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 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.

Unconditional Love….

I have been letting these words roll around in my head…and I’m finally ready to let them go.

In recent days, I have had a chance to stare love right in the face, and make a decision.  I am not an over or under lover. I love unconditionally.

For the first time, I understand that. For the first time, I know that everyone else does not have that same understanding.

This is a lesson that I learned over time, one cemented from me in a moment where I could have had all rights to cry, curse, complain, and disavow  a love that I have nurtured. In past times, I have loved despite distance, misunderstandings, lack of communication, and feeling hurt. That love was not a gentle love. I said things I could have said better, or things I shouldn’t have said at all as reaction to being hurt in the moment. I didn’t say things for fear of looking weak, or stupid. I walled up my defenses for fear of being seen as gullible and because lashing out let me strike the last blow or get the last hurt. I mastered appearing nonchalant and being nonplussed in the moment. I know now that those situations had divine purpose.

Recently, I have had conversations with the people I love about love. Conversations that helped me recognize the defenses I had mounted and conversations that made me realize that I no longer saw love as a battle or a prize to be won. I now see love as a way of being . Unconditional love doesn’t threaten to leave when things get tough, it recognizes mounted defenses and breaks past them to get to the root of the matter. Unconditional love recognizes when a fear of vulnerability, a fear of being found wanting, a fear of being seen as imperfect inspires deflection for fear of being seen in the naked light of the truth and being judged. Being able to love unconditionally allows for recognition of conditional love.

Conditional love is learned. When children feel that their parents love them for their accomplishments, they learn to love conditionally. When parents guilt try to make their children fit in a mold of who they want them to be, children who strive to fit the mold and hide and forsake parts of themselves learn to love conditionally. When children feel that one child is valued over the rest of their siblings for academic or athletic prowess, they learn to love conditionally. In a child’s understanding, they are the center of the world. Though children are inherently wise and innocent that child’s action -or inaction- can create new wisdom that makes that innate wisdom a lie. A child whose parents messily  divorce may strive to keep peace by being a model child, at which point being a model child can become viewed as the condition of their parents’ love, especially if doing so helps to maintain the peace. A child whose parents turn a childhood pastime into a means through which a child will repay the parents’ sacrifice, the child’s excellence in that pastime can becomes viewed as a condition of love. That view can become reinforced if the parents shift their attention to a child -and that can be a sibling, a cousin, or a stranger- whose star is on the rise when that child disappoints by losing interest or becoming injured. Parents who do not clarify that these interests and behaviors are a mere bonus to the love that the they have for the child simply because they were born to them set the stage to creating adults who only love conditionally.

Conditional Lovers are shocked to the core when they meet unconditional lovers, especially after a lifetime of feeling they they are loved conditionally. In adulthood, we meet them as men who cannot commit to women without feeling like they can financially provide for them. We meet them as men who would play on the fringes of love and
love women with their bodies instead of with their hearts. We meet them as women who do understand love as physical or emotional abuse. We meet them as women who would take pretty baubles over emotional support. Both fear and misunderstanding prevent them from being vulnerable and allowing a partner to see their true selves, because the first love they had ever known may not have been open to or allowed them to see that the true self is worth knowing, cultivating, and loving.

The beautiful thing is that no man, woman, or child is sentenced to love conditionally for a lifetime. Any one who has the courage to develop, explore, or share their most secret self can be gifted with and gift others with unconditional love.

The journey to unconditional love is not an easy one, but it is certainly one worth taking.

 

How it make you feel…

I used to celebrate the fact that there wasn’t one person I knew who knew all of me. I learned to compartmentalize myself to stop people from being able to use my insecurities or vulnerabilities to hurt me. Rather than sharing, I would focus on the issues, complaints, concerns, or celebration of the other party I was speaking to.

Then I realized there isn’t a person alive who can say one person knows all of them.

As I step into a season wherein I embrace transparency, I am finding achieving balance difficult.  I have found myself looking for a spark of recognition in the faces of all the men I meet . I have been looking for a reflection of who I want myself to be. As yet, I have yet to see a flicker.

I have always said that patience is not a virtue I own, but I have always meant it in the context of myself and my relationships.  I was impatient with my own growth. If I felt like I understood the lesson intellectually, I wanted to be the change. If I had a different perspective of a problem than all the people around me, I wanted them to hop on the solution I had found. If I identified a need for a change in my relationship, I wanted my partner to change TODAY.  When I decided I could have a forever partner, I was looking for him in the daytime with a flashlight, and hoped he was doing the same. While I can’t say that those desires are a thing of my past, I can say I have found a new peace in the meantime.

A friend told me that in the journey from where/who you were to where you are going/who you are becoming, grace lies in the middle. While the words gave me comfort at the time because I knew that grace was the walk/leap of faith you take while you make the transition, I realized that my expectation of what grace would feel like was wrong.  I thought grace would be synchronistic events that gave me hope and comfort. I thought grace would be support in a form I wanted to see it in. I thought grace would be a chain reaction in which I could see things moving forward slowly but surely. I thought grace would be what kept me going.

