Faith… especially when it scares me.

On this day in honor of Martin Luther King, Jr., one quote that kept jumping out to me as I scrolled through my Instagram timeline was: “faith is taking the first step even when you can’t see the entire staircase”. Please understand, though, it’s not that these particular words were the most posted quote of the day, it’s just that it’s the one that stood out to me.  And as I laid my head down to finally go to sleep, I couldn’t get it out of my head…

The concept felt as though it had been an overarching theme in my life for the past few months.  Most recently, I had a very honest conversation with my cousin about what I’m starting to believe is my life’s dream and why I have taken zero steps towards accomplishing it.  Trained as a transactional lawyer, my most marketable skill-set is to contemplate every possible scenario – good or bad – from a potential decision, and to plan an appropriate safety net for if the unthinkable happens. I help my clients protect their interests before entering into any venture by preparing them for the worst, and as helpful as that is for them, it has become a serious hurdle in my own ambition. For every great idea I come up with, and every possibility my heartbeat skips for, there are twice as many red flags that go up. In the legal world it’s referred to as “the parade of terribles,” as we think of one worst case scenario after another. So in my personal life, by the time I’m done brainstorming, I’ve actually talked myself out of pursuing whatever it is that I was contemplating.

For a while I thought that it was a “millennial” thing. I’ve been heard in numerous conversations trying to lump all twenty-somethings and thirty-somethings into my own sphere of indecisiveness. My boyfriend is working on an artistic piece centered around black millennials in relationships, and I can be heard in my interview saying that we are a generation of too many options. There, I concluded that since there’s no rule book for us anymore, so many of us find ourselves trapped at crossroads between what was the norm of prior generations and what is the unchartered course of this generation. However, when I re-listened to my interview tonight a light-bulb went off as I heard my voice explaining the theory. It isn’t all millennials, it’s me.

I don’t know at what point in my life I became so scared to make a decision. For as long as I can remember, I’ve been the embodiment of that children’s book Amazing Grace by Mary Hoffman. I remember that Grace wanted to play Peter Pan in her school’s play, but one of the other students told her she couldn’t because she was black and a girl – I don’t remember all of the details but the takeaway from that book that always stuck with me was Grace’s nana saying “you can do anything you set your mind to.” And for as far back as my memory serves, I have done just that. In grade school I wanted to play basketball but there was only a boys’ team, so I was one of the founders of my school’s first middle school basketball team for girls. When it came time to pick a college, certain people in my life – very important ones – told me that passing on a scholarship to a nationally ranked, predominantly white university in order to go to a historically black college (regardless of its preeminence in that sphere) would be a mistake; but, I trusted that the way I felt when I walked on Spelman’s campus was indicative of a life-changing experience that I wouldn’t ever get otherwise, and I was right. And when I decided to apply to Columbia Law School knowing that the likelihood of getting in was slim, not one bone in my body hesitated.

So why, as my 30th birthday inches closer and closer, has the overarching theme in my life as of late been to avoid any form of risk-taking? If nothing else, the last 20 years should be proof enough that “I can do anything I set my mind to.” Yet somehow every time a hard decision comes up about my career, my relationships, my dreams and desires, I let the parade of terribles reign over my mind to such an extent that I literally become paralyzed – afraid to move forward or backwards, just stuck wherever I am. Thinking about that made me recall the sermon I had listened to earlier this morning.

Yes, I was bedside-Baptist today and watched a sermon that my pastor in New York gave last week instead of going to a church here in Atlanta. So I re-watched it and, you guessed it, I got my answer.  Pastor Mike asked us: “can you let go of the life you planned for the life that’s waiting for you?” He said that when you “lean in to new beginnings it’s not about whether you can chart the course or craft the script, it’s whether you can lean into a space where the only thing you’re sure of is that this space is inhabited by God.” He went on to say:

“I know there’s a part of you who cannot handle that because you need to know, you have to understand. You wish that God had a way of telling you the story before it began… But here’s the good thing, what God gives you to get you started has nothing to do with the journey or the destination, it has to do with you trusting in God’s presence…to begin your new journey!” [See the full sermon here]

And I can’t deny it, Pastor is right. I’m paralyzed because the ideas in my head and the dreams that fill my heart, are not the life I planned for myself. It’s easy to take risks when you have the world at your fingertips, but when you start to get settled into a comfortable lifestyle and start feeling the benefits of years of hard work and sweat, it’s hard to think about sacrificing it all for a plan that may not work. I did everything I said I would do, got to where I wanted to get to, and now I’m supposed to just give it all up? What if it doesn’t work? What if I lose everything I’ve worked for and can’t get it back? For some, the question might be what if I lose him? What if I end up alone? But what I realized today is the part I was forgetting to remember is that I know who I am. That no matter what comes my way, I have a strong will, a strong support system, and a strong faith in God and in myself.

