you. You are God. You live outside of space and time and my logic and reason. You are my Father. You have been a good Father to me. You have cared for me as a daughter. Where my earthly father falls short, You perfect in your love. You are my Savior. Before, I knew I needed You, You saved me. I have no fear because, You are the one in which I place my trust. You are my Guide. You show me the way I should go. I trust You. I adore You. I love You.

Let me bring honor to Your Name.

“Come, let us return to the LordHe has torn us to pieces; now he will heal us. He has injured us; now he will bandage our wounds. In just a short time he will restore us, so that we may live in his presence. Oh, that we might know the LordLet us press on to know him. He will respond to us as surely as the arrival of dawn or the coming of rains in early spring.” Hosea 6:1-3

In Christ’s beautiful name,

Amen

spotify:user:127182441:playlist:7s5hSuIgDp6l7pgBqn8qHu

Father Who Art on Earth

No matter where you lie on the feminism spectrum, from a bra burner to Mrs. Cleaver, there is something in women that gnaws for the affection of their father. I attended a wedding on Friday. It was beautiful. Many moments in the evening took my breath away, but only one made me shed a tear. It was when the bride danced with her father.

I forgive my father for what he has done to me and my family. I forgive him because God did that for me. I don’t even hold him accountable to me for what he did. I have (forcefully) surrendered it all to God. What do I do with these desires for a father though? I have never danced with my dad before. I don’t rest my head on his shoulder. I don’t – and never had – someone to teach me how I deserve to be treated, loved, heard. Forgiveness doesn’t wash those feelings away. Is part of forgiving my dad accepting that I have lost a father?

I know I should go to God for everything, but how does God give me those memories. Perhaps, I will never have them physically. Maybe all those moments are spiritual moments I have with God. In prayer, when I am without words, I tilt my head back and look up to heaven. Other times, I will have a worship song playing and will dance. I am dancing with my Father.

So much of the way I am is because of my father. I don’t date at all. I could say that I think a man is handsome, but I will never ever approach him. I dread getting my heart broken. I want to avoid that experience as many times as possible. Also, growing up with an unfit father, I have dealt with a warped and hateful attitude towards men. I wanted to use them. I want them to know a woman’s pain. Sometime’s I wanted them to use me. I let them use me sometimes. I felt so poorly about myself in relation to men, that I would settle simply for a guy to acknowledge me. Sadly, even if it was an insult to my body, my morals, my beliefs, or my intelligence. I hate them sometimes for no reason. I question them unrelentingly and attempt to make them feel as small as I have felt.

My father has made me feel so insignificant sometimes. I am a trophy in my personal triumphs; I am a whipping post for all his failures. I have not reconciled with him. I have forgiven him. He does not see the error in his ways. What makes it more difficult is that he is a proclaimed Christian. How can two Christians see two different Christs? How can this man know the Bible and not love his family like Christ loved the church? Is it terrible, that I want to stop at forgiveness? I don’t want to reconcile to him, because I don’t really love him anymore. I don’t love him as his daughter. I strive to love him with Christ’s love, but most days I am indifferent. I already know the answer to the last question. Christ’s blood allowed for our forgiveness, but his Resurrection is the way for my reconciliation back to God. If such great lengths could occur for reconciliation, what else can I do, but reconcile with my father…these are the moments when being a Christian is difficult. Let me write on something less emotionally grueling.

I rarely drink at all. After some time it becomes easy to avoid a drink, but I remember contemplating getting wasted once. It was after my father kicked me out of the house. I wanted to feel nothing. I didn’t want joy or sorrow. I just wanted to feel void. I wanted to feel empty and purge all the emotions I had. My dad didn’t deserve my tears. I don’t drink though. I knew if I did it once, I would like it. I would like not feeling like myself for a while. I would like not having to remember my father and his failures. I wouldn’t have to remember my blood father hated me enough to kick me out.  However, what I forget in those moments can haunt me double as I fall into sobriety. Being emotionally prone, I set stipulations on when I drink. I need to be emotionally stable. I don’t need to feel pressured. I only drink with one or two other people with me. I have set up these guardrails, because any other way would lead to destruction.

I still have a long way to go with my dad, but thank you Jesus I am so much further than where I was.