It turns out that grace is a stern talking to from a friend. Grace is a day or a number of days where I can say I can relate to the world around me in living color instead of in black and white. Grace is being able to choose a direction when no compass exists. Grace is finding a way to tune into the messages that the universe sends me and to act on the flashes of inspiration and insight I get. Grace is accepting the fact that I know what recognition from a partner feels like, and detaching from my expectations of how and when my partner takes shape. Grace is affirming that I can love without fear, that love and peace are my way of life, and that I in myself am enough and walking confidently in that truth. Grace is waking up with the realization that I don’t have to search every face I see for recognition, because real recognizes real and God’s timing is perfect.

Grace is a balancing act on a course that winds, widens, and flattens out in a timing that no man knows.  I am grateful that I am supported.

 

Why is Cam Newton so Polarized?

Sally Jenkins wrote an article that some viewed as tear down of an amazing athlete. I read it and thought it was a love letter.

Cam Newton is brilliant, beautiful, feared and misunderstood because he is walking unapologetically in his purpose.  Since he was a young boy, he knew that he was destined to walk the path he is now walking. He walked that path, with a confidence that some people mistakenly describe as arrogance. According to this prayer, Cam Newton has never tried to be anyone but himself. In a world where fear of what might or might not happen deters some people from pursuing their dreams, Cam Newton has boldly set out to realize his vision.

While I won’t negate the role that race might play in the criticisms against Cam, I daresay the fact that Cam Newton has not faltered in his belief in his dream despite statistics that would have suggested otherwise has been huge. Cam Newton affirmed himself and laid the groundwork for the position he sits in today. The same people who once labeled Cam a Diva can’t help but give credit where credit is due. Cam walked toward his goal relentlessly and fearlessly. Cam Newton told reporters he would be a great, and this year, he has been. In the face of all naysayers, Cam is poised to become to the first quarterback to win a Heisman Trophy, a collegiate football championship, an NFL MVP and a Superbowl.

What I noted highlighted Sally’s article was despite the fact she criticized him for being arrogant, and egotistical, there was an underlying theme of admiration. Cam walking confidently in his Truth scares people, and fear makes people uncomfortable.  This Black quarterback who has been himself unapologetically throughout his career and has become exactly what he told them he would be is scary, particularly when there has been so much pressure for him to “tone it down” and toe the line. That fear is based in the recognition of someone who acknowledges his gift, and understands the road to achieve his goal may be have bumps along the way.  What they don’t understand is that a roadblock is not a failure; it can either deter you from achieving a goal or renew you tenacity. What they don’t grasp is that we all have a choice, and that God don’t make no mistakes.

Some people have decried Cam Newton as an improper role model for dancing in the end zone and playing a enjoying himself while playing a position that traditionally has more stoic players.  I can’t think of a better role model for anyone than a man who smiles through adversity, does a job he loves and who is walking steadfastly and faithfully toward his dream. I hope that I get to watch Cam Newton make history today. If I don’t, since I know that Cam is walking in his purpose, I have no doubt he will one day.

 

Dab on ’em Cam.

What would you release to attain the things you desire?

I got chewed out a couple days ago.

Thoroughly.

While I didn’t agree with everything that was said, the conversation spurred me into action…and reflection.

I have written a lot on this blog about synchronicity, knowing that God doesn’t bring you situations, places, or people by mistake. As well as I know that, I need to be reminded every once in a while. Sometimes I get a text or read a tweet that speaks to me. Sometimes someone speaks a word to my life. The journey that I am on at present has felt like nothing less than a roller coaster I can’t get off of.

I have been fiercely independent my whole life. While that is a trait that I wear as a badge of honor, I now realize that this ferocity is one that should be tamed. I recently decided that I wanted and could have a partner. Though I have dated with the best of intentions, I can look back on the ways I didn’t, or couldn’t open up all the way.  I think of the times I refused a kind offer for no other reason than “I got it” came out of my mouth reflexively. I think of the times I carried a burden I never shared because I didn’t know what sharing it would look like. I think of the times I got pissed of because I wasn’t asked how I was doing when I’m not sure I would have answered honestly.

Matthew 7:7 says “Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you”. What it doesn’t say is that you need to be willing to do the work to get what you ask for.

Recently, I have been confronting my own definition of femininity. If conventional definitions suggest softness, I’ve never quite found myself in alignment with that. While  I am certainly capable of great softness, the way my tact is set up….my love sometimes feels tough. I want you to know the truth as I see it, and I want you to know it in a way that precludes misunderstanding. Will I tell you if I don’t think we should date? Have I suggested breakup sex when someone’s change didn’t come quickly enough for me? Absolutely. Unapologetically. If women are the illogical, emotional sex, I spit the real rap raw with no emotions involved….and shared my emotionality with the friends I trust. I didn’t show that I was angry when a request was unanswered or when he showed up late. I was unflustered, even if I was hurt.

