Wednesday, November 13, 2019

A Deep Ache



Feels crazy that today would have been our ninth year in Atlanta. Four months into this new move, I think often of that first year. We were so lonely, living for Sunday since it was our only day of connection with other people outside our immediate family. 

Gradually, through sports activities, chorus and youth group, the kids slowly amassed a gang of friends and with kid friends comes moms who ultimately become your friends. Thus life evolved and grew into the normalcy of our human interactions. Shared coffees. Shared lunch dates. Shared conversations and bearing of hearts led to deep friendships that time and distance will not un-forge. 

And yet in this new place, for the sake of my avoiding my own spiral down into the black hole of despair, I find myself desperately hanging on to this remembrance. Knowing takes time. I know this (in my head), and yet with no kids to broker the “friends by default” deal, it all feels daunting. And the loneliness compounded that much more. 

I find I’ve almost forgotten the volume of my own voice. I speak so little these days, I’m acutely aware when others lean in to hear. I eat alone. I go to the gym alone. I drink coffee alone. I wander aimlessly through this new city alone. I have always been good alone with my own self, but not having the option to choose alone versus always being alone feels daunting.

The other day I told a friend, “Loneliness is a deep ache.” To which she replied, “Being alone is treasured time partly because we know we can go back into the warm embrace of other people and places. We know we are known…if only in part. What you’re describing feels like being stranded. It is a world with no mirrors….and it’s literally terrifying. And it’s not because we’re not trying hard or because there is no beauty…it is because there is no recognition. 

I gasped as I read my friend’s words. Her words invited me “to bear witness with my loss and hold faith for a bright dawn.” I’ve been here. Nine years ago. Having left the comfort and familiarity of life in Virginia. We set out for a new place. As I said to my friend, Jen, “Stranded is an apt description - kind of in between homes almost.”


From the ache of not being known and not knowing, the deepest, most beautiful friendships were forged. It took time. But it happened. May life be as kind to create for me again beautiful, soul baring friendships. There are treasures in the desert and my heart says yes to them.

Monday, October 28, 2019

The Origin of Our Beliefs

I was raised in a religious tradition that not only frowned upon yoga, it demonized it. Yoga was evil and if you participated in yoga, you would be opening yourself up to demon possession. Chakras were evil. Horoscopes were evil (never mind that the so called “wise men” found Jesus by reading the stars). It was all evil. All bad. All demonic.

And I bought into those absurdities, hook line and sinker. So much so that when one of our children was in middle school, I forbade said child from participating in PE when the class was doing a unit on yoga. I even showed my natural brown behind when the teacher suggested giving said child something to do other than yoga. Completely convinced my child would need an exorcist if they were anywhere near the going on of yogic activity, I demanded they be nowhere near the practice and demanded the teacher place my child far outside the room away from the activity. My child, in all of their compliant, mercy prone ways never pushed back on my absurdity (at least not vocally to me, that I recall).

Fast forward a whole lot of years later, that child is an adult, and I am being invited by Spirit to hand over everything I ever believed to be true about God and allow those beliefs to be sifted and myself to be gifted back what is true. One year into this divine exchange, Spirit asked me to learn to love my body the way I had learned to love my soul and my spirit. And truthfully, I had no idea how to do that. I have always hated my body, struggled severely with eating disorders and never learned to move beyond a critical stance to what i saw in the mirror. Suffice it to say, I needed help. So, I asked for Spirit’s guidance and was gifted three invitations: 1) the word, “Breathe” which led me to learning about breath work 2) Mindful Meditation and 3)Yoga

Can you believe that? Spirit actually suggested yoga (which means holy union) to me. And, even though Spirit had led me to yoga to reconnect with my disembodied self, the first time I got on my yoga mat, I expected something bad to happen. I also felt this way the first time I ever stepped foot in a Catholic Church two months ago (which we were also taught was demonic). I had been conditioned to believe a certain way and had never questioned those conditions.

I had been handed a belief system, an ideology based on someone else’s experiences and fears. I hadn’t been given the opportunity to develop my own concepts around yoga, chakras, or being guided by the stars, much less the Catholic Church or LGBTQIA. I’d merely been told, if you’re a Christian, these things are evil. And as a good mom, I wanted to protect my kids from that evil and gift them the “salvation” of Christianity. Sounds noble, right? I mean what’s so wrong with protecting yourself and your family from demons? 

Nothing, except I was living a constructed reality based on misinformation. I didn’t know that the fathers of Eastern and Western religion had excommunicated one another, and Western religion would go on to “demonize” Eastern religious practices. Nothing wrong with yoConquest of Guinea) to Madison Grant’s, The Passing of the Great Race and beyond, the truth is there for us to see...if we want to wake up and show up. 

