relationships

Simple

I was in Seattle. I had found myself haphazardly sitting in a Mediterranean restaurant drinking mango lemonade. Reading Richard Foster’s Celebration of Discipline. It was the chapter titled, Simplicity. Life was not chaotic at the time, but it was regimented and oriented in a way that made me relentlessly busy. I felt the Lord breathe this phrase into my soul, “Live simply, love extravagantly”. It has stayed with me ever since.

I don’t think, I have pursued simplicity this past year as much as I have just decided it. Rather than fixing a car, that wanted to be broken, I took the bus. Rather than stay in one church, I left. Rather than maintain an active social life, I chose moments of solitude. I don’t regret these decisions. Simplicity is not easy, though it can be eased into. I have learned that when one peels away the busyness and superfluousness of life, there is a foundational depth desiring exploration.

There is something more wonderous being known by a handful of people than networking with hundred. There is something rich about waking up at 5am, just to embrace the last moments of the world being silent, before it pummels back into its chaos. There is something about lowered expectations for entertainment and leisure that makes a simple drive adventurous. Simplicity is grand. I don’t make these statement to condemn the networker or the late riser or the thrill seeker. I am just kind of blithering about.

There is another side to simplicity though. It can become isolating. Thematically, I have always struggled with loneliness. I remember prepubescent evenings in my basement room, bawling because I just didn’t feel like I could attach to people. I realize that in hindsight. This is exacerbated by the fact that, I would rather be alone than with people. But in this simplicity, I am left to contemplate my sorrow. I know, I am not fully alone, but there are desires for companionship that go unmet.

In the past Harvey season, I am continuing to live a simple life. I have relocated to a place where I don’t have my full wardrobe at my disposal. I have probably worn the same 25 articles of clothing repeatedly. I don’t need as much clothing as I think. I have no access to a kitchen on a daily basis, but there are simple meals, that don’t require stove tops or ovens. At the end of the night, the bed is not always the most comfortable, but somehow I find rest. Perhaps, God was preparing me a year ago.

Simplicity does make way for immense gratitude. Right now, I am in College Station. I cooked in a kitchen for the first time in about two months. I slept in a cushioned bed for the first time in 62 days. I soaked in a tub for the first time in 3 years. My room was completely dark bringing no light in. I was alone in all the best ways. In ways that were refreshing and healing.

I know I cannot stay here. I also don’t want to stay here. Simplicity is grounded in acceptance of reality. I will return to the bed that is uncomfy, kitchenless meals, standing showers, and limited clothing, but I will return with gratitude. Knowing this, God finds ways to provide simple things for me.

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Tuesday

Tuesdays begin early. Alarm ringing at 5:30am, telling me I have 30 minutes more of rest before I need to get up. School begins in an hour and a half. You know 7:00am is real early to discuss when the union between soul and body. I love it. By the time, my mind arrives my body is prepared. Theology was meant for the beginning of the day. To ponder and discuss the divine as light breaks the chill autumn morn. It’s a transcendent three hours. Where the mystery somehow gets revealed but all the more becomes more enigmatic.

Transitioning to the tiniest of spiritual formation groups. Lead by a girl who is spiritually disfigured. Hands inverted inward, spine distorted twisting, limping hobbit-like with two women who find me “insightful”. Constantly wondering, finding truth in the quote, God draws straight with crooked lines.” So crooked, I don’t know if I could be considered a line anymore. I’m trying to align myself with the One who sees straight, but it is hard to straighten what is twisted without breaking it. Two white women and one black woman talked about race. It was good. It makes me grateful for grace.

Time between school and work is minimal. Scurrying, my drive is mindless. I just begin composing my mental to-do list, while chatting with a friend. Drafting up conversations I will have with my staff. Dreaming up ways to change the world. Damning myself for my weight. Dropping the responsibility of caring about it this week.

Tip-toeing into the office, hiding from those who want to talk or task me with what is not mine. The youth floor is so self-contained. I don’t even know what goes on beneath me. I’m more aware of matters taking place elsewhere in the facility. Texting my Chick-fil-A order to a friend who loves me beyond what I deserve. Receiving her love and general presence was a gift. Once she left, the afternoon soared. Until it pummelled into having to find a lost student. We found him.

