Houston

Lenten Prayer #11: The Opposite of Regret

God, 

I speak so freely of my regrets: eating that third taco, not kissing Anthony, saying that hurtful phrase. But today, there are none. I don’t know what the opposite of regret is, but I’m glad it exists. I embrace the rest I took last night. I welcomed the early morning sun entering my room. I shared a final meal with a fantastic friend. I cared deeply about an animal but said no. I worked on my taxes. I laid in the spring sunshine. I read for school. 

I’m grateful for the opposite of regret. I didn’t even know it existed. Please give me more days where there are purpose and simplicity. 

In Christ by the Spirit, 

Amen

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Lenten Prayer #8: Body Shaming

I was diagnosed with Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS) at the age of 17. I never dealt with it. I have spoken about it with friends before, but for a long time, I just wished it away. I lived my life. I don’t overeat, but ate normally. As if my body would somehow just magically begin processing food normally. It doesn’t. I have been frustrated with my weight gain in mid-adulthood. I weighed myself on Friday at work. Three numbers on the screen. I quickly stepped down and recalibrated the scale. No one should see those numbers.

Shame infected me like food poisoning. I wanted to throw up. I was disgusted and nauseated. So much work has been done in the body positive movement, but I can’t feel positive about my body. I don’t. My shirt felt clingier than ever. Sticking to every pound of unprocessed meals from times before. I sat behind my desk most of the day. I began thinking of all the stupid things, I ate that week. I ate my lunch and wanted to vomit it back up. I loathed myself.

These feelings are not gone. However, I recognize this. Having PCOS is not my fault. I cannot control that. Not treating it for 10 years is my fault. I could have controlled that. I start Whole30 tomorrow for the 3rd or 4th time. Tomorrow though will be different. Tomorrow’s Whole30 begins with a complete transition into a Whole30 lifestyle. It is what my body needs. I don’t know if I care about the weight as much as I do about the shame associated with it. I don’t want to feel that shame anymore.

On my bedroom mirror, I wrote these words, “You have PCOS. Through diet, exercise, and the grace of God, you can be healed. Choose today to make wise food choices.”

Father, 

The work of Christ removes shame, right? I have so much. You know where it all lies. Currently, it sits within this broken body of mine. I have used humor and wry self-deprecation, willpower and diet plans, but nothing works. Shame comes when sin has occurred. Lord, I could justify why I didn’t do anything. Why I pretended not have a problem. You know those justifications before, I breathe them. Rather, I confess my negligence and ask forgiveness. Shame removal is a work of the Holy Spirit. Holy Spirit work. 

God, thank you for Your abundant Grace. You don’t see my weight or my shame as trivial, but they are of importance to You. Whole30 is just a diet, but I ask you would work on my from the inside-out. There is a brokenness in my heart about my body. Heal that brokenness. Help me become open to your healing. 

I humbly ask this, in the Name of the Risen Christ Jesus, through the Power of the Truthful Advocate, 

Amen

Race, Beauty, and Hope

The predominant culture suggests normative black features are not attractive. Because of this in the dating realm, black women finish dead last. OKCupid has a study affirming this. While, it is not explicitly stated: “men find black women unattractive”. My assumption is that they don’t. Rounded noses and darker skin are not particularly “in”. Full lips are currently “in” but as a trend. Like thick brows are “in”.

In the past seven days, I have had two conversations with a friend about race and beauty and attraction. They are hard conversations. Not only for the content, but we are distinguishable by both race and gender. Which is not bad, but often you have to explain things that may be inherent to a person who was black and/or a female. Though difficult, I find the conversations refreshing. I process things through them. This blog is not so much about the feelings of unattractiveness or the conversations had with my friend. However, both serve as a black drop to something significant that took place on a warm Saturday afternoon.

I was sitting my Houston mom’s hair salon playing with my cousins. Which is a sight. I’m an African-American and my mom and cousins are white. She takes a break from doing hair. I sit in the chair and my 12-year-old cousin begins pampering me with a massage. It was legit. My 9-year-old cousin comes over and begins to look at my hair. She politely asks if she can touch it.

“Yes. Thank you for asking.”

She continually says how soft and fluffy it is. Fascinated, she gets some Morrocan oil and places it on my hair. Over the course of the next 20 minutes, I have my shoulders and arms massaged, my hair oiled and brushed, and my looks affirmed in a really special way.

What makes this interaction so distinguishable from others, is that my sweet cousins whose skin is so much lighter than mine, think I am beautiful. Not for a black person, but as a person who God created. While, they are old enough to know we look different, there was not this elitism in them. I sit on the couch and my 9-year-old cousin snuggles up with me. She looks at my lips and calls them pretty.

I wish my lips were bigger like yours.” She pouts trying to make them bigger.

“I think your lips are perfect for the face God gave you.” 

The rest of our time is spent snuggling on the couch catching naps at 2 in the afternoon. I don’t know how these sweet children learned to love diversity at such a young age, but it gives me hope.