All we know is what we’ve been told. How we order and shape our lives all continues to exist around what we know as “our truth”. Could it be possible that there are some things you’ve believed to be true, that aren’t really true at all? Could it be possible that the truth, like life in its complexities, has several layers? Are you willing to take another look, read a different book? 

I was wrong about yoga, chakras, the Catholic Church, LGBTQIA. I was wrong to choose a belief over a person. Will I continue to turn a blind eye to the ways I’ve been wrong or will I allow waking up to my own complicity guide me into seeing new truths? How will your complicity lead you to act?

Thursday, October 3, 2019

Our Wrestle

Dear Black America...
Let’s talk. Yes, the media will make a mockery out of Brandt Jean’s forgiveness and use it to perpetuate an old narrative. Yes, there were huge missteps of injustice in the sentencing. But c’mon now, we all knew that was gonna happen. Yes, the judicial hug and bailiff hair smoothing were all a bit of an overreach. Yes, if you were raised Christian, you’re likely to deny your anger (be disconnected with it) and reach first for forgiveness. Yes, if you’re raised Black in America, you’re likely to deny your anger (at least dial it down or dial it back) and placate a white person to “keep the peace” (or, as we black people know, to stay out of jail - because mass incarceration is today’s answer to lynching). Yes, if you’re black and from the South, especially, you know how to act in the presence of white people. Yes, all of these things are 100% true. 

And even as we decolonize and deconstruct the ways in which we’ve been socialized and assimilated into our own whiteness, we can include and transcend. We do not have to let go of every good virtue just because we learned it in white space. Forgiveness is a good virtue. It’s not just a “should” of Christianity that’s been badly explained and wrongly taught. 

Forgiveness is owning your own head space and heart without contention. Forgiveness unchains you from the drama of someone else's madness. The practice of forgiveness is to transcend the ego’s need to be vindicated. And really, that’s what our cries are about today. We want to be vindicated. We don’t want to look through or let go. But that’s us. That’s how we feels 

We don’t know what is in the heart of another. We don’t know their process or their wrestle. We can only speak to what we would do, what we know to be true for us. We have to allow room for our differences and our place on the journey. We have to - or else we will become oppressors ourselves - forcing others to think like us, act like us, be like us. 

Deep breaths today. Feel all of it. Acknowledge the pain. See it for what it is. Accept that someone chose to offer forgiveness. If the act triggered you, take the role of unattached observer (when you can) and ask yourself why. Dig deeper toward your own shadow, see what’s there. 

Our biggest disillusionment is still heavily entwined around our expectations. We expect white folk to see us, understand us, get us. We expect black folk to all be radicals and respond the way we would to every situation. We expect the system to change without people changing, without us changing. We expect the system to be different when it has always proven to be exactly what it is, not for you. 

Dear Black America, our expectations are killing us. Unforgiveness will not save us. If we mirror back the indifference we’ve always received, we will perpetuate indifference. If we mirror violent responses we will perpetuate and even excuse violence. How can we begin to move to a no dual place as a race of people that sees the injustice for what it is, speaks truth to power and uphold virtues that move the trajectory of common good further down its path? Am I asking you to hear the burden of this alone? It is true that we’ve always shouldered the heavy weight, and I am not suggesting that at all. What I’m asking today is that as a person, we open our hands, free ourselves from the demands of our own injured expectations and mirror want we want to see in our own lives and in the world at large.

Peace be with you

Effecting Change

Today’s CAC Daily Meditation writes of St. Francis, “Rather than fighting the systems directly and in so doing becoming a mirror image of them, Francis just did things differently. The best criticism of the bad is the practice of the better(one of the Center’s core principles).”

How do we live into “something different”?

An organization like systems are made up of people. We can’t demand a system change without addressing the heart of its people. And we also have to let go of an unconscious but faulty supposition: I can force someone to change. 

While I might make enough noise and cause enough ruckus through protests to make them modify their behavior or dial back, on a good day, I only control me. 

To influence the collective, I focus on myself as an individual. How do I become a “”Prime Attractor” to what we as a society really want, what we definitely need, and who we finally are [called to be]?” 

I intentionally mirror the good of our humanity. I become the lived experience of “something different.” I manage me, and I offer others the freedom to manage themselves. Unconditional acceptance is the foundation of every healthy relationship not shifts in power structures or hierarchy.

Do I see you as a human equal to my humanness? Or are you still an inferior that needs to be saved, 3/5 of a human? Do I see you as a superior that I defer to, shape shift for? Or do I realize our inherent dignity, that we both are powerful beings created in the Image of Love?

