God is a black woman

Check out my first vlog exploring Matthew 25 and God as a black woman. I expect that this will be uncomfortable for some of us, but I do believe it is worth exploring.

I’d like to thank Dr. Christina Cleveland and her writings for first introducing me to the concept of God as a black woman. Check out her website here.

My Constant Companion

Dear D

When I don’t feel you pressing down on me, it seems as if you do not exist at all. It makes me wonder why I’m taking medication, not to mention everything else I do to accommodate you. It makes me wonder if I’m really making a big deal out of nothing.

So today I write to you not because you are particularly oppressive, but because whether I am having a ‘good’ day or a ‘bad’ day, you are still here with me. After all, a person who has arthritis or diabetes does not cease to have this condition if they have a series of days that go well.

It’s hard to know what to say to you on days like today. I tend to either want to forget you exist, or stop myself from being happy because maybe that will make the down times less of a fall. I know that’s not true, of course. There’s nothing I can do to make them less painful. The best I can do is enjoy days with little to no pain.

I keep remembering that final scene from the movie A Beautiful Mind where John Nash is accepting his award. When he looks out over the audience, he sees what he now knows are his hallucinations. But instead of their presence being derailing, they are presented as a kind of friend. Of course, I do not have schizophrenia and I have no idea how accurate the movie is related to those aspects of mental health, but it gives me a picture of what I think you could become. The doctors tell me that because you have visited me multiple times, it is unlikely that I will be free of you, so I see the final scene of the movie as a hope that my relationship with you can change. I imagine maybe one day in the future I will be able to observe you without being overwhelmed by you…maybe you’ll even be a bit kinder to me than you are now. I can hope, can’t I?

Until then,

Tami

This post is part of an ongoing series called ‘Dear D’. Click here to view all posts in the series.

Little white pill.

Dear D

I thought we were well acquainted, but even after all these years it seems that you are still somewhat of a mystery to me. The things that worked before do not seem to be working to the same degree now. Sometimes it makes me think I’m crazy.

So the doctor has suggested I try a new medication. New medications seem simple on the surface, but if I’m honest, I always have some fear when I try a new one. They give you this pamphlet filled with information about what this medication could do to you. Yes, it’s supposed to help, but it can also do all of these things that are the opposite of what you want it to do. Potentially hurt or potentially harm. And even though they give you this big list and you should feel so well informed, at the same time you wonder – what is this medication going to do to me? They can put together this list of all the potential effects, but they don’t know exactly how my body, my mind is going to react. And if it reacts badly, is it worth the side effects just to be free of you?

I make my decision. The little white pill looks so small and unassuming, but there is so much more there. I slip it into my mouth, hoping, hoping that it’s going to do what the doctor wants it to do, what I want it to do, what the pharmacist says it could do. But not knowing at the same time. All I can do is wait and see.

I’m thrust into a new level of hyper-vigilance with the entirety of my body and mind. Is that pain new? Is that because of the medication? Am I feeling a new body ache or is that something that was always there? What’s happening in my mind? I try to pray and have peace, knowing that God is in control and that it’s going to be okay. Yet I’m here, with this little pill now inside of me, wondering what it’s going to do, and only time will tell.

Tami

 

This post is part of an ongoing series called ‘Dear D’. Click here to view all posts in the series.

Seeing my blindness

Dear D

You’ve made my life hard this week. I’ve been trying to be aware that what I feel in times like these is not ‘normal’. That is, there are times when I do think clearly and have motivation. I am not always blinded to reality, exhausted, and feeling alone. I know this time will pass, but that does not make it easier, it only gives a thin ray of hope that this is not the end. In the meantime, I try to be gracious with myself and facilitate many distractions to make things more bearable. I have an insatiable drive to achieve, yet inadequate resources to even attempt satisfaction.

I still don’t know how to make friends with you when you make the mundane aspects of life like walking through quicksand. I don’t even know how to figure it out. You move cloaked in mystery, but I feel you pressing me down. I am, at best, an ambivalent acquaintance, and at worst, a sworn enemy. Logic tells me there is a way forward, but my eyes fail me as to where it is.

Walking by faith,

Tami

 

This post is part of an ongoing series called ‘Dear D’. Click here to view all posts in the series.

A beginning

This is the first post in what will be an ongoing series where I write to D, which stands for Depression, in an effort to turn an enemy into a friend. To see all posts, visit the Series page for Dear D.

Dear D,

How do you turn an enemy into a friend? That’s the question I find myself asking these days. I was taught to love my enemies, but I have hated you. Maybe that’s the place I should start – with repentance.

I forgot again today. I’m sorry.
I know you told me so.
Actually, you told me over and over again.
Begging me.
My to-do list was too long.
My drive to succeed too strong.
My disbelief too loud.
My heart too proud.
I’m sorry, but.

You told me I only succeeded in creating a possibility,
not a guarantee.
I thought I had done enough.
I’m tired of doing. Forcing.
Yet I continue,
fearful that in stopping I would be undone.
I’m sorry.