There is a coming day where there will be no narrative of black women being unattractive. Because our biased expressions and representations of beauty will disappear. Humanity will understand that our racial diversity, our various nose shapes and hair textures, our crooked smiles and pearly whites, our physical differences scream of a divine Creator who loves and revels in variety and in diversity. Who loves the porcelain skin of Scandinavians, the almond eyes of Asians, the raven black tresses of Native-Americans, the warm skin of Latinos, and the rounded noses of African people. I felt that hope today.

I felt that hope today.

It was beautiful.

People Over Things; God Over All

I drive home after purchasing running shorts from Old Navy. These shorts are a reward. I have been running for five weeks, three times a week. On Friday and Saturday, I saw roots from my labor. My average mile dropped significantly from the first time. My body adjusted. A desire to run was being birthed. I commemorated all of this with a pair of grey and pink running shorts, with a pocket.

I waited for the light to change. Like a movie, I predicted what was going to happen next. Seconds later it did. Two vehicles collided. I drove up. Parked my car.

“Ma’am, what emergency services do you require: police, fire, or medical?” 

“Police and medical”, my voice shaking, as I hold myself together.

Standing beside my car, I could see the driver’s blood and hair on the passenger’s window. The impact had flung him from his seat to the other side of the vehicle. I could see the windshield out of its frame. I could see the oil and coolant and antifreeze pouring from the car. I could see a female bystander applying pressure to the head of this man. I could see those napkins becoming soaked with blood as red and fresh as a bing cherry. As, I hung up the phone, I walked towards the scene.

“Ma’am, do you need some clean cloth?”

I walk back to the scene from my car with my shorts in hand, I pull the tag off.

“I know it’s weird, but these shorts are clean and sweat absorbent. They can help” 

My personal reward became cloth. As it always was. As it was always supposed to be. This man, bloodied and shocked, apologizes to me.

“I’m so sorry about your shorts. I will wash them and return them to you.”

“No. No. That [my shorts] is a thing. You are a person. You win.”

The title, of this post, comes from a mantra I have repeated for almost a year: “People over things; God over all”. As, that man apologized (and later his wife), I recognized my mantra is not shared with everyone.

Those shorts were probably created in a sweatshop with an exploited labor force. Their true value is $1.50. I purchased them for $15 and used a gift card. This man was spoken out by God. Birthed into a home with a mother and a father. He has a wife. He probably has a job. He is loved. He is desired. He is wanted. His value is incalculable. My shorts are not even worthy to be compared to his life. They are rubbish.

It’s not that I am against things. I love things. I love the flare of a dress as I twirl. I love long drives to unknown destinations. I love a good happy hour. However, I hope to never love these things more than people, whether they be strangers, acquaintances, friends, or family. And, if ever I do, I pray in God’s love for me, He would strip me off them until I remember it is all about Him and all about people.

 

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.

POP: Pride of Our Parents

I read Genesis 3 with new eyes. Often, as a child, the fall of man was taught with heavy focus on Adam and Eve’s disobedience. They ate from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil and they were cursed then cast out. Mmmmmm…..but there is more. God did punish them for their actions. It was not just the disobedience, but because disobedience fueled by a desire to be God.

(read aloud as if storytelling to a child)

Now the serpent was craftier than any of the wild animals the Lord God had made. He said to the woman, “Did God really say, ‘You must not eat from any tree in the garden’?” The woman said to the serpent, “We may eat fruit from the trees in the garden, but God did say, ‘You must not eat fruit from the tree that is in the middle of the garden, and you must not touch it, or you will die.’”“ You will not certainly die,” the serpent said to the woman. “For God knows that when you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” When the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and desirable for gaining wisdom, she took some and ate it. She also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it.

Eve refuses the first prompting and (incorrectly) corrects the serpent’s question. The serpent lies. In this lie, he creates a payout for her disobedience. The serpent tells her she will be like God. Motivated by pride, she and Adam succumb to temptation and eat the fruit.

And they all lived happily ever after.

Just kidding. Whether religious or pagan, we all know we don’t experience happily ever after. God strolls into Eden in the cool of the day, to find man and woman hiding themselves. Man and woman confess and blame shift. In perfect discipline, they are punished. In perfect grace, they are cast out of the garden.

As, I reflect on Satan’s Exile and Humanities Fall, I see parallels.

I have drawn some parallels from the first two exchanges God has with other beings.

  1. Both parties believed they deserved a higher position than assigned.
  2. Their prideful attitudes created folly in behavior.
  3. Both groups were discontent with their situation which stemmed from ingratitude. (especially since all was well in the world)
  4. Their pride lead to selfish decision-making.
  5. Both parties assumed they knew better than God.
  6. God will not be associated with pride even to the smallest degree.
  7. God deals swiftly with any attempt to usurp His rightful throne.
  8. God lays out punishment for pride.
  9. God does not take pride lightly.
  10. God does not take my pride lightly.

If God dealt so swiftly with the their pride. He is going to deal with mine.