They say we are born fearless and only develop apprehension over time as we experience the world. As we mature from children to adults, life’s lessons help develop our consciousness but can also cripple us if we let them. So I choose today to not only trust in God and the desires that God placed within me, but to remember to trust in myself. To trust that I can do all things I set my mind to… especially if they scare me.

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How much trust do you have in God?

This past Sunday, I was proud of myself for getting up and out bright and early to try a new church. As many of you know I moved to Atlanta a few months ago, but what you probably don’t know is that I have yet to find a space that is as fulfilling as my home church, First Corinthian Baptist Church in Harlem, NYC. So, with a new recommendation in-hand, I was excited to try out this potential church – even if it was a 45 minute drive. As I told my friend the night before (in my best southern accent): “I’ll travel for a good Word, now.” However, to make a long story short, I did not have the name of the church completely right, and I ended up being what seemed like the only American-born African-American in the room. Part of the service was even in another language! I was very uncomfortable and wanted to run out immediately after I realized the situation. But it was too late – the way the rows were set up, I’d have to make the entire row of 30 or so people get up to let me out. So I took a deep breath, and thought to myself: you’re here now, might as well give it a chance. And I kid you not, the very next song that the choir sang was one of my favorites (I’m Chasing After You) so I was up out of my seat dancing and praising just like I would back at FCBC.

Then, when the guest preacher came up, one of the first things out of his mouth was “I believe each and every one of you is here for a reason.” And when I tell you that hit my soul like a baseball bat, chile! I was no longer focused on finding the exit, and instead was focused on hearing the Word – and I was not disappointed. I failed to write down the scripture, but the message was basically if you’ve given it to God, then let God have it. There’s no point in stressing about it, dwelling in it, or talking it to death. God said, “Be still and know that I am God” (Psalm 46:10). And that Word was on [pause for dramatic effect] time! I had been stressing like crazy the past few days because I knew that the coming Friday would be the day that I found out whether or not I passed the Georgia bar exam. Normally I don’t stress about things like that because I try to go into them well prepared, but that was not the case this time. While studying for the test, I had been working full time while also trying to explore and enjoy life in a new city, balance the demands of being in a long-distance relationship and fit in opportunities for much-desired time with my nieces and nephews. So when I sat for the test and the very first question stumped me, I knew it would be a long road to the finish line. I kept my head up and finished as best I could, but “as best I could” was different than “my best” – so I’ve been quietly panicking inside ever since. I prayed before and after the test, but was beating myself up because to some extent the blame was on me for not making studying the priority it needed to be – and if I didn’t pass I knew I wouldn’t be able to blame anyone but myself. Still, I prayed. And prayed. And prayed some more. Because I was still stressing about it.

Then the last nail was placed in the coffin…The preacher said that what confused him the most was that we are so willing to put our trust in other people yet not willing to have any trust in God. He said “think about it, every time you step foot on an airplane you are literally and physically putting your life in the hands of another person – and it’s normally a person you don’t know and haven’t even seen.” With that, I was on my feet. Anyone who knows me knows that whenever I take a flight, I’m sleep before the flight attendants even give the safety instructions and I don’t wake up until I feel the wheels hit the ground. So how is it that I am so willing to load onto a man-made machine, walk past a closed-door cockpit without questioning who is behind the controls, settle into my seat and fall asleep (i.e., the ultimate sign of trust and relaxation) without questioning for a second that I will get safely to my destination, yet stress about what God has in store for my life? The same God who promised never to harm me but to see me prosper.

My head was spinning! I was wracking my brain trying to figure out how to find the peace that God desired of me. Then, like clockwork, the preacher reminded us that God is always with us. He told us that often times when we feel like God has abandoned us, God isn’t the one who pulled away – it was us. And that made perfect sense given my personal situation. Ever since I moved to Atlanta, I haven’t been going to church, I haven’t been going to bible study, I haven’t been praying and communicating with God like I used to. I am the one who pulled away. And then I wonder why I don’t feel his protection? I haven’t been holding up my end of the bargain! To find the peace I was looking for (and that God wants for me), I needed a way to rebuild my relationship with God. I needed to commune with God again. I needed to ask God to guide my feet and learn to trust again in where the Spirit leads me. I needed to board God’s flight.