Do I offer space for you to be seen, heard, valued, and protected? Can you live fully expressed in my presence without fear of harm, judgment or retaliation? 

Bryan Stevenson said in his HBO documentary, True Justice, the north won the civil war, but the south won the narrative. I say, it is in the heart that all wars are won. Starting first, with my own.

Friday, September 27, 2019

On Evolution & Deconstruction

Even the idea of deconstruction is seeing faith from a scarcity mindset. The energy it takes to sustained continued resistance feeds that which we wish to avoid. If I dig my feet in the ground and push my hands out to resist, I end up stagnant while life keeps hurling at a constant pace toward me.

When I alter my perspective and begin and end with abundance, I can honor the Divine Image in myself and in others and allow my faith to evolve while admitting I’ve been slimed by gobs of paint ill fitting of a masterpiece (bad theology, wrong interpretations, un-Christlike behavior, crazy worship songs based on ungodly beliefs and painful lived experiences, unloving/unhealthy spiritual practices, church leaders with character defects, etc.).

And with that acknowledgment and open hands, I can surrender to the alchemical process of surrender, which transforms that which is no longer working or necessary allowing me to receive that which is,  the truth of my essence that has always been true.

Underneath the pile of wronged experiences and bad teaching lies a masterpiece worthy of restoration, you. You, created in the Divine Image. You, the essence of Love and Light that has always been the very good of all creation. You, whose being resonates with Truth.

You are a masterpiece. Recognize the ways in which systems, cultural norms, labels, the opinions of others, and the hells of life have heaped gobs of paint on you. You can detach from that which is not healthy or good by simply opening yours hands in surrender, opening your hands to receive. You don’t have to begin transformation from the mindset of scarcity - “I lack something; something was withheld from me; I was lied to,” or any other negative.

Honor the trajectory of your lives experienced. You’re here now. Deep breath, it’s just another opportunity to grow. Be kind and generous to yourself. It’s okay to evolve.

Tuesday, September 24, 2019

REFLECTIONS: ODE TO MY GRANDMOTHER



A grandchild views their grandmother with starry eyed wonder. She is larger than life; more innocent than Jesus, and pretty much can do no wrong. As I reflect on the life of my grandmother, I admit my bias as a grandchild. She is indeed larger than life, more innocent than Jesus and pretty much could do little to nothing wrong in my eyes. I think I speak for me, John, Marcus and Josh in that regard. We all loved her immensely and we all had the distinct pleasure of being loved by her in our own unique way. She would tell you that she didn’t play favorites, but she absolutely did. When you were with her, you were her favorite. Whether she had all four of us together, or two of us, or was doting on us individually, we each were her favorite.

I have the pleasure of knowing Northern Grandma Bet who migrated up north in the 70s just before I was born and Southern l Bettie Mae who returned home in the 90s to take care of her ailing mother. Grams would say she was the same no matter where she lived or in her words, “I’m just a girl from Johnston County. My momma and daddy raised us to work hard and be honest, and that’s what I’m gonna do.”  And then she’d point that finger and cock her head, drop her voice just a bit and say, “And that’s what I expect you to do too.” But her eyes never left you and her head never moved until somehow you verbalized your agreement. And once you said “Okay, Grandma,” with the slightest imperceptible shift, she’d right her body and say, “Alright now.” And that was that.

From a young age, my brother and I were tasked with shepherding our younger cousins, Marcus and Josh on the Greyhound from Raleigh to Washington, DC, where Grams would meet us. It didn’t matter if we were coming or going, the set up was the same. We had to use the bathroom before we boarded the bus, and then the four of us piled into 1 ½ seats in the front row directly behind the bus driver, so he could watch us from the rear view mirror. Grams would point her finger and say, “when I put you on this bus, you bet not get off, not now time or Ima whoop you good.” Let me just pause and say, I don’t actually ever remember being whooped by my grandmother. My brother and I were bad children so that’s not to say we didn’t deserve our share of whoopings, it’s just that Grams had a look and when her finger got to pointing and her head dipped…it was worse than the sting of any belt. So needless to say, we sat on that Greyhound, me against the window with Josh in my lap, Marc on the seat kind of on mine, kind of on John’s and John closer to Marc than the outside aisle…1 ½ seats, coming and going with our ham sandwiches wrapped in aluminum foil in case we got hungry. I couldn’t even tell you what the Greyhound bus station in Washington, DC looks like. We never saw it. Grams was always waiting right outside the bus to corral us off to her station wagon whenever we arrived.

