Don’t Say Just

I believe language is everything. Words seep down into the crevices of the spine, and they grow. If they’re good, then the person will stand taller. They will radiate light. If those words come with judgment or hostility, a person might lose a few inches, stretching to find the light they once had. It’s a hard road when you’ve been knocked down a few inches, but I think eventually, the light finds you again.

When I left seminary, a few weeks ago, I had to meet with a professor to have a conversation about my decision to withdraw. I realized quickly it wasn’t a conversation but a pitch. It didn’t matter I was leaving because of personal reasons and mental health. She offered me in several different forms a reduced time in seminary for a different degree. “How about the M.A.C.M.? Two classes and CPE and you’ll be done? Have you thought about only taking a semester off?” When I explained to her the logistics of my time, CPE is 40 hours a week and I work nearly 40 hours a week, and that isn’t ideal, she let out an “Oh.” It was an oh I wish I caught on camera because as a pastoral worker, we are taught against every reaction she had in that 10 minute meeting. I digress. Before I left, she asked me what I would do since I wasn’t in seminary. Unfortunately, she did not word it like that. “So you’re just not going to finish? You’re just going to be a deputy clerk?” The just is where I am hung up on. Let me explain.

In undergrad, I had this amazingly wonderful professor, Dr. Martin, and he would make sure that in any of our responses–either verbal or written–we never used the word just. When we said it in class, he would interrupt us and say, “Don’t say just.” As annoying as I found his incessant interruptions, his words stuck with me. It wasn’t until I left undergrad, when I didn’t have Dr. Martin to call me out, that I understood why I shouldn’t say just. Just is a limitation imposed upon someone or something. When you say just, you are imposing your expectations upon them while limiting them to be something you find limiting for their potential. With just, they have no room to be anything else. I felt deduced to being only a deputy clerk. Her words were instantly frustrating. I responded back rather harshly and defensively. I started rattling off things I would be doing instead of being in seminary. If her question were worded differently, I wouldn’t have felt the need to defend myself against the limitations of just. I’ve had many people ask me what I was going to do post-seminary, and with some I was honest: “I am going to rest.”

Words matter and hers left a bitter taste in my mouth. Because this is such a fresh loss, when I think back on my time in seminary, I think back at the most recent things. My friend, who also left seminary earlier this year, said, “It’s like attending your own funeral.” And it really is. At the end, I could only see those who supported me, those who judged me, and those who only cared for me within an academic context. It was humbling and deeply saddening. So, today, I’m doing some processing of those feelings. I’m grateful for what the experience was. Despite the bitterness, I believe my time there was intentional both in my life and the lives of other people. I believe it mattered. I wish other people could see that too. Today, I am stretching to find the light I had and to believe in the great purposefulness of my journey.

My Bumblebee Being

My greatest woe was that I would let You down. That I would have rejected the person I was supposed to be so much that I became ordinary. Then, I quit the one thing I thought was sure to make me extraordinary. I left seminary and the hopes of a PhD. None of that makes any sense to me right now, but it feels so good. I don’t know much about anything like why birds sing at dawn, why the world wakes up right before the Sun, or how this world can continue to exist as it is. But, I do think I know one thing. We, if we choose, can be bumblebees.

Bees do not have to think about going from flower to flower, they just do it. They are who they are. In their creation, they know innately how to be and that’s what moves them from flower to flower. I am a bee. In my spirit, I know exactly how to be. It is in that being that everything else flows from. The beauty of being is that I never had to work at being extraordinary. Being who I am, what is innately natural to my spirit, that is what makes me extraordinary. No degree can do that. No church title can do that. No position can do that.

“Would you still love me if I wasn’t a surgeon?”

I’m rewatching Grey’s Anatomy, and that is the question that has surfaced out of two different surgeons. Derek Shepherd asked Meredith after he botched a brain surgery that killed a new mother. Cristina Yang asked Owen after she repaired Derek’s heart when he was shot. Both asked after periods of trauma if it would be okay to be someone other than who they are.

My stint in seminary seems to only get longer. The papers are growing more in length and depth, but I cannot bring any motivation to care. The beginning of this semester has brought discomfort. I want so badly to say trauma, but I won’t. My mom has cancer. Her cancer has been out of remission until this year. I spent the weekend before school began in the hospital with her. She was getting her second surgery of the year. I could kill her doctor because when he came out, he said, “What we removed wasn’t malignant.” We’re just slicing folks up for fun these days, I guess. Weeks later, my mom told me that her cancer is in her voice box. I can’t imagine a world without my mom. I especially cannot imagine a world without her and her laugh.

The beginning of the semester was about mourning. It was about me processing this level of grief and comprehending my mom’s desire for treatment, which is not to have anymore surgery. I can’t do anything but respect that, so I grieve very privately while still finding the willpower to go to work and do homework and practice yoga.

Now, I’m at the end of the semester, and I am asking, “Would you still love me if I didn’t go to school? Would you still love me if I didn’t teach? Would you still love me if I took a break from becoming who I am supposed to be?” I’ve tried having this conversation with my therapist and close friends, but honestly, I’m not desiring their opinion. I’m desiring God’s.

