I am crying out of me
18 years (give and take a few)
of grief for having no choice
over my coming and goings,
having been trapped and made captive to be my mother’s extension,
and being beaten into her image.
Maybe the tears will free me
to make a little more space for myself.
My tears will help me find a sacred room of my own choosing
with a door that I myself control.
Maybe the tears will save me from
a shriveled body,
tense, small, curled and bent with
Everytime the anger rises,
“What’s still hurts here?”
Instead of revealing a mask
the truth trickles out.
Then, after, I watch the last drop land
I stand up, take a step forward,
making for myself the life I can still live.
I remind myself,
I can do that again
And will need to, again,
the next time the tide of anger comes.
– withdrawn type
(Knowing how warm my tears have kept me
I try not to apologise for crying
for they have kept me from mutating
into a tragic nightmare.
In my most peaceful dreams,
Jekyll and Hyde are friends).
What does it look like to follow your own path, especially when so much feels broken? Feelings aren’t facts, yes, but actually a lot IS broken, and fractured. It is very difficult for me to see myself having a future. I am a black, newly out as non-binary (oh, hey there!) human trying to pursue a career as ministry chaplain in a religious institution where people like me aren’t the norm. I’m an underrepresented, marginalized person in an institution that often implies and demonstrates that the lives of people like me are unintelligible but tolerable at best, and less human at worst.
There’s always gonna be that person who tells me “you’re the future of the Church” or “well, make your own path”, “start your own space”…. as if that solves the question. It’s well-intentioned and meant to be supportive and kind. But, it’s another form of bypassing. An avoidance of the process. Making your own path is still uncertain and it is still hard and scary. It doesn’t solve the problem of the reality that I am underrepresented and I am struggling to imagine a future for myself.
So again, I will ask: what does a future look like for me?
It’s a question that I’ve been asking myself ever since I moved here. I finished up my final exams last night, meaning a large expanse of free time has opened up before me. This is wonderful in a lot of ways, because now, I have time to do much of what feels aligned with my spirit. It is like a wide open valley where there is no end in sight. But, one that I could still get distracted and lost in. How do I spend this free time when, again, I don’t know what my future could be?
A flood of anxiety hit me as soon as I took off my headphones and shut the door post-finals. It’s the kind of anxiety where you have this vague sense that Something Bad Is Going to Happen. Where is the sense of doom coming from? Is it from the uncertainty of my financial situation? Do I have enough time to figure out what I need to? Will I have enough time to prepare for the next semester? It is the kind of anxiety I often find myself trying to avoid by scrolling endlessly through Instagram. Which, honestly, doesn’t help given that a website that shows everyone’s highlights can often be fuel for lighting the fire of comparison, envy and self-doubt.
In fact, I am writing this after noticing how I react internally when others seem to be succeeding in ways which I am unable to do right now. Someone else finishes their semester with straight As. All is well for them and they know it. It sends me into a panic. I struggle to hold their success with my failures.
Or, the other day, at the annex of the divinity school, I found myself being introduced by married women recounting how many hours they spent on a plane to their honeymoon, Minutes later, a married man popped out of nowhere and announce “my baby was born!” I abruptly told them it was nice to meet them and came up with the excuse that I had to go study, in hopes that the conversation wouldn’t have to turn to the subject of my own life and how I don’t really know what’s going on right now.
I’m not sure how much it is my personality type (#justINFJthings) or my anxiety… or how much I have the right to feel this way, but life seems to be moving for a lot of people in ways that it doesn’t seem to be doing for me. My experience arriving to Atlanta and starting seminary has felt tumultuous, from beginning to finish. I have failed so much: under-borrowing so much for school that I put myself in a financial crisis, getting my heartbroken twice by the same person, ending the semester with multiple Cs, and my car finally throwing in the towel. And yeah, you can count all of the good things that have happened in between: the new friends that I have made, the fact that I have even been able to make it to seminary, even when I didn’t think I would, and the reality that my old friends continue to show up for me despite the distance, in the small ways that they can. But overall, it’s been really hard.
So what of a future? A future of stability and purpose and warmth feels impossible to imagine right now.
The other day, I told a friend that I love Advent. That I’m a hoe for Advent. That I wish Advent was all of the time. Advent is a season where you don’t have to tell yourself that someone has it worse. You don’t have to usher gratitude out of nowhere. You don’t have to have your shit together. Actually, it seems like one of the few times of the year where you don’t have to have your shit together, and it becomes okay to not be okay. And on the third week, you get to have joy to mix it up a bit. Advent is not all doom and gloom and sadness and uncertainty. Advent makes space for both. And that is why I love it so much. I’m not sure what I will do when Advent is gone.