Please convince me again.
Show me the wisdom of your ways.
Integrate my scattered mind, my weary body, my fragile spirit.
I long to be whole, but.
I betray myself.
Too much longer and I’ll lose you completely.
Then in the silence there will be nothing left to say.
I hope you see that I am trying.
Do you?
I’m sorry.

Dealing with unmet expectations

Several years ago, I had a conversation with my boss where I asked if he could take 10-15 minutes once a month to check in on me, as I found it difficult to ask for help in the moment. Without flinching, he said he couldn’t guarantee anything. I left the conversation in disbelief and anger. I thought I had a completely realistic expectation of a leader, and he shut me down.

I stayed angry for a while, but then I realized something. If I truly had a need, I was responsible to meet it. No matter how reasonable my expectation was, I could not force the other person to fulfill it. I had to find another way.

This is not an isolated event. It’s happened numerous times where I had what I thought were completely realistic expectations of others, only to realize – sometimes painfully – that they were not willing or able to fulfill them. Of course, I could keep pushing, but it is an exercise in futility guaranteed to cause further frustration (and who knows, maybe permanent damage). I’m a slow learner it seems, because I have to keep reminding myself to take responsibility for my own needs and get creative in making things happen. In the scenario above, it was as simple as finding other people I could talk to when I needed help.

What about you? Have you found yourself in a similar position? What do you need to do about it?

Looking for magic, finding the ordinary

The cursor blinked rapidly as I stared at my laptop screen. As much as I tried to keep going, I knew I’d hit a roadblock and needed a break. Anxious that I was wasting time, but knowing that sitting there longer wouldn’t change things, I left the apartment to go for a walk. They had helped me overcome roadblocks in the past, maybe they would again. Sure enough, shortly into my walk, things clicked and the ideas began flowing again.

I felt my tiredness begin to show when my temper shortened and my levels of irritation seemed to skyrocket. I think I managed to keep my thoughts in my head most of the time, but I doubt I hid all my facial expressions successfully. I thought of what I could do to find the rest and rejuvenation I needed, but nothing seemed to present itself as a solution. I decided to take some days off anyway to see if it would help. It had before, anyway. When I went back to the office, I still felt tired and afraid that it hadn’t done any good. However, as I set about my work and interacted with colleagues, my inner responses were much more gracious and things seemed different.

I share these two stories not to emphasize the need for self-care, important as it is, but to discuss something I’ve been thinking about lately: trusting the process. I find I often get stressed when I want a particular outcome, but I am not in control of all the variables to make it happen. Actually, I think that in life we control a lot less than we think we do. However, we can put ourselves in positions or create environments where if the outcome were to occur, it would happen there. That’s letting the process do the work.

Does a walk magically fix a mind in roadblock? No. But it does provide a physical and mental break from the work that allows the mind to reorient itself and the body to stretch out after sitting. Do days off miraculously fix anger and irritation? No. But they also provide that break that enables a release and reshuffling of everything going on inside. These are ordinary practices. While it seems my inner skeptic says every time that it isn’t going to work, it usually does. And I am learning to trust that process.

Navigating the in-between

I grew up in a world of binaries. In or out. Saved or damned. Black or white. Right or wrong. Heart or mind. Theory or practice. The institutions and authorities taught me how these either/or options sufficiently explained the world around me – places and people. I believed it. The certainty that was available in this approach supported my subconscious desire to avoid vulnerability.

For years, the only place I have felt truly able to engage my mind has been the academy. Not only did the academy push me to continually deepen my thinking, it supported the heart/mind disconnection. A total comfort zone for me. So, I suppose you can imagine my shock and dismay when precisely the place that had enabled my inner dichotomy was where it was challenged most.

I took the curriculum-as-living-inquiry elective for my masters because my first choice was not available. I knew the philosophical, reflexive approach would drive me crazy, but I didn’t think the other options were any better. I resolved to appreciate the challenge. Maybe I would learn something new.

I lost count of the number of times my eyes rolled as I read articles about humanness and heart in education, lived curriculum, poetic inquiry, ecological identity and métissage. It seemed I was looking at an abstract painting I did not understand. I wondered half-seriously if the writers had been high when they wrote their pieces. I mean, really, what place did these things have in the academy I had grown to know and love? The place – the only place – where my mind was nourished, and my heart was inconsequential? Was this its betrayal?

I wrestled for weeks with the two morning devotions I had to prepare. My own devotional life had been a struggle for some time. While I could hear past spiritual teachers in my mind saying, “If you don’t have an hour a day to spend in Bible study, I can’t help you”, it just did not work for me anymore. It seemed I was only hearing God clearly when I was going for a walk by the water, yet I felt such guilt for not fitting the mould. What could I say that did not require me to abdicate authenticity and integrity, pretending I was in a place I clearly was not? The answer came to me on one of my walks.

As much as a part of me holds on to my childhood world of binaries, I realized that for some time I have been living in-between, in a place of tension. Studying Aoki’s curriculum-as-plan and curriculum-as-lived, Pinar’s currere, and rhizocurriculum based on ideas from Deleuze and Guattari spoke not just to my practice, but to my personhood. The plan (binaries, rigid theology and practice) had been disrupted by the lived (my experiences and interactions with others). Though the plan sought to segment and cut-off lived experiences, like a plant’s rhizomes, they popped up elsewhere, prompting a continued consideration. Currere asked for connections between past experiences, future potentialities and present realities, positioning them within a wider political and cultural context. Who is served by maintaining a binary approach to life?

