Redefining My Relationship With Religion

I have been very vocal about my disappointment and craggy relationship with religion and the concept of church over the past few years.  My generation is one of the first to take organized religion and church off of a pedestal and examine the structure and concept against what it has always stood for.    Many of us are struggling to reconcile the idealism that we grew up believing and the realization discovered from the critical analysis of an institution that has done so much damage to so many people.  This struggle has caused many within my generation to detach from religion, church, or any type of organized thinking that may be oppressive or controlling.  This generation refuses to simply accept the church for all of its good without discussing all of the bad.

Although I felt like I had found my dream church, I decided that I was not ready to be apart of that congregation because I needed to redefine my relationship with religion, or I would eventually be let down again.  So I stopped attending church and started working on my relationship with God.  I have always had a strong relationship with God and I learned to pray very early on in life.  I pray often, I pray hard, and I pray for myself, my family and many others.  I have read the Bible from front to back and have a good handle of the well used verses that preachers use to engage his/her parishioners with on a Sunday morning.  Despite all of this, I could not understand why I struggled with the things that were being yelled from the pulpit and the things that God was laying on my heart.  This is where my relationship needed more definition.

I have discussed this struggle with a few friends and received many different reactions and commentary.  I have a few friends who are just like me and would rather stay away because church is “not what it used to be.”  I have a few friends who are still into church and are able to separate those expectations from their relationship with that church.  Then there are the friends who go for the good and leave the bad right where it needs to be, with the person who brought that mess in.  I tried to decide if I was okay with being away from church forever and raising my son as a spiritualist or become more like one of the last two examples of friends I discussed.  This is what I have been contemplating gently over the past few months and strongly over the past few weeks.

I do not know how to become apart of something, yet be detached enough to not allow any mess within the church to bother me.  I do not know how to appreciate the good things of a church and leave the bad with the person that brought it to the table.  But my lesson was God saying that He wanted me to be myself and myself only.  If my desire is to be emotionally involved with a church, then that should be how I engage and involve myself in that ministry. But before he allowed my heart to desire being in fellowship in that environment, I had more redefinition of my relationship with religion and my relationship to go.

Growing up in a very religious household with my grandparents, my life revolved around church.  Everything we did and everywhere we went centered around what was going on at church.  All of my close friends were in church and we did everything together.  Church was our life.  Religion filled our ears and heads with rules to abide by and consequences that would follow if any of these rules were broken. Most of the consequences ended in going to hell, simply put.  So we did not pierce our ears, celebrate pagan holidays, wear pants to church, not wear stockings when wearing a dress, cut our hair, sit on the front row with our legs uncovered or any of the other rules that dominated our sect of Pentecostalism.  Now that I am free from the bondage of expectation, I realize that these words were a way to create normalcy but the issue was the attitude that came against anyone who violated these rules.

I look back at how my grandfather operated and I do not feel as if he was preaching condemnation but simply setting a standard.  Although I was young, I would listen to the sermons and try to comprehend what was being said.  I helped him with his sermons after he lost his sight and even heard one recently and yearned for his wisdom.  But many of the things that went on in that church while my grandfather pastored that church and even after he got sick and later passed, I learned of as an adult and that is what broke my spirit.  I was so angry that my eyes began to see many of the other terrible things that were going on in churches around the country.

I began to ask questions about other preachers in the pulpit like, “How can a man preach in the pulpit when he cheated on his wife?” or “How can a woman be condemned for having a baby out-of-wedlock but not a man?” or “What is so wrong about wearing earrings when people spend hundreds on gaudy suits and hats” or “How in the world is everyone going to hell if we all sin and fall short of the glory, yet only certain sinners are definitely going to hell?”  These questions plus so many more had me torn because I saw the church and the leaders within the church as ones who lived by the word of God.  I saw the church as a safe place and not one in which people were raped or molested.  I saw the church as a place that built people up, not tore them down for every mistake that they may have made.  I saw the church as a Supreme Being and not one created by man.  That is where I was getting it wrong. 

God revealed to me that the Church is just a body of believers who are trying to hear my voice and follow my word.  The Church is a place to worship and lay your burdens at the altar but also a place to learn from your mistakes.  The Church is a place where you replenish your soul through the word, fellowship, and service.  The Church is greater than anything one man could destroy alone by his acts, words, or sin.  Within these revelations I began to see for myself that I allowed others to make me believe that the church was equal to God.  That I wrongly believed that the Church was the only way to get to God even though I knew I knew him for myself and had a strong relationship with God outside of church.