Will my failures be too burdensome for company to hear once Advent is over? How will my community respond to my life right now when I still don’t have the job or the car? When I still don’t have the relationship where I don’t have to play small? When I’m still estranged from a family who isn’t really interested in getting to know me? When I am expected to have to find some silver lining?
How do you make art, a path, a life when everything is broken? (Like, literally all your equipment is broken, so you have to go to the library to write this all on a computer that’s intact?) But that is the creative act, isn’t it? To make something out of what you already have, to make something out of nothing. Somewhere, I picked up this idea that creativity is for the rich, for those who can afford it. Those who can afford to buy paint, hire consultants, pay for spiritual directors, pay to make their life all beautiful and to make sense. Maybe I got it from Instagram, again. Or art school where there’s a heckin’ ton of money and privilege. Maybe a combination of both, where you don’t really see the messy process, all of the failures and heartbreak. You only “hear” about all of the sweat and tears… but we are still deceived, only to look at the happy ending.
If I ever become a chaplain, and if I am ever in a Warm-and-Loving-Home-Relationship-Where-I-Don’t-Have-to-Play-Small (TM), I hope never to do the disservice of erasing the process or acting as if I was entitled to this. Not everyone is trustworthy enough to see my process, especially the painful parts. My path includes a lot of hardship: a lot of fractured relationships and fear. Bad intentions assumed of me. Mistakes that have set me back. A childhood that set me up to fail relationally.
But so many of us have been able to make something out of what is in front of us. And, who I am to look at what I have and say I cannot make anything when my Creator made a universe out of nothing?
For someone who has endured chaotic, unreliable and unpredictable relationships, I ought to be disillusioned. These patterns have made me difficult and skeptical, but I have always longed to be loved in the ways that I need beneath all of the difficulty.
For years, I didn’t realize that I had the power to walk away from the cycles of unpredictability, chaos, melodrama I found myself caught in. I thought that I had to stay in relationships where I was being mistreated and misunderstood. I thought that this was my lot, that there was something wrong with me. I thought I had to be exceptional to be loved. I lacked the humility to realize that I don’t have the power to make people love me.
When I realized that “making people love me” didn’t work, I stepped up and tried to be assertive. When I loved myself enough to stand up for myself, I watched people who claimed to love me leave. Both manipulation and unconditional love… both make people leave, I concluded. So, I doubted all of the years that I worked on learning how to actually love. I let their leaving make me doubt my competence, my tenacity and my existence, until I realized that real love makes those leave who have yet to understand what difficult things love requires of us. Like self-control, self-accountability, self-compassion, emotional sobriety, courage and kindness, among other things. (Love does not demand perfection or exceptionality.)
As a Christian, you get told that “God loves because it is God’s nature”. What Christians are saying is that love is part of who God is and chooses to be. I’m not sure if I ever internalized this in a practical, embodied way earlier in life. (Sure, God is love, cool, got it). I didn’t really think about how that translates to personal relationships. A human being loves because it is part of who they are. They are filled with love, so they love. It is their choice, not something that I can control. It is not something that goes away or stays because of how good or bad I am. Love remains.
I have been relieved to realize that I can discover the tools and power in myself to walk away, and find people who want to love me because they choose to. When love is given freely and not dependent on myself, I feel more secure; I feel like I can love freely, without fear that I am being “used” or “robbed”. Love freely given is empowering.
There are people who I think about as “the loves of my life”. When I think about those people, I realize that what I experience a calm and peacefulness when we aren’t together. I don’t feel anxious and afraid. I realized that they have earned my trust and my mind and body are in agreement. My gut is not screaming. My mind is not tricking me. I am calm.
The loves of my life… I think about people who feel like my heart, my true self, outside of my body. The human qualities that are dismissed as “too good to be true”, like honesty, consistency, kindness, patience… and all those fruits of the holy spirit. And when I am loved by these people, I feel like anything is possible. I feel less silly and less ashamed for the kind of person that I want to be in the world. My heart is no longer dismissed and it brightens, expands. I am not just “naive” when I am with them. When I am with them, I know that love is something real that we must practice over and over again. Love is practice, a skill, as Esther Perel would say. I’ve learned that the “feeling” of love isn’t one — it can be joy and inner stillness, relief. Or when it is lost, grief.
When I think of how proud I am of myself, it is because I think about how I am growing to be like the people who have loved me well. I am learning their skill by being loved and by watching them be brave.
Being chosen to be in the lives of these people — no matter how long or short — is such a gift, such a honor. A dream come true. And it brings me a peace beyond what I knew was possible. The love they create, this commitment to create and practice, is evidence of those things unseen.