In all of this, I was drawn to Parker Palmer’s discussion of disconnectedness and wholeness. Separating practice and personhood in my devotion would be an attempt once again to avoid vulnerability, except this time the desire was not excused in the subconscious. The benefit of maintaining the binary was avoiding the uncertainty of vulnerability, yes, but at the cost of personal fragmentation and violence. A much higher price, in my estimation. The devotion suddenly came together.

Though I thought the academy had betrayed me, it had actually been a good friend. It had wounded me in the service of an ultimately good end – my integrity. A life whole and undivided. I am not there yet, but I am also not where I was. I am in-between.

Journey to the Eternal: Second Edition

sm book cover

Journey to the Eternal, First Edition, 2009

It has been almost ten years since I published the first edition of my poetry book, Journey to the Eternal.

A lot has happened in my life since then. I moved overseas and back again. I changed jobs multiple times. I came to terms with having depression and was healed, only to have it come back again. I dealt with an abusive relationship from my teenaged years. I finished and started new academic degrees. I made friends and said goodbyes.

journey to the eternal second ed cover.PNG

Journey to the Eternal, Second Edition, 2018

I could go on, but you get the idea. Life is full of change.  One thing that has remained the same is God, and the eternal hope I have through faith. That has carried me through the past ten years and will do so into the future.

In this edition, I have included more than 30 new poems. Like before, they contain a mixture of all sorts of things – hope, pain, confusion, sadness, joy, death, life and opportunity. My hope is that you are able to find some of the release and meaning I had in writing them.

Your fellow pilgrim,

Tami

 

Journey to the Eternal (second edition) is now available on Amazon Kindle and Paperback. Click here for a free preview!

How to Deal with The Cat that Came Back: A Life with Depression

I remember listening to a children’s song when I was young about a cat that always came back, no matter how much you tried to get rid of it. In the Fred Penner classic version, the chorus goes like this:

But the cat came back the very next day
The cat came back, they thought he was a goner
But the cat came back; he just couldn’t stay away

Though the song is about a literal cat, I find it serves as an apt metaphor for other things in life. A cat that I thought I had left behind recently came back. Its name is depression.

After a six-year battle with depression, with three and a half of those years on different kinds of medication and a variety of counselors, I was finally free. My doctor had titrated me off the medication and declared I no longer had depression. For the next number of months, I was afraid it would come back every time I had a hard day or something bad happened. But it didn’t. The cat was a goner! At least I thought it was.

Four years depression-free came to a crashing halt at the end of 2017. I had been feeling off for a while but thought it would pass like all the other times. The feeling persisted, despite my best efforts to address it through engaging projects, extracurricular activities, time with friends, and prayer. I still didn’t think it was a big deal until the suicidal thoughts crept into my mind. It was then that I knew I needed help.

I felt like I had failed and was going backwards in life, especially as this turbulent time coincided with my 30th birthday. Why couldn’t I have things together like everyone else? Of course, now it is easy to see the lies in that question, but at the time it was a real struggle. I talked with my family and they encouraged me to see my doctor. He prescribed the same medication I had been on before and met with me until I stabilized. I’m grateful that medication works for me, but that doesn’t mean it is an easy road. I’ve had to continuously deal with a lack of motivation, tiredness, and self-defeating thought patterns. Sometimes I ask God why he couldn’t have given me a dog instead of a cat. Despite these struggles and the unknown ahead, I have been discovering ways to deal with my cat that came back. Here’s what I’ve learned that I can pass on to you.

  1. Though the cat may eventually leave, accept that it is here at the moment.

Fighting against reality makes dealing with it impossible. Trying to say the cat isn’t there, or that it isn’t affecting you, actually gives it more power. Accept the presence of the cat for the moment. This doesn’t mean you want it to stay, but it allows you to do what you need to do to address its presence.

  1. Take care of the cat. Feed it. Give it water. Empty the litter box. Buy a scratching post.

Once you’ve accepted the cat is with you for the moment, take care of it. Be kind to it and find out what your specific cat needs, which may be different than what other cats require. Healthy eating, regular exercise and time with other pets are all important, but easily neglected when you have a cat. You may need to see a veterinarian, or other cat specialist, too, but that does not mean you are weak in dealing with your cat. It means you are wise and strong.

  1. Talk about the cat with others. It could just be that they have cats, too.

Trying to hide the fact that you have a cat is fairly difficult. People who visit your place will probably see the cat hairs and furniture scratching. Lying about having a cat is exhausting. Although it is hard to be honest about your cat, when you are it is incredibly freeing. Not only will others be able to help you take care of your cat, you may find out that they have cats, too. Actually, having a cat is quite common, even though it seems everybody else has dogs or other cool pets that are way nicer than a cat.

I’m still hoping that my cat goes away. Until then, I’m going to practice acceptance of its presence, good cat care, and talking about the cat with people like you.