To imagine a future when much is broken

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?

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New neighborhood.

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.

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This is the Dollar Tree x Foraged Advent wreath that I made with stuff that I found around my neighborhood because foraging is both fun and also because I’m broke AF. But, I took this with my expensive ass camera that has allowed me to pay the bills, which I only have because a friend helped me to raise the funds to obtain this professional grade camera. You get the point. Anyway, I have good friends and honestly probably would sink into further despair without my good friends. The end. 

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?

The waiting is vulnerable.

There’s a vulnerability in waiting — waiting to find out if you got into school, waiting for a woman you are curious about to contact you back, waiting for a friend to reach out to you after a break in communication.

Waiting for answers, waiting for clarity, waiting for inspiration. Waiting to see if the work you’ve invested in for months will finally pay off. Watching others in your life get the job, get into the school, enter a new relationship, maybe get married. Meanwhile, life seems to be standing still for you, or worse, life is handing you rejections — you don’t get the job, you get told by someone you are interested in that they don’t see the two of you being together. Life gets you so down, you miss all the deadlines for the schools you were planning to apply to.

It becomes difficult to hope and keep putting yourself out there. You begin to wonder, is it worth it to keep putting myself out there? Can I take a break? Or is this “break” just me being lazy? 

It’s been hard for me not to wrap my worth up in how many times I’ve been rejected. It is hard not knowing if all of these rejection have to do with me, or something else. Am I not good enough for the job? What was I missing? Am I not good enough for the relationship? What did their dreams have that I didn’t? Life is hard enough being queer and black, but knowing that I have some disadvantages for me systemically doesn’t ease the words of self-doubt, the words that say “yes, it is all you. You didn’t get what you want because the problem is YOU.”

On top of all of this, constant rejection means I often feel like I don’t have the right to be picky. I live with guilt when opportunities that I know aren’t right for me come my way — someone expressing interest in friendship, but “being tired of white people” being the reason they claim they reached out to me. Or someone informing me of a job opportunity, easy to apply to, a skill I’ve wanted to learn, but difficult hours, more that I may have the spoons to commit to.

Taking a day at a time while in a season of rejection and waiting feels like using life as a distraction on the worst days. On the best days, it’s reconnecting with loved ones you haven’t seen in a while and reconnecting with old hobbies. Momentary respite from the waiting. The next day, you will encounter the endless flatlands of waiting once again upon that moment you wake up after resting from yesterday’s full day of distraction.

There’s a lot of loneliness, a lot of wondering if people will still believe in you if you are not accomplishing or announcing the next big thing. Most days, I feel internal and external pressure to find a silver lining, a reason for this season of life that will make it all worth it in the end. Sometimes I can find it. Most days, I just want someone to see that it’s really hard for me right now. I don’t want to feel like I “have to” find the silver lining to make others comfortable.

In our culture, especially with the likes of vulnerability researcher Brene Brown in the mainstream, we talk about vulnerability as if it is an easily renewable resource, something that you can just muster up whenever you are able to will it. As if we don’t need life to give back to us sometimes, especially after so much rejection. As if rejection doesn’t truly wound us. I could use a win, but not what other’s consider a win. I could use more kindness my direction, not in the way that other’s think I need, but in a way that I need, in a way that I understand. Or dare I say, in a way that I want.

It is hard to want right now.

That is, to want without want feeling like a lead towards even more heartbreak and crushed dreams.

If I seem guarded, if you see my arms crossed and you see my shoulders draped over my chest, know that I am trying to protect what little spark is left that is hiding in my heart, waiting to be known, received, delighted in and protected. This spark is precious. Who knows when she will feel like she can expand again, with no inhibitions. Nothing in life is entitled to that precious spark.