A Heart For More

I did not want to stop eating chocolate. Then one day I did not work out, I also did not the following day. This turned into several weeks and then months. I also confess, I was bored with what I had done previously.

Just about eight years ago, I lost a lot of weight. I worked out twice a day, seven days a week (DO NOT DO THIS!). The weight came off so quickly that mentally I was not ready for my new body. I became obsessed about the number on the scale. Spending hours analyzing calculating my caloric intake and exercises.

I reached a point where I saw that all my efforts were going into maintaining this number that I wasn’t truly living my life. The reality of losing weight is that it not some magical formula to fixing oneself spiritually or mentally. It is so hard too because as I lost weight, so many people congratulated me on the effort. This approval was intoxicating to be honest. As I gained weight, part of me felt ashamed. That I had somehow let the people around me down.

There is this idea out there that healthy equals thin or fit looking. But the part that can get ignored is that a health is equally or more importantly internal. It has to do with my heart. When I lost all that physical weight, I placed my hope for Joy into my new body instead of Christ.

A few years later I did Whole 30, once I completed it there was no lasting change for me. It is a good system and I learned a lot but the reality is that it is a diet and not God. Earlier this Fall a friend reached out and asked if I would like to join a group of people from our church in doing the Daniel Fast. I said YES! without hesitation.

The Daniel Fast is a 21 day fast where ( in a similar fashion to Whole 30, food and drinks are restricted ). The difference is that the focus is not entirely on the food or losing weight (a by product of course) but in relying on the Lord. I participated because I knew if I tried another diet I would end up in the same place. Most of this year my prayer has been less of myself and more of Him.

In the 21 days I got to see that, I felt an internal change. I saw how much I relied on comfort foods and the habits I had developed without realizing it. There were some hard moments, day ten I wanted coffee so badly! There were a few times that I struggled to make it through the day.

I spent time in prayer and the book of Daniel. As I spent time learning more about Daniel, the more I learned that it was Daniel’s heart for God that sustained him throughout Daniel’s lifetime. That is what I desire, a heart for the Lord such as Daniel’s.

I have noticed a difference with my hunger, pre-fast, if I were hungry I would have to eat right away!!! During and post-Fast, I can deal with it until I can eat. While it is important that I exercise and eat well, it is more important to have a heart that desires more.

Lessons from When They See Us

Trigger warning, today’s post is about When They See Us. If you are not in a place to deal with this heavy topic I suggest you take a moment and come back to it later.

I knew peripherally about the case first known as The Central Park Jogger. I confess it was one of those cultural antidotes that I knew about but did not truly understand. Today, I know more thanks to the Netflix series and engaging in my own research into the case.

The series is more than another show. It’s a nuanced telling of how these children were not seen as such. They were given the moniker Central Park 5, convicted of the crime of rape. In 2002 the real perpetrator , Matias Reyes confessed to the crime. Their convictions were vacated.

In 2012 a documentary titled The Central Park 5 produced by Ken and Sarah Burns came out, which started the conversation. However their story was not fully seen until now thanks to Ava DuVernay and this series.

It’s the story of our country, the things we choose to look away from about our system of justice in order to be comfortable. The pain Yusef, Kevin, Raymond, Korey and Antron endured and still do today has finally been acknowledged.

How many other people are living with this same pain and don’t get their story out? Too many. The story of the powerful and the vulnerable plays out again and again in our communities.

The entire cast and crew did an exemplary job with this art. I’m grateful for these men now known as the Exonerated Five being so willing to tell their story. I watched it twice through and Episode four which focuses on Korey Wise’s miraculous survival three times. I didn’t want to miss a thing, the least I can do is watch, they had to live it.

The connection to Kalief Browder and his time in Rikers while awaiting trial for a charge cannot be ignored either. The two cases gave me chills at how much they echoed each other. The documentary about him is also available on Netflix, Time, The Kalief Browder Story.

It stayed with me for days. I spent hours researching the case on Google. I saw that this series was asking more of me than simply consumption.

It’s not enough to watch and be upset. It has asked me to question the narrative set before me. It asks me to be more engaged in my community, to know who are these prosecutors and judges that are often names on a ballot. It’s important to question the narrative the media puts out.

It has me asking how has my ignorance of these things contributed to injustice? How do I now going forward be a conduit for change? I’m not a lawyer or an expert on the penal system but I have learned enough that there needs to be change.

I’ve been expanding my book shelf this last year and a half, following activists on Twitter and To rethink what is justice. We need to listen to the truth, pay attention to what is being done with our tax dollars under the guise of justice and ask questions. The phrase don’t do the crime if you can’t do the time needs to eradicated. What I’ve learned is this, the justice system is not as cut and dry as I once believed.