Grams was a surgical tech in OR at GWU Hospital, but in my eyes, she might as well have been the head nurse. She ran that OR and all the doctors and nurses had no qualms with admitting that. She was at work the day Regan got shot and was brought into GW for his life to be saved. I honestly can’t remember where Grams told us she was at that exact moment, all I know was in the eyes of this grandchild, she practically saved President Regan’s life. Remember, every grandchild sees their grandparents as larger than life and I am certainly no different.  

Grams introduced us to culture – she took us to parks, museums, the zoo, the movies, skating, bowling. My love of of art, ballet, classical musical, and especially water parks all originate from some memory my brother and I share with my Grams. She taught us how to ride the city bus and the subway. Taught me how to hold my purse and be alert in the city. She taught me to keep a little change or dollar bills separate from my real wallet to offer to the homeless or others we might encounter in need on the city streets. We were never without some adventure with Grams. She planned for every moment of our time with her, always looking for something to make it fun and memorable. She’d often say, “I may not have a little money but we …” and we’d do … whatever that was. In my eyes, she might as well owned a bank. 

Northern Grandma Bet was devoted to her church, only her family came before her duties to the church. Northern Grandma Bet had friends and co-workers who laughed as loud and boisterously as she. Northern Grandma Bet threw the best parties, but I’m not supposed to know that. She’d put my brother and I in her back bedroom, look us in the eye and say, “And you’d bet not come out this room.” Only to sneak us a plate of snacks later in the evening when she came to check on us.

Food was a highlight of our life in DC, especially eating crabs. We’d go down to some place in Southeast or off Branch Ave and buy a bushel or two of live crabs. And I know we’re in the house of the Lord, but remember Grams told me to be honest… We’d take those crabs back to Grandma and Granddaddy’s place and she’d pull out this gigantic lobster pot. Granddaddy would pour a six pack of beer in the pot with some old bay seasoning, add some water and set the pot to boil. Then my brother and I would clamor over each other trying to watch the crabs crawl to their death in the pot. And while we were in the kitchen with Granddaddy watching the crabs turn magical in the pot, Grams would be in the dining room, spreading newspaper for our feast. She taught us how to identify the dead man, told us  not to eat the mustard. All while slipping her first dog, Rex pieces of crab meat. 

Grams owned 4 dogs in her lifetime: Rex, Neiko, Roxy and Queenie. And she believed in feeding them what she ate. “They eat what I eat” she would also say. I’m told even during her last days, she sent my aunt to Bojangles for chicken. Not because Grams wanted chicken. Nope, she wanted to feed her dog Queenie chicken. And I’m told that’s exactly what she did, tossing pieces of chicken to Queenie for her to gobble up. 

You have to understand how my Grams humanized her dogs. Queenie drinks cold bottled spring water. Rex was taught to brush his teeth, because my Grams didn’t do odor. She’d put a ribbon of toothpaste on the tub and say, “C’mon, Rex, let’s brush your teeth” and Rex would eat the toothpaste. Then she’d say, “Show Momma, did you brush your teeth?” And he’d open his canine mouth and show off all his scissored teeth.

From a young girl, Grandma had no qualms, grabbing me underneath my arm and “telling me about myself” if she thought I was in her words, “smelling a little too high”. And after too many times of smelling too high, she’d threaten to wash me herself and add some Clorox to my water. To this day, I’m still not sure what the bleach was supposed to do. But I was child of the outdoors, so you can imagine that I heard this threat way more times than I can count. 

My grandmother had a rich, melodious laugh that lingered well after it ended. Somehow it settled underneath your breastbone embedding its invitation of joy deep into your soul. Her smile was like a bright light bulb, lighting up the room, and her eyes twinkled more than Santa Claus. She had a zeal for life and adventure, and she loved to go and explore. 

And as I aged and moved away from NC, I always enjoyed coming back to visit and hearing of the how well loved and cared for she felt by the seniors ministry here at Springfield Baptist Church and also in DC at Rehoboth. She loved her pastors and her church family. She loved serving as president of the pastor’s aide and helping out where she could. Grams knew what she could do and what she couldn’t do and didn’t mind telling you no, if it was something she couldn’t do … or didn’t want to do.

Grams was a woman of faith. She believed deeply in the power of prayer. She was quick to tell us, “Just pray. Trust that it’s all gonna work out and pray about it.” 

She didn’t offer platitudes – Grams said what she meant and she meant what she said. And she had no problem with telling someone about themselves. “Listen, I’ll tell her about herself too.” And she would. When we were wrong, she told us about ourselves and got us straight. 

