The thin line between Over and Underloving

I don’t know exactly when I put it on, but I took it off this week. I unfastened the strings as my neck and let my cape go wherever the wind carried it.

I feel lighter than I knew I could feel.

I can’t say that I think it is because of where I came from, but maybe more who I decided I wanted to be. I have seen and heard various iteration of the “crab in a bucket” idea. I didn’t want to be held back, I didn’t want to let people get pulled back in either. “Each one, teach one”, “charity starts at home” and other well meaning adages that underline our responsibility toward our race, or culture, ourselves, our family. For me, it  was always family first, because that is what we were taught.

Love meant picking up the slack, helping to make a way out of what appeared to be no way. Love meant slim pickings this month so someone else could live a little better. Love meant looking at money spend as an investment instead of as money squandered. I would sit and look at my budgets – budgets I had prepared for myself and budgets others had prepared for me- and could never quite figure out where the money went.

I wanted to be a cheerful giver. I gave and considered never considered the money a loan. I gave when I had to borrow for one bill, I gave when it hurt to “Thank you” and “I’ll pay you back”. I gave out of obligation, because no one else had it. I gave out of love, because love wanted me to pad the struggle however I could.  What I realized and wouldn’t admit to myself with the giving is that there was a pattern. That somehow, the gift had become an expectation; one I had for myself and one that was held for me.

I loosed that thang this week. I realized that love isn’t always padding the landing. Love can be letting the hard fall come, so that the loved one can have an opportunity to learn from the pain. Love is saying no when it hurts. Love is loving yourself first. Love is deciding to be your own damn hero instead of being Captain Save-A. Love is setting boundaries and meaning it. Love is knowing that a crisis may come, and that I don’t have to be part of the solution if it doesn’t make sense to. Love is letting people learn they are their own first line of defense. Love is being confident that once you teach a man how you fish he will figure out how to make his own catch, that he will tweak what you taught him to make it work for him. Love is knowing that what is meant to fly will fly.

Family Ties

My family means the world to me.

It and of itself, I don’t think that this statement is remarkable; because of the family I have, I think it is extraordinary.

I will spare sordid details, but suffice to say, my family has it’s dysfunctions just like any other family. Tales of colorism, step and half siblings, maybe babies, and questionable moral choices are present, but are certainly not what I would consider central. Instead, the fact that I was brought up to bring that my family is my safe haven in bad times -the people who have my back no matter what- are the first things that come to mind. Family is love in my book.

In a training today,  I asked a question about broaching difficult subject matter with family, and why a person might chose to remain silent instead of making waves.  Due to time constraints, I didn’t have the opportunity to talk about why that might be difficult…but I have a blog…so, I’ll unpack it here.

In reflecting on my family stories I realize another reason I have issue with conflict; conflict meant that people would stop talking to each other. I realize I have at least 5 cousins that I know little about after a falling out between our parents. Despite the fact that we were close -or that I felt close to them- our parents falling out meant we didn’t get to talk, that keeping in touch was no longer an option. That says nothing about a biological  parent whose family I have literally walked past in the street and not known. It says nothing about fallings out that predated me but were the lens through which other family members judged me and my attempts at closeness.

I have never been to a family reunion. Many of the elders in my family that could inspire us to get together and “play nice” have passed. I miss the camaraderie, I miss being able to sit at their feet and hear the stories of how my family came to be where they were, why despite our midwestern birth we had southern ways. I think of the number of family members that have left this earthly plane in the past year who- when I am caught up on their lives stories- I am surprised at how much I don’t know. I think of the trust, love and respect that I have hard earned from some family members that I could stand to lose. I think of going back to feeling like an island, of feeling like woman without her-story, and not being able to pass that richness to my children. As much as they mean to me, I’m not sure it’s a gamble I am willing to make. I’d rather take them as I come and explain to my children that loving  family  doesn’t mean I always agree with them, but I that I give them the space to be who they are. I’d rather explain to my children that homogeny doesn’t prepare them for the world they might live in, though working toward tolerance also means understanding that everyone doesn’t agree. I’d rather them learn to find similarity and rhythm in a cacophony of beliefs. I’d rather them them decide for themselves the value of being right and being effective. I would rather them make a choice on how to live based on the weight of the options presented. I would rather love my family for better and for worse.