I know that if something is for you, it is for you and you alone, but if you are not prepared to receive it or use it for the right purposes, that individualized blessing will pass you and be given to someone else.  Missed opportunities.  And NOW for me going to church is simply an opportunity to affirm what God has already spoken to me.  It is not the only opportunity, but one that is organized and built around this convoluted concept of religion.  The purity of my relationship does not depend on the purity of the leadership of a church.  But when I feel that I am not being fed, God’s word is not being affirmed, or I am too distracted by the darkness of a church leadership then that is not the place for me to worship.

Church is simply an opportunity.  If you do not seize the opportunity to fellowship, it does not mean that you do not know God, that you are any less of a Christian (insert any religion), or that you are missing out on what God has for you.  What is for you, is for you and God will get it to you through a pastor, a friend, an article, a song or by any means necessary.  That is how He works.  I have chosen to not be apart of any structure that does not build me up or support my current relationship with God.  I have chosen to take opportunities to affirm what God has already placed on my mind and heart.  I have chosen to be myself and when I can no longer be myself in that ministry, to search for another place of worship.

I know that God has a calling on my life.  I do not think it is to stand in a pulpit and preach a word but I know that it is to spread His word.  I understand that no matter how far I run from religion or church that I cannot run from God.  I believe that this generation will get back to the relationship and stray from the religion.  I want my son to experience the love and support of a church community that I have received over the years.  I promise to protect him from the evil within and to answer the questions that stir up some sort of doubt in his mind about what has been said to him from a religious leader or teacher.  I vow to approach this church thing differently so that no man can disappoint me and push me away from something I love.  I love to fellowship.  I love to worship.  I love to praise.  I am a church lady (as my friend often reminds me) and I can be that person without being caught up in who is delivering the word and more invested in what is being delivered through the word.

I am going to continue redefining my relationship with religion until I settle in a place where I am on a solid rock.  This is literally the beginning of a series of posts about my own struggles with my faith and reconciliation with what I have been taught and what I have learned or believe is truth.  I know many people won’t understand this post or agree and I can accept that, but for those who know that there has to be a change in the way we connect with those in this generation that seek God then I welcome your comments and opinions.

I will never stop walking this walk.  Who helps guide my walk may change but where I am going will not.  Be you.  Do you.  Tell your own story.  On your own terms.

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Believing I Am Beautiful

I remember being teased a lot for many different reasons.  I was teased for being a church girl, not having a perm, my hair being short, being dark, being chubby, not wearing the flyest clothes or having a boyfriend all the time.  Do not feel bad for me.  I did my fair share of teasing and it was not just in defense of myself, but as a way to mark my territory.  I was very good at hitting you where it hurt and laughing about it loudly in your face.  Despite being teased all through primary school, I think the words that always hurt the most were those that came from my father.

My father would say things like, “I hope you don’t think you are cute, because you are not?” or “You are so fat.” or “No one will ever want you.  You are going to turn out just like your crackhead mother.”  or  harsher words that cut much deeper and left internal scars that took years to heal.  Looking back at my pictures, I was actually pretty thin.  I was in ROTC and the marching band, which forced me to workout a lot and we never had a lot of food to eat, so it wasn’t like I over ate.  He said those things to hurt me and to control my perception of myself.  His words always stuck with me.  When I looked in the mirror I saw someone who was ugly, fat, and never good enough.

I was the late bloomer.  I was shaped like Taylor Swift my freshman year of high school but the following summer the Lord saw fit to allow me to blossom.  As I started to become more shapely, my father’s words became harsher and cut deeper.  By this time, my stepmother had moved back to Connecticut and I only had my girlfriends to help me get through these fragile years.  Thankfully, many of them had older sisters and their words of wisdom helped me to appreciate the young woman I was becoming ,but that only helped on a superficial level.  I understood that I was physically changing for the better but my self-esteem remained the same.  Low.  The foundation of your self-esteem is built at home and my home was filled with destructive words instead of words of love and power.