During the church announcements it was mentioned that the church was planning to fast during the coming week and to meet periodically for communal prayer. So I decided I would also fast that week, and try to figure out a way to replace food with spiritual nourishment. I hoped to rejuvenate my relationship with God, find the peace my spirit desired and perhaps learn a little bit about the path God wants me to be on. So on my 45-minute drive back into the city, I called my health-conscious, vegan sister and we figured out a game plan for my 5-day fast. I was nervous but excited at the same time!

She wasn’t quite convinced that I could do it, though. She knows that I have no self-control when it comes to food – I want what I want when I want it. She said, “plus you literally get hangry. Imagine if you can’t eat for 5 days. You have coworkers and a new puppy to think about! They are going to meet a side of you they may not want to meet.” And she wasn’t wrong. This was absolutely going to be one of the hardest things I’ve had to do, but I reminded her that fasting is about sacrifice. If I want God to move in my life, I have to be willing to sacrifice something to get there. So she wished me luck and I pulled into Target for supplies… excited to board my flight with God.

This Little Light of Mine…

Last weekend my cousin came to visit and one of the things I love most about our times together is that we talk about very real things. She’s one of those people who is simply insightful – and blunt about it! Of course she’s respectful and thoughtful about HOW she delivers the message, but you will walk away knowing exactly what she thinks about the situation, and I love her for that. But I digress…

So after we did the whole life-updates thing, we talked about families and friends, bounced around ideas about our big business venture, and then somehow got on the subject of churches. Both of us shared a pastor when we lived in NYC but now that we’ve both moved to other cities we feel like there’s a void that still needs to be filled. I won’t speak for her, but for me my church in New York was a part of me. It literally turned me into not only the God-fearing Christian I am today but also the autonomous, free-thinking, daring to dream woman who challenges preconceived notions, asks questions and seeks to always be a visionary.

And, if I’m being honest, I don’t think that any other pastor on the planet would be able to connect with me on the level that my current pastor does. That’s the appeal of his church, I think, and why people from around the world flock to First Corinthian Baptist Church (FCBC) and tune in each week to hear him speak. Ashley (that’s my cousin) thinks that Pastor Mike (that’s our pastor) is so effective because he is a teacher first. He has a way of breaking down the text to make it relatable and, more than that, to make you question everything! To make YOU come to your own conclusion; to make you take ownership of not only your relationship with God but also of your life and your decisions. So I don’t care what anybody says, in my mind the likelihood of me finding another pastor to do that for me is pretty slim.

The cherry on top of this whole situation is that I’m back in the south — the “Bible Belt”, as it’s called. Down here there’s no buying liquor before a certain time on Sunday, homosexuality is still very much a taboo topic and you better be wearing Sunday’s best when you walk through those church doors. So I told Ashley that rather than look for a church home here, I was planning to simply stream FCBC’s services online every Sunday and leave it at that. And she agreed!  But then Ashley started to recall something that Pastor Mike had said at a bible study one night. When asked by another member as to what his advice would be for finding a church home when moving to another city, he told her something along the lines of “not to worry too much about it because if you believe in the God that moves in FCBC, then you have to believe that the same God exists in other places”… I told you he was good.

But more than that, God is working! It was in that moment that, through Pastor Mike’s words, God actually put something on my heart: maybe now it’s on each of us to spread Jesus’s teachings the way Pastor Mike did it for us! I’m not saying to open or pastor a church or go door-to-door spreading the good news (not even close to what I’m saying), rather maybe it’s on me to take these new ways of thinking about God and religion that FCBC instilled in me and share them with others. For me (and those who feel similar to the way I do) to go into those other churches, become members and challenge the things that we don’t agree with. If we see discrimination towards people with non-traditional beliefs or ways of life, it’s on us to speak up and it’s on us to show what it looks like to still love them despite their difference. If a preacher explains a message in a way that we don’t agree with, maybe the correct reaction is to go up to him or her afterwards and talk it through rather than leave the church altogether.  It’s only after we start to walk in love, ask the difficult questions and challenge the lessons we are taught that we will start to break the subtle (and the not so subtle) biases and metaphoric chains that have been indoctrinated in religion – Christianity in particular – and which have served as polarizing forces over the years.

Maybe then we will start to see the freedom in others that has already been let loose in us… “Neither do men light a candle, and put it under a bushel, but on a candlestick; and it giveth light unto all that are in the house.” (Matthew 5:15, KJV)