So much pain has been caused to these men, as well as the victims of the real perpetrator. I’m grateful their convictions were vacated and they won a lawsuit against NYC and later New York State but it’s too bad it came after so much pain was endured. No amount of money will give them back their youth but I pray that they do get to have peace and healing.

When They See Us and the Oprah Special When They See Us Now is currently streaming on Netflix.

Here are some links to get started

The other survivors of Reyes

https://www.google.com/amp/s/www.thecut.com/amp/2019/06/the-attackers-other-victims-in-the-central-park-five-case.html

The connection between of Kailef Browder and Korey Wise cannot be ignored

https://www.nytimes.com/2019/01/24/nyregion/kalief-browder-settlement-lawsuit.html

Check out the Innocence Project

https://www.innocenceproject.org/

Raymond Santana’s clothing company

https://parkmadisonnyc.com/

Linda under a tree

The Edges of Grief

This time of year can bring unexpected emotions for me. It’s an odd time, the season is Spring ( or if your down here in Florida, bordering on Summer), a time of renewal. And yet it contains the edges of grief.

Just over a week ago, a writer I respected passed away quite unexpectedly.Rachel Held Evans was a well known Christian writer who loved Jesus, people and gave so many a pathway as they questioned the idea of faith. This loss is immeasurable, most especially to her young children and husband. ( if you want to better understand the impact that one life can have, spend some time reading through the hashtags #prayforRHE and #becauseofRHE).

In thinking of her life and the grief that follows, I began to also think of all those living with the edges of grief.

Grieving takes a different shape for each of us. It’s complex and undefinable. Though in our desire to understand we try to categorize it. Define it by stages , which to be fair do exist but not necessarily in any particular order.

I lost my mom unexpectedly when I was twelve due to a brain aneurysm.It was a blow to my family that still reverberates to this day. Our relationship was tenuous, complicated. I I felt robbed of getting to develop a relationship with her.

Grief never truly leaves. It becomes less heavy, less prominent but ever present. It lives on the edges of our life. It’s the moment of laughter tinged with the thought I wish _______ was here for this. It’s years later after navigating through those family celebrations that one year I wanted the old way back. Just for a brief moment. Those thoughts don’t take away from the present joy, they are simply part of things as they now.

I think of these things as I reflect on the 27 years without my mom. I’m grateful for the relationship with my Aunt who stepped into my life when my mom was unable due to her mental health. I’m grateful for our relationship today, as we have come far from those initial days of grieving. I’m grateful for the stories about my mom that now flow without effort or that sting most times, I’m grateful for my sisters, who remind me of her and whose love keep her memory alive.

I remind myself that it’s ok to grieve still. Jesus wept after all. I think too often we want to just get through and check off the list. We need to lament, to cry out and to remember. Regardless if the grief is raw or not. There is no time limit on grieving. It took me time to understand how much grief had changed me. How it informed first my lack of relationship with God. But also helped form my current relationship with God.

Living with the edges of grief doesn’t mean I live a life lacking joy or happiness. It’s simply another part of me. And that’s ok.

Between Faith and Hope

Living in faith is hard. Having faith means having hope and hope can be painful. It can be especially hard when seeing so much heartbreaking news. On Easter my pastor walked us through the doubt Thomas had in believing Jesus was alive.

It’s hard to believe in the hope of Christ at times.

When churches are burned down in St. Landry Parish in Louisiana.

As the Norte Dame burned last week.

When families worshipping are violently killed.

When a young mother has to be put into a comatose state to prevent her condition from worsening .

It’s hard to hope in the midst of all that. To doubt that God cares about any of that. To have hope in the middle of hardships and pain.

In these things I see the care and love of God. I watch as people donate money to rebuild churches. As people sing hymns in the streets of Paris, worshiping, weeping and seeking. As people come together to grieve for worshippers killed at their Mosque. As Christians endured this tragedy this past Sunday. As prayers for Rachel Held Evans trend on Twitter, I see faith and belief and love take hold.

I see Jesus. He is there in the midst of it all. In the grief and the coming together, the messiness of it all.

Having faith doesn’t mean having everything fixed. It doesn’t mean everything is just right.

For me it means sitting with hope in the midst of hardship. It means sitting in grief because grief doesn’t negate hope. It means making room for questions but also for answers.

Having faith allows me to reach for hope when I fear the pain it might bring. Faith has allowed me to understand hope in the struggle. Sometimes it looks like living in the in between of faith and hope. In all of it Jesus meets all of us.