I never realized how hard I was on myself until my sophomore year of college.  I cannot pinpoint the moment or the exact set of events that led up to my epiphany, but I remember being in the car with my friend and she turned to me and said, “You look different.  You look very pretty.  I don’t know what it is but you look good.”  I remember that moment so vividly and I looked in the mirror and there wasn’t anything different about me except the fact that I had decided to just be happy.  I made the conscious decision to stop being so critical of myself and pointing out all of my flaws because I wasn’t going to change.  I learned to accept myself and find the beauty in my being.

My journey towards a happier me was slow and riddled with pitfalls, mistakes and setbacks.  I reached a pinnacle of happiness the year I prepared for my friend’s wedding.  I set a weight loss goal and focused on cleaner eating.  I worked hard at my job but I was also having the time of my life.  That year was amazing from start to finish and I vowed to only go higher from there.

When I look in the mirror I still notice my flaws but I don’t use them to deconstruct myself down to the studs.  I see an issue with my skin, I go and find a treatment regimen that will clear it up.  I don’t like how I look in my clothes, I prepare a workout regimen or set a running goal and stick with it.  If I am ever unhappy, I try to get to the root of the problem and deal with it accordingly.  This is the new me.  The me that arrived in 2005 and believed that I was beautiful because I am.

Our words changes lives.  Our words empowers.  Our words destroys.  Use your words wisely.  Build up yourself and those around you.  Be proud of who you are and work hard to be better each day.  Believe that you are beautiful.

Be you.  Do you.  Tell your own story.  On your own terms.

If I Listened to Society, I Would Have Never Succeeded

Children like me are not supposed to graduate from high school early.  They are not supposed to go to a great college or university.  They are not supposed to finish and get their dream job.  They are not supposed to get dissatisfied with their career and go back to a great college or university for a second degree.  They are supposed to have a baby out-of-wedlock but they are not supposed to marry their child’s father.  Children like me are not supposed to own a home, complete a second degree and have opportunities to choose from.

If I listened to society’s message about being black, motherless, fatherless, poor or a mother before I planned, I would have never succeeded.  If I listened to society’s message about the value of an education at HBCUs, I would have never fought to stay at Howard every semester and would not have went back to Howard, declining scholarship opportunities at other law schools.  If I listened to society’s message about balancing a family and your dreams, I would not be investing all of my free time into making my dreams turn into a reality.

Society has a way of shaming, demeaning and humiliating women, mothers, poor people, minorities, working parents, those who are not sexual conformists or sexual purists, and anyone who attempts to advocate or speak up for these groups.  The messages that are highlighted in mainstream media, backed by “policies” and shown through biased images oppress, silence and discredit these groups. The instant and ease of access to social media, video recording and outlets that connect millions of people together have only begun to shed light on the truth of who we really are and who we can become.

YouTube videos, blogs, Instagram and Twitter hashtags have connected people from different walks of life who have endured similar experiences.  These mediums have allowed us to see that many of us are more alike than we are different, that we are powerful and we are beautifully complex and interesting. We have been exposed to amazing people with unique backgrounds, survivors of horrendous crimes and minorities who are making a difference in their communities locally, nationally and internationally.   We are beginning to accept that poor people are not the enemy and breastfeeding in public should be supported and not shamed.  We are applauding working parents, stay-at-home moms and dads and those who chose to do what makes sense for their own families at that time.  We are beginning to accept that civil rights should be equally applied to everyone despite who they love.  We are respecting the talent and value of a person despite their sexual identity.

The exposure to the possibilities of life and the truth of our existence has transpired because we have stopped listening to society.  We have taken control of our stories, the images we consume and strengthened our power by rejecting the limited scenarios that we have been offered to choose from.  Our power is to be feared.  An open and aware mind cannot be controlled.

They said I would never make it.  They said I should not go to college.  They said I would not finish college.  They assumed I would never find a job.  They thought I would become like my mother.  They wished that I would give up.  They hoped I would stop believing. Their words, thoughts and wishes did not work against me because I did not listen to them. I have succeeded because I did not allow them to define my success.

Stop listening. Succeed.  Be you.  Do you.  Tell your own story.  On your own terms.

Shaming Victims Empowers Abusers

Today was an emotional day for all of the wrong reasons.  I caught wind of some statements made by Stephen A. Smith on his show First Take.  He and his co-host were covering the 2 game suspension of Ray Rice due to his highly publicized domestic violence incident with his wife. Despite very few people knowing the exact details of what occurred in the elevator, Mr. Smith decided to glide into the discussion of domestic violence.  His statements have been transcribed and the two-minute clip is easily accessible.