 

On gratitude

I have to be coming into one of the most interesting seasons I have known in my life.

When I was younger, I was always afraid of accepting the kindness of others. Even my family. I had been burned by accepting gifts that I didn’t know came with conditions. Conditions that included them being brought up in heated moments. It made me leery of accepting anything that anyone offered me…except food.

My parents made us do chores in my house. We all had daily chores, and deep cleaning that meant washing down all of the baseboards of the house in the spring and right before we did our Christmas decorations. My mother always said “if something happens to us and you have to go live with someone else, I want you to be able to pull your own weight. I don’t want them to think you are burden”. I took that lesson to heart.

That lesson has probably played out in countless different ways in my life. I distinctly remember missing out on an all expenses paid trip to Hawaii that I said no to because I didn’t know how my parents would afford it and I was already living most weekends in the house of the family that offered it. I can think of the times that it played out in my romantic life, too, the times I wasn’t willing to admit I cared about a man for fear he might be too good to be true, the times I chose silence over making my needs known, the times I accepted less than what I knew I deserved to have a piece of something.

Sitting here writing this, I feel amazing blessed to know that this tide has turned. In this season, I went on a trip with 10 dollars to my name and trusted that I would be provided for. I told a man that what he was willing to give was probably enough for someone…but that that someone wasn’t me. I told somebody to “get the fuck out my car” after having tried nicely to say I was finished with the conversation and that I was not going to be bullied or cowed into continuing it. And I didn’t For the people who know me, that may or may not be surprising but that was a HUGE step for me. The biggest things though, what I would call the crown in my cap, is that I have stepped into a season of fearlessly asking for help.

I used to think it was pride that would stop me from asking for help. I know now that it was because I was afraid of burdening someone with my problems. I never wanted to take the food out of someone else’s house to put it into mine; not the food, not the gas, and damn sure not the rent. I am so grateful for having turned the corner, and so grateful for the beauty that is now showing up in my life.

As my dog is laying here curled up in the crook of my knee, I had to come back and edit this post. This dog came into my life when I was wondering about my ability to be selfless and showed me that I have the capacity in spades. He misses me when I’m gone. He had his head in my lap for most of the time I was typing this post. He randomly curls up in my lap, gives me a hug, steals a kiss, lays down ON me while I’m trying to do yoga or pushups or lays down with me any time I am on the floor. I have no idea what I did to deserve this kind of love…but I receive.

I changed my mind, and my life is changing. I can’t wait to see what is up the pike.

On Being a woman

We are all socialized beings. This socialization impacts the decisions we make in life, love, and relationships. We are influenced by the relationships we see, the religions or spiritual leanings we hold dear and the media we consume: written, auditory, and visual.

I am woman, and while I acknowledge that trying to speak for all women is a large undertaking, that won’t stop me from trying to do so here. Generally speaking, women are socialized to be nurturers and givers. We are taught to take care of home and hearth and taught that our goals, though they may also include occupational goals, should also include being someone’s mother and wife.We are taught that being anything other than feminine is generally an affront to society’s sensibilities. How we take on and fulfill these roles is also influenced by our individual personality, race, socioeconomic status and life experiences. Our definitions of femininity are influenced by the same.

The fulfillment of the roles in itself can be problematic, because it is likely that we get conflicting messages throughout our socialization. For those of us who are told that we can be anything we want to be, we are taken aback when people are surprised by our mechanical, scientific, mathematical, or athletic abilities.  Why is it that we would rather work on a car than cook a 5 course meal? Why would you work in hard labor when you could do a job that might keep your hands soft? Why would you take on a hard science major when you could work in the soft sciences or the arts?  Why do you have an interest in sports when you could be an interior decorator or a fashion designer? Faced with these seeming contradictions we have are all faced with navigating a world that questions our choices. Individually, we make decisions about how much we will conform, or if we conform at all.