Expanding My Bookshelf

I love to read well everything! Books, articles, Twitter, the side of cereal boxes Reading has been a habit since I learned to read. One of the best experiences is being pulled completely into another world. So much so that it takes a few minutes to adjust to the real world.

Something I’ve been working on is expanding the authors I do read. It’s easy to get into the habit of reading the same or similar writers again and again.

Taking the time to read books written by people who have different life experiences only helps to enhance empathy and knowledge. Two things that can seemingly be absent these days. Below will be a list of some of my recent reads. Take a look at your book shelf. If you have a majority of authors from one race or gender, or ideology then it’s time to expand that bookshelf. Take a moment to google or heck ask your local librarian for suggestions.

Making time to read can be daunting. There seems to be so much to do each and every day. Making time to read has been a challenge at times. I get sucked into social media at times. I have to remind myself that it’s ok to read a few pages or if I am able to finish a book in one day. Or if I’m just not liking a book, it’s just fine to set it aside.

This is also something I’ve applied to my writing but that’s another post.

Books and articles are more nuanced and not as reactive as social media. They take time, thought and research to create. Cost isn’t as prohibitive thanks to your local library and e-libraries. I love using the Hoopla and Libby apps! If you have to return an unfinished book, when you borrow it again the LAST PAGE YOU READ IS SAVED! (As you can see this part really excited me ).

I mentioned Twitter earlier because it has been such an a great place to find new authors. Authors that have challenged me and expanded my library a little bit more. Such as Sarah Bessey and Rachel Held Evans and more recently Kaitlin Curtice and Candice Marie Benbow. I also have to thank the podcast Levar Burton Reads which has also introduced me to other authors such as Ken Liu and Octavia Butler.

I’ve started to incorporate more non- fiction books into my rotation such as Stamped From The Beginning by Ibram X Kendi and The Cooking Gene by Michael K. Twitty.

Challenge yourself in what your reading. Expand your shelf a bit more.

Some other Books I’ve read recently, list is far from comprehensive.

The Darkest Child by Delores Phillips

Maisie Dobbs Detective Series by Jacqueline Winspear

Letters to the Church by Francis Chan

The Last Days Of Cafe Leila by Donia Bijan

I’m Still Here by Austin Channing Brown

Turning Forty

As I celebrated my fortieth birthday a few weeks ago, I got a bit reflective. Forty years went by quickly, I mean relatively speaking. Time is funny, it can sometimes go by quickly or slow or even both at the same time. I feel as if I’ve blinked and all of a sudden I’m here, in this moment. I’ll blink again and another forty years will have passed by (Lord Willing). My pop culture references instantly date me ( Seinfeld anyone?), and my bedtime for sure reflects my current stage of life. (Of which I have no regrets on that, sleep is my jam!)

I wouldn’t want to go back to my twenties or thirties because though there were good times, they also belong in the past. Romanticizing the past just puts a different filter on it.

I’m grateful for the the person I am today, right now at this moment. I’m grateful for the hard things and the joyful things I’ve experienced. I’m grateful to have the relationships I have loved ones. Most of all I am secure in my faith in the Lord.

I would not be the person I am today if I didn’t know Jesus. I used to be an angry person, unable to let go of hurts and slights. I used to believe that I was unloved though I was surrounded by it. Without Jesus, I would not have any sense of what peace and contentment could begin to look like.

The idea of being Forty used to look like something else to me. It used to look like I had checked all the right boxes. Boxes that I never truly strove to check off. I don’t know if I was ever meant to check off those boxes. It used to look like I was supposed to have all the pieces of the puzzle of life in place. The reality is in my life, the puzzle looks more like a mish mash of pieces from different puzzles. Some of which fit together well and others that don’t which I have learned to stop forcing to fit. I have this inkling that those puzzle pieces I’ve been searching for and even those I haven’t will start to fill in. Creating this beautiful but still incomplete picture.

I’ve learned it’s not so much the boxes I check off but what my heart is looking at. My heart today strives for the Lord. In my thirties my heart struggled to understand what this could look like or even mean for my life. In learning to let go of those ill fitting puzzle pieces, I’ve seen God all the more.

At forty , I’ve learned a few things but I still have so much more to learn. I look forward to this new decade of Life.

Forgotten Laments

Grief filled hearts cry out

Laments that are soon forgotten

Until the next time

Where Again

grief filled hearts cry out

Whose laments are soon forgotten

Until the next time

Again and again and again

Grief filled hearts cry out

Again and again and again

Laments forgotten

Lord help us to remember

To grieve alongside the grieving

To remember the laments

Again and again and again