unconditional love

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. 

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Lent Prayer #1: Mammon Spirit

Today marks the beginning of gloom. The colors and sinfulness of Fat Tuesday have died, and we sit here amid consequences and penitence. Lent is fast becoming my favorite season in the liturgical calendar. I have privately sought the Lord. He has responded. As a means of accountability, I have decided to post daily prayers marking this journey into immense spiritual sorrow. If it be the Lord’s will journey with me, writing prayers of your own.

Father,
I have this mammon spirit seeking gain and control, working in opposition to the Gospel. In this season may its pervasive dominance in my life be diminished. As I seek Christ, may this heart be filled, to be poured out as an offering to the Lord and an act of love to humanity. 

In Christ’s Name through the Holy Spirit,

Amen. 

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My First Dance

“I try not to think about marriage too often” is one of the trite, silly, and Biblically misinformed ways in which single women are taught to cope with their singleness. However, there are some days in which my mind is so free that it wanders into a space where I contemplate these things.

As, I walked to my car after a long day of work, my mind was flooded with a simple scene from my potential wedding day…well more like a frame. There where many things I still cannot picture: my groom, the venue, a date and time, but the one thing I could not shake was our first dance.

I already know the song. I heard it a year ago and it symbolizes everything marriage truly is, while maintaining the tempo of a waltz. God has used partner dancing to teach me about relationships. It, ultimately, points back to Ephesians 5. Women are to respect their husbands. Men are to love their wives, sacrificing for her, considering her as his own body, and laying down his life for her.

With every crescendo, I see the little girl fantasy of my skirt twirling through the air. I can even envision my eyes gazing at him, with deeper affection and love than before. An affection and love, only he experiences. Most importantly, in this dance, I see how we are a magical, mysterious miracle, the Lord uniting us hand-in-hand.

In this moment, I realize the solution is not to disregard these feelings or trash them on the grounds of being heinous. But, to simply surrender them to the one who gave me them in the first place.

The Lord gives. The Lord takes away. Tonight, I thank Him for this small gift. Amen.

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.

 

Finding God where He has Always Been…

Lately, I have been consumed with this idea: “the Holy Spirit is always speaking, but it is on me to listen”. This came after an amazing conversation happened that could only be explained by God. This idea formed another thought that is far greater than anything I could fathom.

God is good. When, I say God is good, I am not utilizing the term the way we would describe a meal or a day or an action. God’s goodness is an entirely separate idea from what mankind believes good to be. When, I say God is good. I mean “the very essence of Him is good. He is goodness in its primary definition. His good and goodness is synonymous with Himself”. Meals are good, but high cholesterol foods are bad. A day can be good, but bad is happening somewhere. I can do good, but I also do bad. “There is no bad in Him. God is solely and wholly good. There is no bad after effect of God. His goodness does not wear like cloth.”  

God in His infinite majesty has declared that elements of His creation was “good”. Consider this, when God creates something and states that it is good, it is as if He is imputing His essence on it. Allow you mind to drift into the imagery of God speaking this world into existence, but the spark and beauty of the world coming to life as God in heaven declares it “good”. See, the things in which God has deemed as good through His Word will reflect His Goodness or serve as a symbol that points directly back to Him.

(1) Creation is the first thing God declares as good. Romans 1 explains how “God reveals His invisible attributes (eternal power and divine nature) through creation. I have a longstanding fascination with the expanse. One of the benefits of semi-chronic insomnia is watching my Father push back the darkness of night with the vast arrays of oranges, pinks, and blues giving way to the warmth of the day. Then, in the evening, they will bid their farewell to create a blank slate for the masterpiece to happen all over again.

If you allow yourself to get lost in this we are reminded of our size in this world. As stars fill the sky, they reflect God’s creation of us vast, expansive, typically hard to differentiate from one another. But, individual, lovely lesser lights reminding us and pointing us to the Greater Light.

It goes deeper than that though.

(2) Friendship is good. God has said it is good. Not simply because you have someone to spend time with. Friendship is good because of the difficult moments in our lives. The wisdom book, Ecclesiastes, gives us insight into this:

Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their labor: if either of them falls down, one can help the other up. But pity anyone who falls and has no one to help them up. Also, if two lie down together, they will keep warm. But how can one keep warm alone? Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves. A cord of three strands is not quickly broken.

We see God’s goodness not only in the physical realm of friendship, but in His relationship with us. In the beautiful narrative of Scripture. From the Fall (Genesis 3) onward humanity is known as an enemy of God. Defiant. Oppositional. Belligerent. Christ comes as a peace offering. He compels us into divine friendship with God. We are friends of God.  And friendship with a good God does not have a dark side. Even when it feels it.

…let’s go a bit deeper

(3) Marriage in the Christian faith is a religious symbol for Christ and His Bride, the church. Ephesians 5, talks about the responsibilities and roles of husbands and wives. However, Paul makes it clear that He is talking about the mystery of Christ and the church. Ya’ll why would I not want to share in this beautiful symbolism. Have you ever read Revelations 19? When Christ comes for His bride. It is beautiful. It makes Noah from The Notebook look like a joke.