Tears flowed this evening, unexpectedly. Trying to reach a beautiful adolescent mother, who needed encouragement. I was never told my heart would be taffy in the hands of adolescents with strong hands. She trembled in my arms, tears falling out her eyes, torn hearted. I held her as my own. She is my daughter, browned and slight with glimmering eyes.

Tired, I refuse to stay late. I walk to my room and author this to commemorate a Tuesday. Thankful that it happened.

Solo Vacations

It only took a day for me to find out, I don’t vacation well.

I make hasty decisions. When I think back to adult decisions I have made, I have never spent more than 5 minutes before I have said yes. I know I should be a better Christian and “pray about it”, but God gives me wisdom and a gut feeling. My move to Texas, my car, and currently this vacation were rall decisions I made in less than 30 minutes. Most times, it pans out. I have now been in Texas for 5 years. I love my car. Sometimes though it doesn’t. Chicago is a struggle.

I came to Chicago for a Christian conference. Yesterday, I made it through the first general session and workshop. I walked to find something to eat. I settled in at Gino’s East for my first deep dish experience. Before my first bite of doughy, cheesy, meaty goodness, exhaustion hit me. And months of feelings and fears began to surface. Fortunately, a friend called me. I cried. I tried not to, but my tears escaped me…little bandits.

This is not my first time vacationing alone. I have been to London, Spain, Colorado, Portland, and Seattle alone. I revel in those memories. Walking the streets of London in the middle of the night. Driving haphazardly to Seattle. Prayer walking with a faithful dog named Lazarus in Divide, Colorado. This is the first time, I have been lonely while vacationing. No one should eat deep dish pizza alone. I want to experience life with a person. After lunch, I resigned to my room. In the building across from mine, people were living and moving and dancing and jumping. I lay on my bed. I didn’t go back until the next general session. I did the same today.

The only difference between yesterday and today is this. Today, I acknowledge I have run, filling my life with work and school. God will find me in my quiet resignation. I am uncomfortable being here. I am scared being here. I don’t like my withdrawal, but I can’t muster the will to engage. Luckily, God has always found people in the most random places.

Find me in the cave

Find me at the well

Find me in the river

Find me in the jail

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. 

Do Teenage White Females Understand Their Privilege?

Last Saturday, I went to Tout Suite to indulge in their infamous brunch and do some leisure reading. As I approached, four young white women stopped to take selfies, bare-shouldered and Birkenstocked. I stood patiently waiting for them to either finish or notice they were blocking me. Eventually, they politely let me pass. I walked into Tout Suite and was struck by the privilege I afforded them. One they didn’t even know they had. They had a luxury most minority girls don’t. In their aloofness and adolescent frivolity, they had been privileged with innocence. This innocence, that made them not a blockade, but just teens being teens. This innocence, that if something happened to them, they would automatically be victims. This innocence, that frees them to be nonspeculative of the world around them. It was a careless and free innocence.

I hadn’t ever noticed it before. I wasn’t angry or upset with these girls. As I settled into my book, I watched them. Lingering in front of the case of desserts, unaware of the line behind them. No one tempting to urge them or hurry them. They took selfies in front of everything. Older couples looked upon them and smiled. One spilled their drink, and several people stopped to help this damsel.

I don’t want to spend much more time discussing these 4 white adolescent females. I cannot speak on their assumed innocence. Rather, I was heartbroken for my own. I work with a predominantly African-American community. I spend a substantial amount of time with black girls. We talk. We laugh. We cry. We do each other’s hair. When I look at them they are innocent girls, but I know the world does not see them this way. Black girls don’t get the luxury of innocence. My girls get hyper-sexualized earlier. I don’t know if it is hitting puberty earlier or the commodifying language we use with black skin. All, I know you never hear anyone saying about little white girls, “Your skin is like a yummy dollop of mashed potatoes”, but there lives a level of impurity and “chocolate sinfulness” in a black girls’ skin.

Those 4 girls, were allowed to be free, and the world accommodated that.

Perhaps, history or society or a blend of the two has placed a filter on the innocence of the black girlhood. Recently, a study was released discussing the Erasure of Black Girls’ Childhood. It is a good read. It is pretty spot on. I agree not only based on my experiences but the experiences of my girls.