If we chose not to conform, we might find ourselves wondering about our choice, especially when our lived experiences tell us we have chosen a harder road. Professionally, we might take the job in IT that makes us feel alive, but find that our day-to-day interactions make us reconsider the position. In predominately male environments, our contributions might be diminished, belittled, or that they are attributed to other males on our teams. We might find that we are paid less than male counterparts who contribute little more than male genitalia. Voicing our concerns might be viewed as an emotional outburst, no matter how eloquently they are voiced. Still, we might chose to fight through, and ultimately distinguish ourselves through hard work and perseverance in what might be correctly deemed  a hostile work environment.

In love or relationship, we might find ourselves fighting a different, but not less difficult battle. For those of us who have a religious background, we are taught that men are the head. Having both the confidence and the wisdom to ascertain that a man is worthy of the position, might cause our femininity to be called into questions. Having standards for them men we deal with might cause potential partners to tell us that we are “too much” or have them telling us our standards are too high. Voicing our concerns about the fit of our partner- a partner who values the fullness of the person we are- might result in well-intentioned advice that falls flat. Women are advised to resolve themselves to the infidelity of their partners, not realizing that making a single exception can result in infidelity becoming the rule, or an accepted practice in a relationship. Women who are advised to stay in relationships where men are physically or verbally abusive because “he is a good man” can end up severely emotionally scarred or dead. Women who are advised to stay in a relationship because a man looks good on paper can end up in feeling trapped because all of their emotional or physical needs are not met. Women who embrace their sexuality might be shamed, called promiscuous or worse because they are in touch with the things that give their body pleasure. As a result, we might decide to stay silent, hide or otherwise diminish ourselves to fit in a box that was never our own design.

In my mind, women are asked to die small deaths everyday. Some of us willingly throw ourselves on the knife to get and keep a man, while others of ourselves find ourselves making smaller, but impactful cuts. We might cut away at our truths by keeping silent about our intelligence. We might agree to just wanting to be casual to keep the company of a man when we desire life-long partnership and children. We might be coerced into ideologies about home, or sexual relationships we do not want. Some of us do so without so much as a peep, while others of us may dam our concerns behind a levy that cannot help but break. All of us have choice, and the choice itself is beautiful. In my mind, allowing the dam to break is the more beautiful choice, as it allows for rebirth and reincarnation. When we learn what we cannot tolerate, it makes us more able to appreciate a partner who appreciates us as we live in the fullness of ourselves. It makes it easier to say no to a partner that offers less than what you desire, makes it easier not to settle for less than we desire. It isn’t easy, it can be downright ugly in the process, but I’ll be damned if it isn’t worth it if we are willing to learn from our missteps, trust our intuition, and wait for the partner we deserve and desire. It’s a beautiful struggle, and I am grateful that it is mine.

What’s your function?

For the past 4 months, I have really been focusing on my purpose. I have dreams for myself, just like we all do, but I feel like I have been fighting an uphill battle to realize them.

I know I am not alone in this. My sister-friends, the people I follow on twitter and my coworkers have been working on the same thing.

I took a job a bit over a year ago, and it felt like a blessing. I wanted a change in my life. I am in healthcare, and while I found my job to be impactful, I found myself angry at the health care disparities I was facing daily. I hated that I had to fight to get visits for the patients who needed me most, while I could see patients who had plateaued for visits on end.  I wanted to move to a job that let me make a real difference, one that would let me see the difference I made day-to-day…and then I was presented with an opportunity.

I was blessed with a job I didn’t meet the qualifications for. I sat in 2-2.5 hour California gridlock to interview 4 times. I thanked God for the pay increase, and then I started.

I soon realized that the disparity was bigger than in the provision of care; the disparity extended to training the providers of care. I got angry about the money I wasn’t making, about the financial struggles I thought I had moved away from, about the difference I didn’t feel like I was making. I burst a blood vessel in my eye. I said “fuck this” more times than I could count. I quit in real life and in my mind to go back to what was comfortable, but I never fully pulled the trigger. I had the same conversation for what felt like a million times, about how I wasn’t valued, about how things weren’t changing. I took it to God, my mentors, my dad, and my trusted counselors….and still I stayed.