Even in my grief and growth, I feel a drop of disappointment within my spirit. That drop is rippling out into frustration, which has led me to where I am now. Will the paper I’m writing about matter in three weeks? Three months? Three years? Is this academia for academia’s sake? Because if it is, I cannot exist like this any longer. So, I’m asking God, but I’m also asking me: “Would you still love me if I didn’t teach?”

Friday’s Thoughts

My mom has one way, or another gotten me to bend to her will. And in one way or another, I don’t think I really wanted what it was I thought I wanted. Regardless of how I feel about my relationship with my mother in our tough years, there is something innately positive that she knows. She knows me better than I know myself. I’m starting to believe that the knowledge she has is what makes for a great mother.

Recently, I clued her into the woes of my (non-existent) dating life. I introduced her to my online dating profile. I showed her how it worked. She asked, “What are you looking for in a man?” I said generic things: kindness, a sense of humor, independent, someone I didn’t have to raise. You know, the bare minimum. My mom has a superpower of being able to look at a picture of someone and completely nail down who they are right then as a person. It’s magical. It’s divine, and honestly, it’s one of the most celestial, spiritual practices I have ever seen. I scrolled through photos and one by one she said yay or nay. It was interesting inviting her into that part of my hope of dating. She chose people I wouldn’t and with each yes, said “Oh, he’s kind. He looks goofy.” She was looking for someone who could know me, protect me, but mostly, someone who would honor me. The joy of motherhood, I believe, is knowing the worth of your children and helping them meet that worth in every aspect of their lives. Sometimes, they can’t see why their moms demand more of them, but those mamas, they have a secret that those kiddos, particularly, those daughters, aren’t hip to yet.

My mom swiped right on a man named V. V has sat in my inbox for months on unread. Mainly because we were only an 82 or 83 percent match. It was either 90 percent or higher for me. I didn’t even read his profile until my mom decided he looked like a good one. My interest was piqued once I actually started reading his profile. He could read and write the English language. For the most part, he knew when to use a comma. He was passionate, knowledgeable about current political events, an avid reader, and a nature goer. Of course, I liked his words. My mom, though, liked his eyes. So, I swiped right and we began a conversation, which led to texting, which led to a Q + A phone call, which led to an awkward FaceTime encounter. But, I stuck it out.

V is honest. He told me a great deal about himself. He did mansplain a dog gate to me, though. I figure men gotta do it in at least one conversation. That annoyance, I gave to him for free. He has a dog. He did something that I’ll see if it holds any weight later. He asked me if I had been to the Georgia Aquarium. I’ve been many times. He was so excited and said that should be our first date.

I laughed, “Sure.”

He said, “What are you doing Sunday?”

I hesitated. Was he for real? All the excuses roaming through my head never came out my mouth. “Nothing. I’m not doing anything.”

“Great, we can go on Sunday and grab a bite to eat before or after. It doesn’t matter.” We talked about how he could purchase tickets. That was that.

Now, it’s Friday, so I’ll see if that talk has any legs. But at the end of the conversation he said, “I like you. You’re sweet, kind, beautiful, smart.” Things I know. For once, my head didn’t grow. I remember what my mom said: “It’s not hard for anyone to see you and fall in love with you. All these people aren’t worth your time, though, so don’t give it to them.”

For a moment after the phone call, I was discouraged. Is this what my life has amounted to? Letting my mother make my decisions for me? I ran through everything. I went to college because my mom said I would either go to school or move out. I wasn’t ready to move out, so I chose a community college four hours away out of spite. I chose my transfer school because a friend went there and had so many wonderful things to say about the school and the community. I majored in English, not solely because of Dr. Perkins, my favorite English professor, but because English opened a world that I only experienced individually. When I joined this community of English lovers, I discovered that they created space to experience many literary worlds. I was apart of something in a community. Sadly, after undergrad, I spent a great deal of time regretting never majoring in Psychology. With those regrets, I transitioned into my first “real adult job.” Nepotism, and only nepotism, was the reason I got this job. I had a terrible attitude and it was no secret, yet I couldn’t be fired. Fast forward a lot to my house. My mom said no. My house in her eyes was a hard no. She said it needed too much work. It took her a while, six months or more, to finally see in it what I saw. Aisha: 1, Mom: 15. At least I had one.

The job I work now, I saw and decided for myself that there was no way they would hire me. One of my mom’s biggest sayings is, “Apply. Let them tell you no.” That way, I couldn’t say that I didn’t get it because I didn’t apply. I did my part by putting myself out there. My current position has allowed me to grow into a version of myself that is truer and more whole than when I began the year. I love this job so much that I dread someday outgrowing it. In this situation, my mom saw what I couldn’t.

So, should I feel some kind of way that my life has been led by suggestion or recommendation? Absolutely not. In some respect, I think a great majority of people live their lives like that. I’m sitting in my room, watching Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron, and I’m a little less worried about my future than I was before. I can’t see all that my future holds, but I’m almost certain my mom can, and if she can then that means that other people can too. Life takes more patience than I was born with, but I am learning.