I saw heaven standing open and there before me was a white horse, whose rider is called Faithful and True. With justice he judges and wages war. His eyes are like blazing fire, and on his head are many crowns. He has a name written on him that no one knows but he himself. He is dressed in a robe dipped in blood, and his name is the Word of God. The armies of heaven were following him, riding on white horses and dressed in fine linen, white and clean. Coming out of his mouth is a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations. “He will rule them with an iron scepter.” He treads the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God Almighty. On his robe and on his thigh he has this name written: KING OF KINGS AND LORD OF LORDS.

Chills. Marriage is a constant reminder of Christ’s redemptive and restorative work in His bride. It is a reminder of His return. 

The point of all of this is to serve as a reminder. God is near us. It is in those silent nights, with star filled skies, echoing the song of their Creator. It is in those warm embraces after a resolution, restoring friendship. It is in the marital covenant between two believers. Without God’s goodness in all these things, they are vapors faded into oblivion.

The grandiose beauty in finding goodness in this world, is in realizing that the evidence of His presence is all around us, and He is simply waiting for us to notice.

An Open Letter to My Husband

To My Mortal Companion…

During this season, the general yearning in my heart for you stirs and intensifies. I hope you feel this way for me. While I long for you, I am not waiting for you. Before you get all sensitive about my virginity and what not, relax. I am waiting, but that is more about God than you.

What I am saying, is “I am not idly waiting on you”.

I am not waiting on you for my life to begin. My life began twenty-five years ago. There has been joy and sorrow, stability and transition, fighting and peacemaking, logic and emotion, and people. Loads and loads of people. You are not my life. You are a major part of it, but not the sum of it. God authored my life. He is the one that dictates its beginning; as I said in the beginning of this paragraph it was 25 years ago.

I am not waiting for you to experience romance. This may sound weird, but I don’t think romance is limited for dating or married couples. In my head, I have these lavish ideas on how to surprise you and plan picnics for you and fun dinners to cook. I would love to do those things for you now, but I have friends who need to be romanced now. Who don’t need to wait to experience what it is like for someone to surprise them because it is a Tuesday or plan picnics for them. My hope is that I am sowing seeds in our marriage by doing this. I pray you have the thoughtfulness to be romantic.

I am not waiting on you to make me feel special. I never feel more special than when people surprise me with gifts. I love when people send me flowers on a Tuesday or write me a random note. I shouldn’t seek heavy external validation. Lately, I have wanted to be in a relationship so someone could affirm that I was special. How selfish is that? That’s not your job. God created me. God has imputed value on me, through Christ’s work on the cross. Now, all the talents and skills I have are directed towards Him being glorified. I am special.

I am not waiting on you to “complete me” or “fix me”. Allow me to make this super clear. YOU WILL NEVER “COMPLETE ME.” And despite what Coldplay says please don’t try to “fix me”. There is a deep brokenness in both of us. One of the delusions the enemy has utilized in relationships is: “dating people is about being completed”. God makes me whole. The Master Craftsman takes the toy who fell to bits and restores it. My hope is, when I enter into this relationship with you. I am further along in my restoration process.

I am not waiting on you to go on adventures with. Yeah, it is too late for that. I have been a foster mom. I have traveled. I have danced and danced. I have met people from across the world. I left my home. I have experienced a degree of homelessness. This goes to the first point. God writes the story, and He is the BEST author. Have you read the Bible? Eep, it is SO GOOD!

I am not waiting on you to make me feel loved. This is one of those harder truths to live out. I connect feeling loved to being chosen. There is something beautiful about two people actively and constantly agreeing on each other. If I can be frank with you, no one has chosen me. Randomly, I get this bitter sinking feeling of being unloved. God loves me. The more I learn of Him, the more loved I feel. Also, in His graciousness God gives me great friends who love me.

I am not waiting on you to create a home. Hospitality makes a house a home. Hospitality is outpouring of abundant love on others. Leading to an invitation into not only that persons personal space, but life. No where in Scripture does it say that hospitality is reserved for those in relationships.

I am not waiting on you to honor you and love you. I don’t do this perfectly yet. But it is important to me to practice honoring you now. You are worthy of my respect. Whether, I know you by name now or won’t for another 25 years, I do not want to harm our marriage presently or in the future. God authors stories and know them well. If marriage is in mine, then it is already a reality to Him and real to me.

There is a harshness to this letter. Allow me to call two things your attention. (1) If I don’t put the full weight on you to “complete me” or make me feel loved or to begin life with, it frees you from a burden that can only truly be accomplished by God. Listen, kiddo, I already love you (or at least the idea of you). The best thing I can do for our marriage is have a rightful view of God. (2) I would be brash to not share what I am waiting for. I am waiting to partner with you in a special way to do ministry. I am waiting to build a family with you. (Depending on God’s timing this may change. I already feel strongly about adopting kids). I am waiting to explore what romantic friendship looks like with you. I am waiting to hold your hand and rest my head on your shoulder. Friend, you are worth waiting for.

Anyways, I don’t write to you often. Which is for the best. However, I thought of you today and wrote.

Love You (flower)Bud,

Tose

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.