A friend/sister/Bf/trusted counselor reminded me recently that I was the devil in the details. Throughout, she has reminded me to take a breath, see it through, and pushed me to stretch, especially when it was most uncomfortable.

Reflecting on it, I realize that it was in my struggles that I found my purpose.

I personify the voice unheard, the story untold. I have the hard conversations. I hold the mirror to people’s faces when they would rather look way. I ask people to confront themselves: the time they feel they do or don’t have, the support they feel they are missing, the gaps between knowledge and application. I represent the path less taken, the unknown unknown, the jump between who you were, who you are, and who you are going to be. I have taken disdain, anger, pain, sadness, fear, and indignation and turned it into therapeutic tools. I bridged the gap between empowering and enabling. I have been silent when I wanted to shout to the mounts and stood my ground when other people would be silent because it is easy. I have chosen to be effective instead of being right. I have chosen to set the bar high when other people would accept mediocrity. I have asked for accountability when other people would accept excuses.

My job allows me to help people turn crutches into hurdles they can overcome. My job has allowed me to ask people to stretch beyond what they think is possible. In that, I have found my purpose. My job forces me to acknowledge -and to help others acknowledge- the grey in a world that is easier to digest in black and white. My job has helped me make square pegs pass through round holes. My job has helped me realize I vision I have for the program and the school I serve, as well as to navigate the loopholes that exist in the systems we work, play and live in.

The last year has reinforced for me that the detours we take along the way have meaning if we are willing to live in the moment. I realize that every step I take has prepared me for what is to come, and I am learning to find comfort in that even when things are hard. It is in the most difficult season that we learn the lesson if we are open. I realize that God answer our prayers in Divine Timing, even when it isn’t our timing. Especially then.

I have blogged about the ways that God instills divine Mastery, and my life, my journey, my path is a testament and my testimony to that. I see the ways that my experiences help me personify the voice, have the hard conversations, and bridge the gap. I would be lying if I said it wasn’t hard, but I’d be damned if I said it wasn’t worth it.

 

 

 

 

 

 

I’m going home

A friend challenged me to define home this evening. As I sat and pondered the question, I realized that I haven’t had a place to call home in a long time. I have lived in many places, but I always stopped just short of making a place my own. I bought art I never hung. I dreamed of color schemes I never applied to the wall. I never had a house-warming. I inhabited spaces, giving myself just enough creature comfort to be able to tolerate the space. I was always thinking about what I needed in place of what I had in order to make the space my own.

In considering what home is, I thought about all of the spaces I have visited that felt like they were someone else’s home. I found there were personal touches, that only got augmented as people’s tastes changed…really, as they changed. I found that people did the work -whether physical or mental- to reimagine a blank canvas into a masterpiece. In the more than 10 years I lived away from home, I have never undertaken that task.

Even in my childhood residence, my room was not my own. I always considered in borrowed space. I didn’t get to pick the furniture, the room setup or the design. I said yes to the designs that were presented to me. In times since, I have lived in borrowed spaces, spaces in which I didn’t have the control or the inclination to invest in.  I left the walls drab white. I didn’t put up pictures or paintings. I didn’t think about the touches that would make the space tell my story.

As I am on the verge of buying my own home,  the challenge was more than worthwhile. I no longer live in any of the cities that raised me, though I would posit the city in which I currently reside can account for remarkable growth: spiritual, personal, financial, and emotional. Still, the spaces I had occupied were drab. While I bought things that afforded me opportunities to work, cook, and sleep as I desired, they never expressed the me that I was nor the me that I am always becoming.

I sat and contemplated the question and thought about the feeling and I realized that home is love. I felt like I was home when I flew into Chicago an caught the first glimpse of the skyline. I felt like I was home when I got the first bite of a Polish Boy, a corned beef sandwich or started talking noise -shit- to my brothers and sisters. I felt like I was home when I felt love in and from my surroundings.

I realized that as I have been looking at properties I haven’t been considering the right things.  I looked at the price. I looked at the number of bedrooms and bathrooms. I looked the size of the closets.  I looked at the counter space in the kitchen. I looked at the size of the closets. I looked at the laundry space. I considered whether or not the backyard had enough space for my dog to run. The thing I never considered though, is whether I could love in the space. I didn’t consider whether or not I felt love in the space. I considered the space with my mind, and not my heart.