My pre-seminary theology was God had a plan. No matter what happened, God had a plan and every ebb and flow, heartache and brokenness was a part of that plan. I no longer ascribe to that theology. It does not factor in the suffering and evil of the world. It does not factor in the sudden traumas and unnecessary violence of the world.  I’ll be damned before I think of my suffering or anyone else’s as a divine plan of betterment. Now, how do I fit in the divine knowledge of  black mamas everywhere? Not sure. Maybe, it’s the hope for their children that helps them see things a bit clearer than their children can. Hope is a theology I can ascribe to. Things may not always look how I want them to look, but I can and will believe they can look better.

Rest is Holy

It’s so funny. I had big plans for this summer. I had all of these cities and landmarks I was going to visit, but none of it happened. It’s funny and relieving. I don’t deny that oftentimes traveling can be highly therapeutic, but that is not what I needed this summer. I needed rest.

My second semester of seminary was exhausting in a way that was completely new to me. I was spent emotionally, mentally, and physically. On top of school was life–family happenings, adjusting to the demands of a new job, and recognizing I was on a steady ground financially. My second semester, which began in January, contained a lot of resets. Last semester was one of the first semesters I pursued healing more than I did anything else, school included. My anxiety was through the roof. I was a mess, but I persisted. It was worth it. My grades turned out exceptional. My family life was whole, more so than it has been in years. The newness of balancing work and school was wearing off and becoming normal. And one more highlight…I paid my mortgage on time every month. Bonkers.

When the semester ended, I checked in with my therapist. I am that person that will freak out for weeks on end, then when it’s all said and done go, “Wow. That was fine. I’m fine,” when really I’m not fine. Therapists are lovely, and mine is quite great. She pointed out how emotionally difficult my semester was. She ran through every event of the semester, yet I still could not accept those experiences as highly impacting. I told her very quietly, “I just think that if it isn’t something that can be seen then I should be fine. If no one is dying, if nothing drastic is happening, then I’m okay.” It wasn’t until I said that out loud how invalidating I realized that was to myself. So, that led me to make a list of places I wanted to go and sights I wanted to see.

I rearranged my schedule so I only worked three days out of the week, with Wednesday being my Friday. When it came time to buying that first plane ticket, I accepted that I didn’t want to go anywhere. I wanted to enjoy the tiniest of pleasures like sleeping in, cooking breakfast, strolling in the grocery store, coloring, going to a park, or doing absolutely nothing. For two days out of the week, I had no goals. I did what I felt, and do you know that I completed more work this summer than I ever have in a semester? I read more books. I wrote more stories. I opened up more to people, processes, and opportunities. Because I allowed myself moments of nothingness, sometimes just sitting outside for hours because I could and the weather was nice, I felt accomplished. If all I did was get up and breathe, then that day was enough.

This summer I thought a lot about Elijah. I usually relate to the “What are you doing here?” part of his story, but not this time. I think about him being spent, asking for death, then sleeping. Although our stories are a wee bit different, the outcome is the same:

Elijah Runs Away from Ahab and Jezebel

19 Ahab told his wife Jezebel what Elijah had done and that he had killed the prophets. She sent a message to Elijah: “You killed my prophets. Now I’m going to kill you! I pray that the gods will punish me even more severely if I don’t do it by this time tomorrow.”

Elijah was afraid when he got her message, and he ran to the town of Beersheba in Judah. He left his servant there, then walked another whole day into the desert. Finally, he came to a large bush and sat down in its shade. He begged the Lord, “I’ve had enough. Just let me die! I’m no better off than my ancestors.” Then he lay down in the shade and fell asleep.

Suddenly an angel woke him up and said, “Get up and eat.” Elijah looked around, and by his head was a jar of water and some baked bread. He sat up, ate and drank, then lay down and went back to sleep.

Soon the Lord’s angel woke him again and said, “Get up and eat, or else you’ll get too tired to travel.” So Elijah sat up and ate and drank.

The food and water made him strong enough to walk forty more days. At last, he reached Mount Sinai,[a] the mountain of God, and he spent the night there in a cave.

So often I think we forget that the best things we can do for ourselves are rooted in getting our most basic needs met. We need adequate rest. Our society is heavily built around the (now crumbling) idea that if you are not constantly working, hustling, producing something then you are failing at life. That’s not true. Being overworked, emotionally drained, and constantly on the go are not life giving. There is nothing beautiful about breaking down.

This summer has been a summer of healing. I have given away all my burdens, processed emotional scars, and became more vocal in the process. I trust my instincts the first time around and listen more to myself and other people. I am connecting with myself emotionally, which is helping me experience this world and the Spirit in ways can only be described as divinely magical.

I’m reading Beloved by Toni Morrison, and I’ve been holding on to this line: “Anything dead coming back to life hurts.” I feel as if I’ve been a zombie all this time. Coming back to life, healing from the tomb I was in, is exhausting. But, I am here. It took me resting to appreciate where I am.

Rest is holy. Get some.