I don’t know where is post is meant to go. I have thought about this for a week. It makes me scared for black girls. Worse, if there is little innocence to be given to black girls. I cannot imagine the consequences for black women.

Actually, I can…

God help us.

Specified Lamenting

Sleep. Silence. Wake. Silence. Aldi. Silence. HEB. Silence. Clean. Silence.

A year ago my life was bursting with people. Busy was my normal pace. I packed in school and work and social obligations. I used busyness as a means of avoidance. I became hyper-productive. I still am. You can occasionally catch me in the office until 3 AM working on God-knows-what. Using the justification, it has to get done. People let me get away with it. I don’t really want them to, but everyone has their own busyness going on and I don’t feel the need to infringe.

People get into these rhythms. My weekend rhythm is empty most times. The peak of my excitement is the trip to the grocery stores. I go to Aldi and HEB. While standing in the checkout aisle (in Aldi), I longed for someone to share this rhythm with. I longed for someone to interrupt my rhythm with their own. I longed for a harmonious melody, where two sounds become one song, with seasons of discord of course, but one nonetheless. This thought carried to HEB. I stroll down the aisles mindlessly with tremendous amounts of time to waste, knowing I am only coming home to laundry and meal prep.

It gets exhausting telling God about your longings. I mean. We both know He already knows. Why does He even care to hear them? Why do I have to say them? Do, I even need to say them? Does God give me longings that will remain unmet? I think He does. Why would He do that? He is not cruel. I know He isn’t.

All the while, I hear the phantom whispers of well-meaning Christian singles and their leaders questioning my satisfaction and contentedness in the Lord. Stupid cliches about Jesus being their boyfriend or that they’re dating Jesus. Sarcastically, thinking in my head…“You don’t get to make out with Jesus like you would a human”. Then feeling condemned because positive female sexuality is not really a Wednesday night Bible study class offered in the church. Or people reminding me to live in a community that practices vulnerability. (insert eye roll). Maybe it’s not the community. Maybe it’s me.

I digress…

I don’t know, there was not really a point to all of this. I just felt these words ruminating in my mind over the course of two hours. And, I needed them to come out before I went to bed. Perhaps, I will find God in all of this. I am more hopeful that He finds me. I have not been searching for him. I am feeling a like the one lost sheep and really need my Shepherd to come along. I am a dumb creature, privy to falling off cliffs and being attacked. Please find me, Shepherd.

Words. Rest. Breathe. Rest. Post. Rest. Come rest.

(some)BODY

When I think of my body, the best I can do is not think aesthetically but functionally. If I keep myself concerned with the things my body can do, I never have to worry if it is pretty or beautiful or good. The problem with this is that there are some things my body cannot do. There have been many things people have said about bodies like mine. There are so many more things I have said about my own body.

Running is one of those things that I don’t expect my body to do. All, I can focus on is excess flesh just moving and how grotesque a sight that is for onlookers. Gravity becoming the immortal enemy of my physicality. If I am still enough, then I can maneuver around slowly enough for things to stay in place. It is all one big optical illusion of Spanx and slimwear and clothing in a size too big. It is weird to see the thoughts, I have displayed on a screen, but this is the reality where I reside.

From Tuesday to Wednesday, I had a case of insomnia. It wasn’t even that my mind was running. I literally just could not sleep. At 3:30am, I decided to go to the gym. Most times, I just walk on a treadmill, but in delirium, I decided to run. I ran for 5 minutes straight. I remained on the treadmill for 35 minutes and upon completion, I had run/walked a little over 2 miles. I hoped this would tire me out, but it only invigorated me. I did squats got in my car and departed, for a 4am drive through the city. By the time I arrived at work, I was tired enough to hide behind my desk for a 20-minute nap…..but I didn’t.

Today, I took a half day. I went to the gym and consciously decided, I was going to run. I began running for 7 minutes. At the end of 32 minutes, I had run/walked a little over 2 miles. 16-minute miles are nothing to brag about. In comparison to even the average runner (maybe walker), I am slow. BUT my body ran. It ran and it felt wonderful and it hurt. It is unfamiliar and fascinating.

I don’t really have goals or expectations for my body. I have worked towards a lifestyle that serves my body best. I have made some progress. I am hoping I can remain consistent. Today was just a day, where I just finished running, breathless and sweaty and smiled.

“Damn, I got some body.”