The words that hit me in my gut were “let’s make sure we don’t do anything to provoke wrong actions” and “And I think that just talking about what guys shouldn’t do, we got to also make sure that you can do your part to do whatever you can do to make, to try to make sure it doesn’t happen.” followed by  “we also have to make sure that we learn as much as we can about elements of provocation. “Not that there’s real provocation, but the elements of provocation, you got to make sure that you address them, because we’ve got to do is do what we can to try to prevent the situation from happening in any way.”

I immediately read the entire transcript of his statements again.  I stopped to think about what I just read and decided that there was no way this man could have said these words on national television, so I read the transcript a third, fourth and fifth time.  I wanted to be clear about what was said, the context in which his words were used and to affirm any disbelief that I had of these words being used against victims of domestic violence.

I am not here to discuss the scenario that these comments stemmed from or to discuss how many women “provoke” men to hit them.  I am here to simply say that these types of statements, made by powerful people with platforms, based on extremely complicated & damaging situations are overly simplified.  They are overly simplified by dismissing the severity of a man hitting, punching, slapping, grabbing, shaking, pushing or verbally abusing a woman.  It not only shames victims, but it empowers the abuser.  Everyone is clear on the old saying, keep your hands to yourself, but no one has the right to dismiss a persons uncontrolled temper as simply actions that were caused by someone provoking them.

I shared a piece of my own story of watching my mother being abused as a 2 year old and it took me to a place of pain, because I know a man who used to say that she provoked him.  That something as simple as not speaking loud enough, looking away from him or not being where he wanted you to be, when he wanted you to be there was what provoked him to leave a boot print in her back.  So when a man says that you should not provoke a man to abuse you, I ask how.  How can a woman not provoke a man who has already resolved to abusing her? To controlling her? To making sure she knows her place in this world and in his house? How can she avoid the abuse when she is not working and has children to feed? How can she avoid the abuse when she does not have any transportation to flee from her abuser? How can she stop the abuse when everyone around her is in denial and refuses to help her?

My own story is not one that I share alone, but one that was echoed by many women over my timeline.  This story was shared by men and the abuse their mothers endured.  Domestic violence has left many women dead.  Domestic violence has left many children motherless.  Domestic violence has damaged many people’s self-esteem, life and livelihood.  Domestic violence is not a casual conversation to be governed by a PSA from a sports newscaster.  Domestic violence is not a topic that can be simplified and a general band-aid placed on for your comfort.  Domestic violence is real.

As we speak women are enduring the abuse of a man.  As we speak someone is being murdered for attempting to leave their abuser.  As we speak the search for an abuser who left a child alone while he killed their mother is happening.  Everyday.  We hear the same story over and over, but somehow we come right back to pointing fingers at the victim.  She created this problem.  She stayed.  She is dumb.  She should have known.  She, the victim is not worthy of our empathy because clearly she provoked him.

I want to go so much deeper into my own story, but to wade in those very dark waters would take me to a place I am not ready to go to.  To all of the men that decided that verbally abusing me on Twitter would convince me that all women provoke men, know that I am unbothered and will not waver in standing up for victims of domestic violence.  If you know me, than you know I do not play.  If you do not know me, come for me when I did not send for you on a topic that is too real to me, and you will find out quickly that you cannot stand toe to toe with me on a topic I have experienced and can back up with numbers.

This is the beginning of a deeper conversation.  One that many of us are afraid to have because although the wounds are not visible, for many, they still remain.  To those who have endured abuse, survived abuse, know someone who may have even died, I pray for you and know that you cannot be silenced.

If you are a victim, you should not be ashamed.  Shame on your abuser. Be you.  Do you.  Tell your own story.  On your own terms.

 

 

Why Me?

This is the question I used to scream in the darkness of the night as I endured abuse, neglect and hunger.  The question I asked God right after my father would tell me that I would never be anything when I grew up or that I was fat, stupid or dumb.  A question that lingered every birthday, Christmas or major event my mother was never present at.  I used to ask this question time and again but I would only hear silence in response.  I never received an answer until I stopped asking.

I asked Why Me while in pain and many times while experiencing joy.  I never felt that I should be where I was, good or bad.  I felt that I should be somewhere else, that this life was not my own, that I should not have to be going through this or too unworthy to be experiencing that.  But then one day I woke and stopped asking Why Me and started to live in the moment.  I stopped feeling sorry for myself, I stopped apologizing for my past, present or future and I stopped feeling worthless.  I was supposed to endure and survive, I was supposed to excel and succeed, I was supposed to be an example to others.  Asking questions is great but your questions may prevent you from hearing the answer.