This was my grams though – she was the right mix of soft and hard. Grams was solid. It didn’t matter how much chaos swirled around us, or how transitional or volatile life got for us – I can speak for myself, my brother and my cousins Marcus and Joshua and say – she was our anchor, our sure thing. The one we knew we could count on and go to. She was compassionate and kind and listened well, but she was also a straight shooter. There was no in between. You were gonna know exactly where you stood and where she stood, and she could articulate her position well. This drew some people to her, others it sent away. Still, she was not one to sugar coat anything. 

She was determined. She was fierce. When she made her mind up about something, game over. That was it. She did things with excellence and she expected excellence in return. If the Queen of England had a black first cousin, it would be my Grandmother. She was a woman of regal bearing though she consider herself a low and humble country girl. She never thought highly of herself, but she carried herself with the stature of a queen. She loved hard and she loved deep. 

And family was what she lived for. When our great grandmother died, there was no question about who would assume the role of matriarch in our family. Grandma Bet was the gatherer. The place we all came to for meals each holiday or Sunday after church, lingering around her kitchen table. And whether you showed up or not, she’d say, “I’m gon have my food done.” Carrying on the traditions of her own momma, right down to hosting family Pokeno and bingo games at Christmas, family is deeply what she tried to instill in us all and pass down to us. I know without a shadow of a doubt, it is the one thing she would want us to carry forward. And I would be lying to tell you that I’ve done that well so I won’t. But I can offer her words that she often gave to me. She’d shake her head at me and say, “Tavette, family is all you got. When everyone else is gone, your family will always be there. I don’t care what they do to you or don’t do, that’s still your family. You got to love them and pray for them. And just do what you can cause they still your family.” And she meant that, there were no two ways about it when it came to Grandma’s family.

Grams was a good ancestor. And now she takes her rest among our ancestors, leaving us to remember, to reflect, and to respond. How will we live in the days to come? How will we honor the memory of Bettie? How will we continue her legacy? How can we also be good ancestors in the ways of our dear beloved, Bettie Mae. May those of us who loved her bear witness to the best of who she was as we live out our days. 

I found life in my grandmother and now I’m responsible for living out my grandmother’s life within me. I found strength in my grandmother and now I’m responsible for living out my grandmother’s strength within me.I found truth in my grandmother and now I’m responsible for living out my grandmother’s truth within me.I found radiance and a deep sense of peace and confidence in my grandmother and now I’m responsible for living out those values of grandmother’s life within me.

How did the life of Bettie Mae Eason Alford impact you? What did you find in the life of my Grandmother? What of her life can continue on in you? 

Friday, August 2, 2019

Day Eighteen...

All of my healed adult life, I’ve strived to be one thing: a good friend. A friend who listens. A friend who supports. A friend who is there. 

Almost ten years ago, we moved from Virginia to Georgia, and I remember the eerie silence of weekday living. Longing for Sunday when we would gather with others and I could be a friend. 

Eventually, friendship moved beyond the walls of the church and there were coffee dates, walks through the neighborhoods, wine and cookie nights, brunch bunch and eventually girls night out. But it all started from nothing - the pangs of not being known, of no girlfriends to interact with, laugh with.  

For years, my kids have been the bridge to adult friendships. Almost every significant friendship being forged as a result of our kids hanging out, but what happens when the kids are grown and gone and church is no longer a crutch? How do you make friends in a new town where you know absolutely no one? 

...Or am I being stripped of the one thing I pride myself in? Is this an invitation to apartness? Another wilderness journey? Another journey within? 

Or will I look back years from now and mark Day 18 as the day I sat at the coffee shop and sobbed. Trying desperately to hold on to gratitude for all the good things this season is pregnant with and yet feeling so unknown that it feels like a weight. Hiding my sorrow from a partner who knows me so intimately. His hugs trying to shoulder the pain of my aloneness without stepping into co-dependency. I love him for the way he sees me. Though no one person should ever be responsible for carrying the weight of knowing for another.

I find myself in that place once again as I did a decade ago - acclimating to the unknown so I can get used to new ways of knowing. 

What does fear feel like in me? Am I aware of the shape of my fear? It balloons like a child’s soapy bubble filled with the narrative that I may never find women friends. 

Me - introverted, hearing impaired, socially awkward. How and where do I put myself out there? How and where can I show myself a friend in this new place to find friends?

I wake up each day and sit on my mat, committed to loving the moment in front of me. To love this day, this place before I fully know it. I’m here to heal. I’m here to embody. I’m here to transform. I know it, but I don’t yet know the shape of it. And in the unknown, fear plays its fiddle. 

As harrowing as the thought of never making friends is, I just keep holding the yes of this new beginning in my heart with gratitude. This is how love will be formed within me.