Now I’m looking for a marriage of the two.

A love story: not your ordinary love

I remember when I first met you…well, maybe not exact exactly when we met, but I remember what you were doing when you first stood out to me. I remember the group of us walking to the Subway. I was going back and forth with the loud one from New York, and you were there, observing. You told me later that you were going to write me off if I was impressed by the fast talking and the bravado. I remember being impressed by the fact that you laughed enough to be part of the interaction but that largely, you were taking stock of me.  I saw myself in you.

I remember when I started taking you seriously. I remember when I started listening closer when you waxed poetically about how in awe you were of me. How you made something little like holding my hand feel like a big deal. How you didn’t have a problem letting anyone know that if I would have you, you would be had. Happily. Unabashedly so. I remember that you had me looking at myself differently, that you made me realize that I wanted a man who made me feel like I was the only woman in the room no matter where we were or who we were with.  I saw myself in you.

I remember when I really saw you for the first time. The very first time we met, I remember telling a mutual acquaintance that you talked too much. He laughed. The second time we met, you got out of the car after driving for hours on no sleep and walked in my house in the wee hours of the morning and asked to marry me. On bended knee. In front of people that knew and loved me. I didn’t exactly take you seriously, but when I answered “maybe” I realized that I wanted to be asked. You said things to me that told you me you’d already decided I would be yours, if not for ever, then definitely for a time. Somehow, you managed to be chivalrous and mannish at the same time. Your words could build me up or knock me down, depending on your mood.  I saw myself in you.

I remember how you felt like home so QUICKLY.  I issued a flirty challenge and you accepted. We danced until the club closed…and everybody else had been ready to go. You let things move at my pace, though you also let me know that you let me have my way. We watched Netflix or Hulu or DVDs until I fell asleep. I would lay on your chest and you told me that I fit perfectly. You weighed your words; you didn’t talk much but when you did you said plenty. I saw myself in you.

You thought love could be bought. As I watched your pockets get deeper, I realized that. I also realized you weren’t sure of my price. You offered diamonds, vacations,  beautiful dresses, and the house of my dreams. Had I chosen you, I could have had those things, but I wouldn’t have had happiness…because that is all you thought to give. Though I did want those things, I wanted to earn them, I wanted to build with someone, I wanted someone who supported my dreams the way I supported theirs. I chose me.

You thought love was pretty words. You never ran out of them. I never though they weren’t sincere, I just realized that you chose words that supported the truth you believed in, instead of the Truth that was. I couldn’t live in your world, as beautiful as it was, because it had no depth.I wanted your pretty words, but pretty words could not conceal the fact that the world was burning down all around you. Your pretty words turned into silence when I asked about the Truths you could no longer hide. The silence was deafening. I chose me.

You thought love was machismo. You wanted to be the man, the head.You asked me about my God to make sure we were equally yoked. You quoted the Bible to me. At the same time, sex was equated with intimacy. In better times, we were lockstep. In worse times, doubt assailed you. I watched you become someone you had disparaged to me in other times. You brushed me off when I questioned your decisions. As much as I wanted a man to lead, I didn’t know how how to follow when I wasn’t sure of the destination. I chose me.

You thought love was a game. You were a gambler at heart. Your words were strategic. In the beginning, you could call and raise with the best of them. When the stakes got high and we started playing for keeps the game got interesting. I showed my hand, and you could talk strategy out loud, but you couldn’t quite decide to play or fold.   I got up from the table. I chose me.

Each “you” has brought me closer to me. When I looked at my mate- my mirror- and no longer saw a reflection of me I moved on. It wasn’t always clean. There were late night phone calls, texts, and emails asking what had happened to us. I realize now that I asked you a question you couldn’t answer. We grew apart because you had no idea who I had become. I wasn’t the same person I was when we met. I didn’t want the same things and I couldn’t force myself to be held to that same agreement.

I still love “you”.  I am eternally grateful for the knowledge that only you could give me. I now know me better so I love me better. To be continued…