If you are not happy where you are, do not ask why me, but instead watch, listen and learn.  You are there for a reason, you are there for a lesson, and you are there for someone else.  So many have sacrificed their lives, livelihood and their safety so that we may be where we are today.  It is not an easy concept to accept but it is a truth we have to live, own and use to empower.  Instead of asking the Creator Why Me, ask yourself Why Me and you will see you are the only person prepared for the job.

I am using my past, pain and purpose to change the world. That is why he chose me because He knew I wouldn’t give up, I wouldn’t back down, and that I would take this world by storm! I only heard the answer when I stopped asking the question.  Be you.  Do you.  Live in your truth.  Tell your story.  On your own terms.

Grad 1

Dealing With Trauma

A few years ago I went through a series of really traumatizing incidents.  My sister gave me her car and the first day I was in DC with it, I went to a friend’s house and it was stolen with my new laptop inside.  It was found a few days later, completely destroyed.  A few months later someone tried to kidnap me while I was walking to work at 5 am on a quiet residential street in Maryland.  Then a few months after that incident, a child (14-16 year old) jumped into my car at a gas station in Maryland and stole my brand new car.  It was also found days later but I had already bought a new car.

Through this very tough time, I thought I was processing it all mostly because I talked about it frequently with friends and family, I kept pushing through the process and I had a positive outlook on the entire situation despite the judgment I received.  People were telling me I was cursed, that I should quit school and move back home or that I needed to atone for some unknown sin.

These are some really scary incidents that some people may deal with individually at some point in their life but together and back to back, it became exceptionally difficult to feel safe.  Who is my protector?  I am pushing through the pain, proclaiming I am still blessed, and staying prayed up yet I am subject to these attacks.  Even my own father told me that I deserved all that I was getting because I did not listen to him and decided to finish high school and go to college instead of following his plan, which is still unknown.

I had to withdraw from the noise and stop allowing people to one, blame me and two, shame me.  People will tell you that you deserved things that were clearly out of your control.  They will steal the victim card from you and make you out to be a villain.  If you internalize these things, your mind will begin to blame and shame yourself for the actions of others.  Yes, I had an older car and should have had a club steering wheel lock on.  Yes, I should not have gone to a gas station so late with my roommate.  Yes, I should have tried to take a safer route to work even if it took more time.  But even if I had done all of those things, life still would have happened.  Anything could have happened.

So many of us have dealt with or are currently dealing with some form of trauma: sexual abuse or assault, physical abuse or assault, mental abuse, sudden deaths in our families, personal illnesses or illness amongst close family members or friends, thoughts of suicide, drug abuse.  Do not take responsibility for things that are out of your control.  I blamed myself for being my father’s child, for deciding to move with him after growing up with my grandparents, and after staying when I should have ran away.  I blamed myself for being poor and deciding to go to college, for never being able to fully enjoy my experience, for not making wise financial decisions when I took out my loans.  I blamed myself for every attack that I went through during that period of time.  I replayed it in my head on how I could have done things differently, what I should have done differently, why I didn’t do things differently.  I blamed me and not the actual perpetrators who should have known better and who only targeted me because of my vulnerabilities.

Many of the traumas that we experience in life are inflicted onto us by others. Some of us do not even realize the extent of the trauma and endured it, or suppressed it  and many of us have never even healed from it.  The lack of healing causes us to drag much of the wrongly placed guilt and shame on ourselves into the future.  Although we may not be able to prevent every traumatic incident, we can take control and get help.  Seek professional counseling, avoid those who attempt to blame you, and release the guilt that comes with self-blaming.  We are powerful and resilient.  Our bodies continuously regenerate new cells that replace those old cells that help us to heal internally and externally.  Although the scar remains and the memory exists, the pain and past does not have to control our present or our future.

I share my story to let you now that the road is never easy.  We all go through somethings as we walk through this life’s journey but through it all you have to remain steadfast and unmovable because YOU WIN when you don’t give up.  I won. She, Me, Her WON. Get help. Start to heal.  Be blessed.  Be you. Do you. Live in your truth. Tell your story.  On your own terms.

 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=F7syiF3Qim4