What I’m learning, though, is that I just because I have done that before doesn’t mean I have to continue to do that. If I consider myself a War Goddess who is ever-ready for battle, I cut first, I cut deeply, and I cut last. What I realize now is that if I cut everyone down, there is no one left to stand up next to me. Cutting everyone down is a way to run from myself and my vulnerability. Rather than trusting someone else with my heart, I would build a fortress around it to save myself the hurt. Rather than trusting the journey, I would get out of the car and look wistfully down the road wondering what could have been. What I understand now is that there is honor and integrity in telling someone “I need you”, and that needing someone else does not diminish my independence. It highlights our interdependence. I can certainly do “bad all by myself”, but I’m at a point where doing it by myself feels lonely.

I want a partner. My journey to becoming the partner I want to be is filled with reminders about being transparent, allowing myself to be emotional. It means sharing my truest feelings. It means being as transparent as I expect my partner to be.   I want to become a general tactician instead of a defensive strategist. I know that this will not be without effort and a commitment to change on my part.

I have no idea what kind of man is a partner to a War Goddess, but I do know he doesn’t have to be a Warrior.

I can’t wait to find out.

 

 

 

An ode to those lives lost

I wasn’t sure I was gonna write about Ferguson.  Even as I am typing, I feel like I still won’t.

I have seen the posts on social media, watched some of the news coverage, spoken to family, friends, and police officers. One thing that is common throughout is a sense of hurt, and maybe even a sense of loss. Though many thought the election of a Black President said much about us become a post racial society, the deaths of Mike Brown, Eric Garner, Ezell Ford, and John Crawford III tell a different story.

I hurt as a Black Woman. It brings tears to my eyes to think about how these men could have been my father, brother, lover, cousin, uncle, or friend. More than that, I hurt as a human. It pains me to know how one life can have value over another, that people can try to justify a man’s death by the supposed content of his character or his life choices to that point. It pains me to know that some people can allows themselves to feel better about a young life gone too soon because he “might” have engaged in criminal activities. It pains me to know that people can gloss over the death of man by the hands of those who are sworn to “serve and protect” by diverting to discussions about Black on Black violence. It stings to know that social media and mainstream media are angling to make this a Black issue.

It isn’t.  It’s a human rights issue.

There is anger everywhere we turn. Some people are angry at the President for not doing more. Some people are angry at the celebrities who are going down to show face in solidarity. Some people are angry at the ones who aren’t. Some people are angry there isn’t a clear leader in this movement and belittle the efforts of the people who have come from all corners to show their support. Some people are angry at the twitter activism. Some people are angry as hell at the police not being policed, at the police for seeming serving and protecting at their whims and making justifications when they don’t. Some people are angry that their idyllic and bucolic world views have come crashing down. Some people are angry that people are attempting to make justifications that these men had to lose their lives for the greater good. Some people are angry that no one is trying to make any sense of these deaths at all.

All of that anger has a place and a purpose, because it allows us to check in with ourselves. When a death is senseless and sudden, no action or reaction seems quite good enough. None of this anger and no one’s actions are going to replace the life lost. I do take pause with people saying that it offers no consolation to a grieving mother to be told that her son died for a cause. If not for a cause, then what? It can be really easy to shake one’s head at what you term senseless acts of violence and lose the person-hood of the life lost. What I do know is that we are poised to effect amazing change in the policing and even the political system. For all the people pointing at the life of Oscar Grant as an example of how the system fails us -which is not an opinion I share- how many of us are looking at the life of Benji Wilson, whose death was a precursor to legislation that stipulated that a trauma victim be taken to the nearest hospital with a trauma surgeon, despite location. What about Mike Brown’s death, a death that has prompted the Hawthorne, California mayor to mandate that all officers wear cameras? What about the deaths’ of all the civil rights leaders who helped us usher in an era where people could believe that we live in a post racial society.

We forget that anger turns into action. Despite the critiques we might have for the activism of this time, it seems we forget that our social media presence is a valid presence. It is a place where those of us who don’t have the inclination or the means to stand in the trenches can voice our opinions and have our voices heard. Do we forget how often breaking news is covered on twitter before we see it on any other mainstream source? We have an option that was not available to our forefathers, so I am glad to see we utilize every means available to have our messages heard. This availability means we hear consenting, dissenting and all other voices, but it also offers us another opportunity to dialogue if we are willing to use it.

I have had the opportunity to dialogue with an aspiring member of a police department. Even though his reactions initially made me very angry, they also made me very sad. His first response was “well, I can’t believe that he didn’t do anything to make them escalate” though he also said that training for police men covers escalation and de-escalation of force. He also made clear that “I am trying to make sure I make it home at night, so if it comes down to it, I will do what I have to do”. This same gentleman also admitted that he had been a victim of profiling more than once, but also reported being more aggressive with Black Men.  He also suggested we teach our sons and daughters what passive and active resistance.

I hurt for him and others like him who take the oath to protect and serve and learn that this service may not be equal to all man kind, though it should be. I hurt for people who believe so hard in that motto that they can’t believe that people who swear that oath can betray it. I hurt for people who forget that police officers are people first, people with conscious and unconscious biases that they play out in in their personal and professional lives.

 

Situations like theses remind us of the opportunities we have to change. If one person changes their mind about the importance of basic human rights for all despite color or creed, then change has come.